A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini

After 9/11, most Americans could name one thing they knew about Afghanistan: the Taliban. The Taliban came into power in Afghanistan in 1996, and they remained in power until 2001. What many people don’t realize is that Afghanistan was not always ruled by extremists; in fact, they were once a free people with a constitution, and the women had rights equal to those of men. Once Osama bin Laden and the Taliban took over, much of that went away. Khaled Hosseini recaptures the beauty of Afghanistan, and in particular the city of Kabul, in his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. He follows the journey of two young women who are forced into oppressed lives, yet he highlights their strength and resilience throughout their ordeals: a reminder of the spirit of the women of Afghanistan, in spite of those who try to strip them of their dignity. Through Mariam and Laila’s stories, Hosseini illuminates important themes such as the rights of women, hope, the importance of sacrifice, and the importance of family.

Student Activities for A Thousand Splendid Suns

Essential Questions for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

  1. What motivates people to take action and make changes in their lives?
  2. What impact do war and violence have on the people who live through it?
  3. How can hope serve as an important tool for survival?
  4. Is family always defined by blood? Why or why not?
  5. What are some ways that women can assert their strength in an oppressive society?
  6. How much do parents influence their children’s ideas about the world around them?
  7. What is sacrifice? What are some reason why people make sacrifices?

Women Under the Taliban

A Thousand Splendid Suns traces the journeys of two young women throughout a series of important time periods for Afghanistan: the fall of the Shah monarchy; the rise and fall of Mohammed Daoud’s republic; the Soviet intervention and subsequent war with Mujahideen forces; the fall of Soviet-backed President Mohammed Najibullah; and the rise of the Taliban. Students will no doubt be familiar with the oppression of women in Afghanistan.

Since A Thousand Splendid Suns continues much of the same ideas that are presented in Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, a great resource that can be utilized for teaching both novels is distributed by Amnesty International.

In Appendix 4 of the above guide, the rules for women set by the Taliban are listed. Some of the more surprising ones for students include:

  • Females may not work outside the home, including teachers, engineers, and doctors
  • Females may not laugh loudly - no stranger should hear a woman’s voice
  • Females whose ankles are visible will be whipped in public
  • All home windows must be painted so females cannot be seen from outside their homes
  • Females may not study at schools, universities, or any other educational institution

In addition, many Taliban rules apply to both sexes, including: no music, TV, or movies; men may not shave their beards; no internet; no dancing at weddings; and no clapping at sporting events. An interesting way to introduce the shock value of these rules is to have students keep a log for homework of what they do throughout the day, from breakfast until bedtime. Have students come in and share some of the things they do in a day. Then, hand them the list of Taliban rules and ask students to examine how many of these rules they violated in just one day! Have students discuss questions such as:

  • Would they be able to live in such an oppressed society?
  • What are some fundamentally unjust rules for women vs. men?
  • How do the Taliban rules violate basic human rights?
  • Why don’t the Taliban want women to attend school?

Current Women’s Rights in Afghanistan

Many students will wonder if the conditions for women have improved under the governments instituted after the fall of the Taliban. The truth is, it’s complicated. According to an article published by Al Jazeera in July 2015, 90% of women in Afghanistan are still facing abuse, violence, or forced marriages. According to the Trust in Education Foundation, 85% of women in Afghanistan are illiterate, and the percentage of women who die in childbirth is high. According to a CNN report from April 2015, women’s rights activists are being actively targeted and murdered. While the country implemented the EVAW law in 2009 (Elimination of Violence against Women), in 2013, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released a report showing a 20% increase in murders of women.

Clearly, the fight for equal rights and treatment of women still has a ways to go in Afghanistan. Students might be inspired by reading the story of Malala Yousafzai, who after several awards for her activism in promoting girls’ rights to attend school in Pakistan, was shot in an assassination attempt carried out by the Taliban in 2012. She won the Nobel Peace Prize at age 17 in 2014, making her the youngest Nobel Prize winner. Malala continues to advocate for girls’ education, most recently opening a school on the border of Syria for teenage Syrian refugee girls. Her story and links to the documentary made about her life and work can be found at:

Editor's Note: In 2021, the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan after twenty years and ousted the U.S. backed government. In the time since, the country has fallen into a desperate human rights and humanitarian crisis with women again being prohibited from basic rights and subject to brutality. Journalists, members of the former government and anyone who opposes the Taliban are also at risk of imprisonment or death.

More Activity Ideas for A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

  1. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a classic example of a Bildungsroman novel. Have students keep track of the different elements of Bildungsroman literature through storyboarding! Students can create a storyboard chart with illustrations and descriptions of each Bildungsroman stage.

  2. Create a storyboard to depict one chapter or section at a time.

  3. Create a storyboard that shows precise causes and effects of events.

  4. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

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Storyboard That is the perfect tool for novel lesson plans and activities because it's so easy to use and extremely versatile. With Storyboard That, you can create a wide variety of storyboards such as the story from the main character's perspective, or any other character's point of view.

You can also use Storyboard That to create a summary of the book, a movie poster, or analyze themes and events. Plus, our printable worksheets make it easy to take the fun offline.

Why is Storyboarding a Great Method of Teaching?

Storyboarding is an incredibly powerful tool for educators because it helps students process and understand the information in a deep, meaningful way. When students storyboard, they are actively engaged in the learning process and can make connections between the text and their own lives.

Storyboards also promote higher-level thinking by encouraging students to synthesize information and think critically about what they have read. Finally, storyboards are a great way to assess student understanding because they provide a visual representation of student learning.

Image Attributions
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