A Thousand Splendid Suns: Part 1, Chapters 5-8

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Summary of Part 1, Chapters 5–8

 

Chapter 5

 

It is 1974, and Mariam is about to turn fifteen. For her birthday, she asks her father to take her to his cinema to see the movie Pinocchio, which he has described to her in wonderful detail. Jalil offers to have someone else accompany her to the film, but she insists he take her personally, along with his other children. She tells him she will wait for him the next day at noon. He only looks at her sadly and embraces her.

 

Distraught that her only daughter wishes to live with her father, Nana threatens to kill herself if Mariam leaves. Mariam resents Nana’s manipulation, realizing for the first time that Nana is holding her back; she doesn’t really want her daughter to find the happiness she herself never had.

 

When Jalil fails to arrive to take Mariam to the cinema on her birthday, she walks to Herat and finds her father’s impressive house. His shiny black car is out front, but his chauffeur claims Jalil is away. Mariam sleeps outside all night waiting for her father’s return. The next morning, the driver says she has made a scene and that she must go immediately. Mariam sees a face in the window and realizes that her father really is at home, but allowed to her to sleep on the street rather than open his doors to her. Heartbroken, she cries all the way home in the car.

 

As the driver escorts Mariam up the path to the kolba, they are confronted with a horrifying sight: Nana has hung herself from a tree.

 

Chapter 6

 

At the funeral, Mullah Faizullah tells Mariam that God has a reason for every trial and suffering he puts people through. Wracked by guilt, Mariam is not comforted.

 

Now that Nana is gone, Jalil allows Mariam to live in his house, but the offer rings hollow and she feels she doesn’t really belong there. Mariam stays in her room, eating very little and grieving the loss of her mother. Niloufar, Mariam’s eight-year-old half-sister, comes into her room and plays music on a gramophone. The little girl says she doesn’t mind if Mariam is her sister, even if her mother says it’s not true.

 

Bibi jo and Mullah Faizullah comfort Mariam, Faizullah emphasizing that Nana’s suicide was not Mariam’s fault. He says that Allah will forgive Nana, although He is saddened by her action. Faizullah wants to continue teaching Mariam, but he admits he’s already taught her everything she needs to know and only wants an excuse to keep seeing his beloved pupil.

 

A week passes, and Jalil’s wife Afsoon calls Mariam downstairs for an “important” discussion.

 

Chapter 7

 

Mariam learns that a suitor has been found for her and that she is to be married immediately. The suitor, Rasheed, is a well-off shoemaker in Kabul whose wife died in childbirth ten years before and whose young son drowned in a lake. He is an ethnic Pashtun, not a Tajik like Mariam, but he speaks Farsi, so Mariam will not have to learn Pashto. (The Pashtun and Tajik peoples are the two largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan; Pashtuns are the majority and have ruled the nation for most of its history. Pashto and Farsi—also known as Persian, or Dari—are the two national languages of Afghanistan).

 

The idea of marrying this man horrifies Mariam. In his forties, Rasheed is much older than fifteen-year-old Mariam. The marriage also means that Mariam, unlike her half-sisters, will never have the chance to go to university. However, she is made to feel she has no choice, as her father has given his permission. The nikka, or wedding, will take place the next morning. By noon, Rasheed and Mariam will be on the bus for Kabul.

 

Chapter 8

 

In the morning, Mariam is dressed in a dark green dress and green hijab, or headscarf. When her husband-to-be enters the room, she notices first the strong smell of cigarette smoke and cologne. Rasheed is a tall man with a big belly, a hooked nose, bloodshot eyes, and a low hairline with coarse salt-and-pepper hair. Mariam herself is not particularly good-looking. Her green eyes are too close together, her skin is coarse, and her face is long and “a bit houndlike.” Still, she is not unpleasant to look at.

 

Mariam hesitates a long time before saying “Yes” to the marriage, but she does agree at Jalil’s coaxing. As she prepares to board the bus, Jalil tells her that Kabul is beautiful and that he will visit her there soon. However, Mariam harshly informs him she never wants to see or hear from him ever again. She boards the bus without looking back, and ignores her father’s last desperate attempts to catch her eye. As the bus leaves the station, Rasheed takes her hand as if to comfort her. However, he looks out the window distractedly, as if there were something more interesting to see.

 

Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 5–8

 

Chapters 5–8 mark a transition in Mariam’s life from childhood to adulthood. She now realizes what she could not see before: her father is ashamed of her, and as a woman and an illegitimate child, she is considered a burden to the family.

 

The chapters provide information about marriage customs and women’s rights in Afghanistan in the 1960s. Islamic law allows a man to have more than one wife. Arranged marriage was the norm. Girls as young as nine were considered ready for marriage, and were often married to men twenty years older than themselves. The age of fifteen was considered a “good, solid marrying age.” Still, at that time (before the coming of the arch-conservative Taliban government), women of a certain class did attend university. And, women did have the right to refuse marriage. Mariam’s wedding would not have taken place had she not given in to her father’s pressure and said “Yes.” In Jalil’s family at least, it seems that the wives have a good deal of influence, although that influence is limited to the sphere of the home. Over the course of the novel, readers will note how women’s rights become more reduced as radical conservatives take over Afghanistan.

 

Jalil is portrayed as a weak and selfish man. He obviously cares for Mariam, but is too ashamed of her illegitimate status to take her in as one of his own children. Despite his cowardice, readers are likely to sympathize with Jalil at the end of the chapter. It is hinted that Rasheed will not be as sympathetic a character. Compared to Jalil, he is far less attractive and less attentive to Mariam. We are left in suspense about how the marriage to Rasheed will turn out for Mariam, but the outlook is not good.

 

As noted earlier, the transitions in Mariam’s life parallel the transitions in Afghanistan as a whole. The king of Afghanistan has been overthrown, and a new, still-untested leader, Daoud Khan, has taken over and established a democratic government. Meanwhile, Mariam’s father, Jalil—the adored king of her childhood—has been overthrown, and Mariam will now have a new “ruler” in Rasheed.

 

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