With Afghanistan in an era of political unrest and a government of corrupt institutions, Khaled Hosseini provides readers with an insight into how characters of both novels sought out a sense of empowerment and hope for a liberated existence; as contested and distorted ideas of muslim identity limit political rights and civil liberties. Hope of redemption for their country seemingly appears as their only drive to exist in a world plagued by ethnic conflict and civil war. With class systems enforced by the Taliban rule, political fragmentation and economic meltdown tighten their extreme grip on Afghanistan. Khaled Hosseini captures the deterioration of Afghanistan through A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner as a land wallowing in desolation and poverty.The experience, understanding and expression of friendship across social unequals is a pivotal theme in both novels. The compelling friendship formed between Amir and Hassan in The Kite Runner is captured as a means of mutual contentment in a land where societal discord ignites issues of tribalism, arising from sectarian warfare. They are merely two young boys who have been victims of a rigid patriarchy- distinguished only by a caste system in which the chasm between them is rooted. “Hassan and I fed from the same breasts…we spoke our first words. Mine was Baba. His was Amir. My name.” Hosseini uses the narrative voice of Amir to depict the primitive, distinct closeness between them, the utterance of Hassan’s first word “Amir” highlights the loyalty and devotion of their friendship, as the significance of first words hold a sacred importance through which their bond is exemplified. Although Raheem Khan narrates they are half brothers, their early childhood experiences set the premise for the revelation. A mild, distant sense of longing for Hassan can be detected through the narrative voice in a series of flashbacks- the pomegranate tree, a representation of a friendship which nearly transcends class lines, is one of the memories etched in his mind eliciting a melancholic poignancy which the reader experiences simultaneously with Amir’s narrative. Hosseini’s use of first person narrative creates a sense of emotional directness and draws readers in as the narrative unravels the struggles of maintaining the rift in the social order, born out of ties of companionship across social unequals, while under the government of the Taliban. Amir’s sincerity towards Hassan becomes dubious as he covets approval from his father, this is confirmed through his first utterance being “Baba” rather than reciprocating the commitment Hassan displays. He is burdened with a conflicted nature as he tries to mediate between competing for the love and affection of ‘Baba’, and his friendship with Hassan- this internal conflict deems their friendship one with tribulation and adversities. The sincerity of their friendship becomes questionable as the novel progresses ‘as Graham Allan (1989) has argued, relationships that are often presented as voluntary, informal and personal, still operate within the constraints of class, gender, age, ethnicity and geography – and this places a considerable question against the idea that friendship is a matter of choice.’ Hosseini leads us to assume that their companionship is based on a means to seek the approval of his father rather than a ‘choice’ out of admiration towards Hassan. He continually seeks acceptance and his attainment of affection leads him to be forced to confront his past and alleviate his guilt later on in the novel. There are various symbols which point towards their inevitable separation; the allegorical symbol of the pomegranate tree, initially a symbol of their nurturing friendship, serves as an example. The fact that the pomegranate tree is rooted in a cemetery, a setting where death and decay linger, may be symbolic of the fact that the effects of the caste system are so detrimental, the effects of it will eventually intoxicate their friendship, the same way that sectarian warfare annihilates any hope of an unimpeded and just Afghanistan- its destructive effects will extinguish the symbol of their companionship. The intense emotional journey of personal abuse, betrayal, and redemption, mirrors the tale of Afghanistan, offering a window into the history and culture of a nation shrouded in terror and war, menaced by the deadly ambitions of decentralised authorities. Although their relation sever these enforced societal standards and challenge the problems posed by ethnic division, the effects caused by the depths of corruption of ethnic and sectarian warfare will always maintain a rift in Afghan society. Laila and Mariam are two characters drawn together from different generations and backgrounds brought into an unstable and abusive existence, yet form a bewildering friendship in a society where suppression of women is especially prominent. Their friendship becomes a way of subverting the enforced restrictions placed on women. Although Hosseini touches upon the role of women in both novels, A Thousand Splendid Suns presents a depiction of a more subjective experience of life as a woman in Afghanistan, where they are subjugated to their domesticated roles and are objects of their husband’s short temper. ” Mariam has seen Rasheed take so much from her in the past 27 years—he can’t take Laila too.” Despite living in a society where women cannot participate in the public sphere due to the oppression they face at the hand of extreme authorities, their relationship serves as an emotional escape from their domesticated existence as they draw strength from each other to endure their oppression, and as a means to assert their own legitimacy and dignity. Their friendship is a symbol of hope, that despite the violence and abuse they are subject to, they will prevail and escape, the same way Afghanistan is subject to war and corruption, a peaceful homeland will always remain a possibility. They are women who experienced tragedy whose paths intertwine and the relationship that blossoms between them is evident even within the structure of the novel; Mariam’s narrative frames the novel, Laila then narrates separately with the narrative then alternating between them, representing their nurturing companionship. The title of the novel holds significance “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.” The imagery of the moon and sun evoke a timelessness connection to the mythology of ancient Persia, the startling beauty of Kabul prior to war stands in poignant contrast with the rubble and blood of the city now plagued with corruption and depravity. The reference to “a thousand splendid suns” is a representation of women, ‘glowing beauties cloistered in hearth and home, tantalizingly hidden from the outside world but nonetheless providing vital life-giving warmth to Afghan society’. The portrayal of women as non-subordinate and powerful “splendid suns” links with Hosseini’s theme of women’s strength and importance to Afghan society. Hosseini instills the hope he has for Afghanistan within the characters of the novels, he yearns for a peaceful homeland where freedom is not a conditional liberty, but a right; the most compelling message of the novel is that there is a ‘sense of fate and justice, of good overcoming evil in the end, despite all odds’- Hosseini maintains the hope that Afghanistan will prevail over the injustice and corruption it has been subject to. Both novels explore the disparity created by differences in cultural backgrounds. The social hierarchy set in place by the sectarian rule serves as the central control by which the Taliban retain dictatorship. The racial sects determined the status of people, “Afghanistan is the land of the Pashtuns…not the flat-nosed Hazara’s, these people pollute our homeland. They dirty our blood.” The inclusive language referring to Pashtuns highlights their superiority in Afghan society while negative connotations of ‘pollute’ and ‘dirty’ emphasise the marginalised, subservient stance of Hazaras within society. Aside from the ethnic division, Afghan society is divided on the basis of wealth and money and these distinctions have significant effects on characters of both novels as Amir has status even within the Pashtun community,”His glance lingered admiringly on my leather coat and my jeans–cowboy pants, we used to call them. In Afghanistan, owning anything American…was a sign of wealth”. Pashtuns are a united group of tribes composing the largest ethnic group; the main division between the sects is that their fundamental principles differ. This intense subdivision sets the premise for the peculiarity of the bond formed between Amir and Hassan. Hazaras are at the end of the the social ladder which restricts their rights and their socially assigned positions causes them to struggle to live with dignity “You will never again refer to him as ‘Hazara boy’ in my presence. He has a name and it’s Sohrab”. However Hosseini uses satire to display the irony of the assigned statuses through displacement of wisdom “what does he know, that illiterate Hazara?” Amirs frustration is evident as he fails to adopt the supposed intellectual elitism assumed by those of his social standing- the irony of this is evident as he is consumed with jealousy as he questions how an illiterate Hazara had come up with an insightful interpretation. The hatred among sects has evolved to become almost innate within people; characters that may come across as good-natured like General Sahib are blinded by the corruption of society and their disregard of inferior sects emerge at some point thus, ethnic intolerance is portrayed to be within the very essence of Afghan society. The effects of the caste system is also displayed in A Thousand Splendid Suns, although the social structure of Afghan society contributed to the inequality in society, the novel focuses on the effects of inequality between men and women. The females of the novel embody the ability of women to change and adapt in a society governed by an uncompromising and rigid patriarchy, “A man’s heart is a wretched, wretched thing, Mariam.” Although Mariam’s mother laments and complains about men, her words echo wisdom and their meanings emerge later in the novel- her harsh life serves as an example of how either through abandonment or a trapped marriage, women will always be at the mercy of men, a condition of the patriarchy in Afghanistan. Nana was among the lower class and her resentment for her position is evident towards Jalil which she believes has robbed her of her dignity, ”Learn this now and learn this well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman”. These words seem insignificant when revealed to Mariam, but become a refrain for her as the novel progresses as she realises Jalil’s self-justification is a liberty of his status. Rasheed, attempts to enforce his own position through the strict following of conservative codes “You try this again and I will find you. … And, when I do, there isn’t a court in this godforsaken country that will hold me accountable for what I will do.” Hosseini uses Rasheed’s character to portray a traditional member of the patriarchy who abides by the codes of conduct imposed by the totalitarian state. He justifies his abusive nature and cruel acts through his compliance with societal standards of how women should be treated and enforces these standards through abuse and force. Although Hosseini touches on the role of women in both of his novels, it is the main theme of A Thousand Splendid Suns. He was raised at a time where Afghanistan made tentative steps towards modernisation, during his interview Hosseini states that he hopes readers will develop empathy specifically for Afghan women, ”on whom the effects of war and extremism have been devastating. I hope this novel brings depth, nuance, and emotional subtext to the familiar image of the burqa-clad woman walking down a dusty street.”. He makes clear that the effects of class division have left a deep-rooted scar especially on women, reflective of the suffering they endured under the Taliban rule. Although the strength of the bonds formed by characters of both novels causes a fracture in the tension between sects, Afghanistan will always be tainted with the stigma caused by political fragmentation. The reception of Hosseini’s novels by western populations was commendatory as it granted them an insight into the struggles of Afghan society. Although reviews illustrate the values and expectations that shape the reception of foreign fiction among western readers, many critics have pointed to the fact that it is difficult to have collective compassion for Hosseini’s characters as ultimately, readers perceive this non political response as a solution to ethnic and national conflicts; however it could be argued Hosseini merely intended insight, empathy and understanding rather than resolution. Redemption is a pivotal theme and is sought out by Amir, not only for abandoning Hassan in his time of need, but his youth was afflicted with guilt. His internally conflicted persona leads him to embark on a search for forgiveness and his memories are dominated by his inseparable childhood companion. His need to be forgiven stemmed from the blame he attached to himself for the death of his mother during childbirth “I always felt like Baba hated me a little. And why not? After all, I had killed his beloved wife, his beautiful princess, hadn’t I?” His craving for the attention and acceptance of his father consumes him; “Then I’d bring it home and show it to Baba. Show him once and for all his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over”, his kite is a metaphorical symbol of his search for redemption through his desire to be the perfect son. He abandons reason and responsibility and indulges in his emotions, wallowing in self-hate and guilt as a result of a moment of cowardice when abandoned Hassan “I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba. Was it a fair price?” His contemplation of aiding Hassan stems from the ethnic division, Amir justifies his actions through social standing “he was just a Hazara, wasn’t he?” Hosseini makes explicit the severity of the effects of ethnic division through Amir’s omission. His persistence to acquire atonement leads him to embark on a journey back to a war-torn Afghanistan where he seeks out Sohrab, the son of Hassan. Hosseini epitomises this part of the novel as it is his ultimate redemption and attempt to flee culpability for his act of betrayal- by preserving the last memory of Hassan. Hosseini creates a series of parallels that allow Amir to atone for his past wrongdoings, he is driven by `guilt and perseverance … as the motivation for an individual to seek redemption and attain the satisfaction of self-fulfillment.’. The blue kite, a sign of his fathers acceptance came with the burden of guilt- it was a constant reminder of the cost to earn his father’s affection; therefore the novel’s theme shifted from fulfillment to redemption, Hosseini specifically describes inner guilt and endurance as the motivation for an Amir to seek redemption. Although Amir’s character is flawed, he is never truly content or feels a sense of fulfillment, despite his attempt at redemption, However, Hosseini intends for the reader to understand that in a quest for redemption, individuals must act towards something larger than themselves; this becomes the path of redemption tread by Mariam in A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is easy to see Mariam as predisposed towards isolation, as she was deemed a “harami” since infancy. She carried the stain of being illegitimate as a result of her father’s rejection. Mariam undergoes pain on personal and political levels as she bore the indignities of a loveless marriage and endured the pain of her mother’s suicide, her redemption is in her self-sacrifice and perseverance when facing the adversities of a domesticated existence; the resilience and endurance of emotional and physical pain of Hassan and Mariam deems both novels a triumphant commentary on the human spirit. Despite the depths of violence and corruption inflicted from the past, Hosseini hopes for a redemption for his country someday, for Afghanistan to be brought back from the destruction and corruption inflicted by the totalitarian dictatorship.While chaos engulfs Afghanistan and its inhabitants, Hosseini communicates through A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner, how he longs for the once peaceful and lively homeland, before outside forces rendered the nation a war-torn catastrophe. The richly detailed characterisation of protagonists displays the complexity of emotions of guilt, love and redemption that arise from experiencing sectarian warfare and political upheavals- from the endurance of abuse and oppression, to the burden of guilt and search for redemption. Hosseini retains the hope that where civil conflict devastated his homeland and the wounds of brutality run deep, the refutation of cultural ignorance rooted in the social order will lead Afghanistan to a free existence.