by Khaled Hosseini

GENRE: historical fiction, domestic fiction

CEFR LEVEL: B2+ and above

“One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,

Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

It’s not often that I read a book more than once. I have far too many books on my to-be-read pile that are in desperate need of my attention 😉.

This summer, however, the news of what is happening in Afghanistan made me immediately think of Mariam and Laila, two characters in a novel that I read in 2008 with some of my upper-intermediate students, and I felt I simply had to pick up the book again.

The novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was written in 2007 by Khaled Hosseini and is divided into 4 parts. Part 1 tells the story of Mariam, a young girl born in Afghanistan in the 1950s. In Part 2, you are introduced to Laila, a city girl born in Kabul in the late 1970s. The lives of these two women intersect in Part 3 and in the final part, the story finishes from Laila’s perspective.

Throughout the novel, you discover how both global and regional power struggles bring chaos and destruction to Afghanistan and to these characters’ lives. As Hosseini was born in Kabul, he gives you a real insight into daily life in the city both before and during the previous reign of the Taliban.

It’s a powerful read and totally heartbreaking in places due to the topic matter. That said, I strongly recommend this book to you if you want a more intimate look at life in Afghanistan. The chapters are short and the novel is well structured, so it is suitable for strong upper-intermediate English learners. What’s more, Hosseini’s gift of being such a wonderful storyteller means that, as happened to me, you will fall in love with Mariam and Laila … and they will stay with you long after you have finished the novel.

Student review

Here’s what one of my lovely students had to say about it:

I have very much enjoyed reading the novel and discussing it every week with Jenny. From the first chapter, the characters caught my attention and the more I read, the more I was hooked on the story.

The novel reflects very well the lack of rights and opportunities that Afghan women suffer and therefore the story is hard and sad. Nevertheless, I would recommend it to everyone. 

Reading it in English has been an exciting experience for me, sometimes a little challenging because I have felt that I lost some nuances and information. Nevertheless, I think that it’s an interesting novel for English learners with an upper-intermediate level because it’s very well written and it’s easy to follow the full story even without knowing the meaning of a lot of words, especially adjectives. 


The Khaled Hosseini Foundation funds grantees who provide humanitarian relief and shelter to families, economic opportunity for women, and healthcare and education for children in Afghanistan. You can find more information here


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