Study Guide

Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns

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If Laila went to your school, she'd be one of the cool kids. She's pretty, smart, and confident. That's a triple threat.

Unfortunately for Laila, she lives in Afghanistan during one of the toughest times in the nation's history. It's a time when women's rights are being assaulted and survival alone is a struggle. Amazingly, this doesn't stop Laila for a second. She has a healthy skepticism toward authority and a headstrong nature that inspires those around her. Those are rare qualities in the world of A Thousand Splendid Suns.

A New Hope

Laila represents the new modern face of Afghanistan. Her father, Babi, is a well-educated teacher who holds progressive views about politics and women's rights. Education has always been a priority in Laila's life, and she has always received encouragement from her parents to achieve her dreams. Her friends Giti and Hasina, on the other hand, are pressured by their families to get married before they reach the age twenty. Laila owes a lot to her parents' forward-thinking views on women's rights.

The only catch is that Afghanistan seems to be moving in the opposite direction. The war gets so bad that Babi decides to homeschool Laila, and that makes her lose some of her freedom. Then tragedy strikes: Laila's parents are killed, and life as she knows it becomes totally different. Laila's parents, as Rasheed later observes, created a "precious little shell" in Kabul to protect Laila from those who might oppress her (3.37.53). With her parents gone, Laila is going to be forced to reckon with those forces head on.

The Taliban Strikes Back

Laila's got a bit of Luke Skywalker in her, sure, but there's a generous helping of Han Solo in her, too. Just look at how she fights back against Rasheed, unafraid to get physical with a dude the size of Jabba the Hutt. Okay, okay: maybe we're exaggerating, but you get the picture. Laila doesn't even back down when the Taliban beats her on the way to Aziza's orphanage—she "refuse[s] to cave in" and tries a different route (3.42.73).

That headstrong nature rubs off on Mariam. Remember how shocked Rasheed was when Mariam fought back against him? We've got to give some props to Mariam for doing that, but we've also got to admire Laila for convincing Mariam that she was capable of doing that.

That's the other admirable thing about Laila: she has the power to spread her positive nature (let's just call it "the force" for short) to everyone around her.

Return of the Laila

It wouldn't have been in Laila's nature to stay in Pakistan and relax while others rebuilt Afghanistan. She probably remembers Babi telling her that "Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more" (2.16.56). Laila simply wants her voice to be heard. She has the opportunity—not to mention the ability—to change many lives.

At the close of the novel, Laila finally reaches the place she's meant to be. She chooses to dedicate her life to help the forgotten children of Afghanistan, the young girls and boys who never received the same encouragement and love that she did when she was their age. Laila has become a teacher, like her father, and she will spread her determination and intelligence to the people who need it the most.

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