Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Mariam and her mother, Nana, a former housekeeper for Mariam’s wealthy father, Jalil, have been banished to a hut near a small Afghan village to avoid humiliating Jalil’s three wives and nine children in Herat. Nana bitterly disparages both Mariam and Jalil, who visits his daughter weekly. Even though the village mullah urges Nana to send the girl to school, she refuses, insisting that the only skill a woman needs is endurance.
To celebrate her fifteenth birthday, Mariam begs Jalil to take her to a cinema in Herat, but both parents strenuously object. When Jalil fails to meet her, Mariam walks alone to the city, only to be told that her father is not at home. On her return she discovers that Nana has killed herself.
Reluctantly, Jalil takes Mariam into his home. The three wives, who wish to get rid of her permanently, inform her that they have found a suitor, Rasheed, a forty-five-year-old shoemaker from Kabul, whom she will marry tomorrow. At the wedding, she is ignored by her father. She mopes in Kabul until Rasheed instructs her to behave like a wife. His only son had drowned, and he wants another son. Waiting at the communal oven, Mariam encounters Fariba, a politically and socially liberal neighbor, whose husband, Hakim, is a teacher.
Conservative Rasheed buys Mariam a burka, a floor-length garment that covers her completely; he orders her to wear the garment in public. He also thoroughly disapproves of Fariba, who merely...
(The entire section is 1199 words.)
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A Thousand Splendid Suns recounts the experiences and emotions of two Afghani women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become entangled with the history of recent wars in their country. Mostly bleak and heartrending, their story does offer the promise of hope and happiness in a land ravaged by warfare, gender conflicts, and poverty.
The novel begins in 1974, when Mariam is fifteen. She lives with her single mother in an isolated spot outside of Herat, an Afghan community of artists. Mariam’s father, Jalil, runs the local movie theater. He does not live with her. Mariam’s mother, whom Mariam calls Nana, was a servant in Jalil’s home when she became pregnant. Jalil had three other wives and never offered to marry Mariam’s mother. Instead, he built a modest house for her on a hill out of town. Jalil comes to visit Mariam once a week and charms her into believing the he will one day fully claim her. Nana, a bitter and sickly woman, tries to destroy Mariam’s fantasies of her father. Mariam’s mother is fully aware that Jalil will eventually betray Mariam, which he does. Although Jalil finally takes Mariam into his home, he gives in to his wives’ demands to send Mariam away by offering her as a bride to an older man.
Her future husband is Rasheed, a successful shoemaker in Kabul. He is a big man, and his size alone frightens Mariam when she first sees him. Before she leaves her father’s side, Mariam swears she will never again speak to him for not allowing her to stay in his house.
Rasheed believes that a man should rule over his wife. He does not allow Mariam to go outside without him, and she must also dress in a burka whenever they leave the home. Mariam, however, remains in Rasheed’s relative good favor until she has a miscarriage and fails several more times to bear a child. With each of his wife’s miscarriages, Rasheed becomes crueler and more distant. Soon she is routinely beaten for trivial and often made-up reasons.
The story then switches to Laila, who has an adoring father who is a teacher and makes sure that Laila is well educated—one of the new breed of modern Afghan women. Laila’s mother, however, dotes on her sons and mostly ignores Laila. Her mother falls into a deep depression when her sons go off to war and then are killed. The Russian and Taliban armies intensify their clashes, and one day a missile destroys Laila’s house. Her parents are killed, and Laila is injured.
Rasheed, who lives down the street, pulls Laila out of the ruins and insists that Mariam nurse her back to health. In Laila’s background is a story about a male childhood friend, Tariq, with whom Laila had recently had sex. Laila soon discovers that she is pregnant. Tariq has left with his family for Pakistan to escape the war in Afghanistan. Laila did not know about the pregnancy until after Tariq was gone.
As Laila is recuperating, a stranger comes to visit and claims he met Tariq in a hospital. Tariq was badly wounded, he says, and died of his injuries. (Later, Laila learns that Rasheed paid the man to tell her this story. Everyone, including Rasheed, knew that Tariq and Laila were in love.) After the man’s visit, Rasheed offers to marry Laila. Knowing she cannot make a living for herself and her baby, she agrees. Mariam does not welcome this arrangement.
As time passes, Rasheed guesses that Laila’s daughter, Aziza, is not his. A couple of years later, Laila produces Rasheed’s baby—a son named Zalmai. Rasheed, after the birth of his son, begins to treat Laila much like he has treated Mariam. Laila is now beaten when she talks back to him.
One day, Tariq returns. He expresses his love, and Laila takes him to see his daughter, whom Laila has been forced to place in an orphanage so the little girl would be guaranteed food. Rasheed has lost his business, and money is scarce. When Rasheed finds out that Tariq is back and has been to the house, he beats Laila. His rage intensifies when Laila talks back, and he tries to strangle her. Mariam, fearing for her friend’s life, hits Rasheed in the head with a shovel, killing him. In order to save Laila and the children, who might be implicated in the murder, Mariam turns herself over to the Taliban. She is sentenced to death.
Laila and Tariq run away with both children and live in Pakistan. But after the United States invades Afghanistan, the family returns to Kabul. Their love for each other, as well as their love for their homeland, despite its cruelties and harshness and hardships, ends the novel on a high note, suggesting the possibility of a better future.
In A Thousand Splendid Suns, author Khaled Hosseini explores the lives of two women in late-twentieth-century and early-twenty-first-century Afghanistan. The novel opens with the story of Mariam, who at five years old first heard the word harami—bastard. Her father, Jalil, had always called her his little flower, but on this occasion, he mouthed the truth of her birth. Nana, Mariam’s mother, had been one of Jalil’s housekeepers until she became pregnant with his child and was cast out of the house. Jalil had three wives and nine legitimate children, all heirs to his fortune in Herat and its neighboring lands. Jalil did not have enough strength to do the honorable thing and stand up to his wives, so Mariam was sent to live in a kolba, a hut, in the countryside on the outskirts of Gul Daman with her baby. And although Jalil visited, Mariam was never able to escape the circumstances of her birth.
One day, Bibi jo, an old woman who is a friend of Nana, comes to the kolba and says that two of Jalil’s daughters are being allowed to attend school. Mariam immediately wants the same privilege, but her mother tells her that the only life lesson that she is meant to learn is that of endurance. Mariam resolves to tell her father of her wish—she wants to live in his house in Herat as one of his children. But Mariam keeps this wish to herself, and in the spring of 1974 on her fifteenth birthday, she tells Jalil that as her gift, she wants to go see Pinocchio at the cinema. Both her parents try to persuade her otherwise, but Jalil finally consents to her wish. On the day that Jalil is supposed to take Mariam into town, he never arrives, and Mariam sits waiting until her legs are stiff. Then, she does what she has never done before—she crosses the stream and walks to Herat.
Once in town, a driver offers Mariam a ride to Jalil’s house. She is not welcomed into the home and is told that Jalil is away on business. Mariam spends the night sleeping outside the house. The next day, she forces herself into the open gates of the garden. Jalil’s driver catches her and takes her home. But Mariam has already seen Jalil’s shocked face in an upstairs window, and on the drive home she cries, understanding that her father has betrayed her and that she has disgraced herself. When they arrive at the hut, Mariam finds Nana hanging from a branch of the weeping willow tree.
Because her mother...
(The entire section is 2418 words.)
Chapters 1-3 Summary
Mariam remembers that she was five years old the first time she heard the word harami, which means “bastard.” Anxiously expecting the weekly visit of her father, Jalil, Mariam breaks one of the pieces of her mother’s porcelain tea set, the only remaining relic of Nana’s own mother. Mariam’s clumsiness prompts Nana to scorn her daughter, but the meaning of Nana’s words would only become apparent to Mariam years later. Even though Jalil is Mariam’s father by birth, Jalil never invites her to his home in Herat. Instead, he visits the kolba, the hut in which Mariam and her mother live, every Thursday and appeases Mariam with stories. But Nana tells Mariam not to believe Jalil’s words because they are simply “rich lies.” Jalil, one of the wealthiest men in Herat, has three wives and nine other children, and he owns a cinema. Nana had been one of his housekeepers, and after Jalil took her to his bed, Nana became pregnant with Mariam. Jalil’s wives demanded that Nana be thrown out of the house, and feeling disgraced, Nana’s father abandoned her and moved to Iran. Instead of standing up to his wives, Jalil sent Nana to live in the kolba on the outskirts of Gul Daman.
Nana and Jalil tell opposing stories of Mariam’s birth. Nana claims that Mariam kept her in painful labor for two full days and that no one came to attend her, forcing her to cut the umbilical cord herself. But Mariam prefers to believe her father’s story: Jalil claims that even though he was out of town, he arranged for Nana to be taken to a hospital where she received care. He says that the doctors told him that it took less than an hour for Mariam to be born and that even then she was a good daughter.
To make penance, Jalil sends two of his sons each month to the kolba with a wheelbarrow filled with food rations. Nana says that the boys laugh at Mariam when they leave. Nana hates having visitors at the kolba, but she makes a few exceptions: Habib Khan, the village’s leader; Bibi jo, an older woman whose husband was a friend to Nana’s father; and Mullah Faizullah, the village’s Koran tutor. Mullah Faizullah is Mariam’s favorite visitor—aside from Jalil—and one day she tells him that she wants to go to school. On a previous occasion, Bibi jo mentioned that Jalil’s other daughters have been allowed to attend school in Herat, and Mariam wants to go also. But Nana tells her daughter that the only lesson she needs to...
(The entire section is 453 words.)
Chapters 4-5 Summary
Unlike her mother, Mariam loves having visitors at the kolba, especially her father, Jalil. He visits every Thursday, and Mariam’s anxiety begins every Tuesday night as she waits expectantly for Jalil’s visit. When Nana announces that Jalil is crossing the stream to the kolba, Mariam contains herself and waits patiently by the door, knowing that Nana is watching her. Then she runs into her father’s arms and looks down on his smiling face while he tosses her into the air. Nana says that one day, Jalil will miss, but Mariam feels safe in her father’s arms. Nana serves the two tea, and she inquires about Jalil’s family, having heard from Bibi jo that one of Jalil’s wives is expecting another child. Jalil says that yes, he will now have ten children, and Nana reminds him that he has eleven including Mariam.
On occasion, Jalil brings Mariam presents, and during a visit while he tries to tell her about the overthrow of King Zahir Shah by Daoud Khan, Mariam spots a bulge in his pocket. Jalil takes out a box containing a leaf-shaped pendant. But Nana tells her that the pendant has been made from melted coins and claims that Jalil should bring Mariam gold. Mariam begins to dream of living with her father as one of his children in Herat.
On her fifteenth birthday in the spring of 1974, Mariam tells Jalil that she wants him to take her to his cinema to see a showing of Pinocchio. Nana immediately says that it is not a good idea, and Jalil claims that the picture quality is not good. But Mariam will not be swayed and she asks Jalil again. He finally consents and tells Mariam that he will meet her the following day at noon to take her to the cinema. Nana is furious and tells Mariam that jinn, evil spirits, will befall them. The next morning, Mariam puts on her best dress and waits by the stream. As time passes, Mariam tries to reason that Jalil is a businessman and that something has come up, but she knows that he is not coming. So she crosses the stream and walks to Herat.
In town, she asks the driver of a horse-drawn gari if he knows where Jalil lives, and the man agrees to take her there even though she cannot pay him. When Mariam arrives at Jalil’s house, his driver comes to the door and tells her that Jalil is out of town and that she must go home. She wants to be let into the house, so the driver tries to persuade her to go to a hotel. Mariam ends up sleeping on the doorstep. In the...
(The entire section is 526 words.)
Chapters 6-7 Summary
Mullah Faizullah recites prayers at Nana’s gravesite, and she is buried in the cemetery in Gul Daman. Jalil walks Mariam back to the kolba, and while the villagers watch, he makes a spectacle of gathering Mariam’s belongings and tending to her needs. Mariam asks for Mullah Faizullah, and when he enters the kolba, she cries. He tries to comfort her by telling her that God has a reason for every hard trial in life, but all Mariam can hear are her mother’s words, “I’ll die if you go.”
In the backseat of the car on the way to Herat, Jalil tells Mariam that he has arranged for her to stay in his home. Now, Mariam hears Jalil with her mother’s ears, and she can sense the insincerity of his words. Once at the house, Jalil takes Mariam to a bedroom that is normally used for guests. Over the next few days, Mariam only leaves the bedroom to use the bathroom. One of the housemaids brings her food, but Mariam leaves most of it uneaten. From the window, Mariam watches the daily routines of the household and wonders where she belongs.
On the second day of Mariam’s stay, one of Jalil’s daughters, Niloufar, comes to the room to get the gramophone. She says that her mother told her that Mariam is not really one of her sisters and that a jinn caused Mariam’s mother to hang herself. The next day, Mullah Faizullah visits Mariam and tells her that her mother’s death was not her fault.
A week later, Afsoon, one of Jalil’s wives, comes to Mariam’s room and tells her that the family needs to speak with her. Over a long, dark brown table, Jalil’s three wives question Mariam’s well-being, and then Khadija tells Mariam that they have found her a suitor. Rasheed, a Pashtun shoemaker who lives in the Deh-Mazang district in Kabul, has agreed to marry Mariam. But he is much older than Mariam, so she does not want to agree to the union and begs Jalil not to force her into the marriage. The wives tell Mariam that she cannot live in their home forever. Mariam says that she will go to live with Mullah Faizullah. He, however, is old and weak, and Mariam pictures her life in Kabul, a strange, far-away land. Again, she asks Jalil to go against his wives, but Jalil has already told Rasheed that he can marry Mariam: the wedding is scheduled for the next morning. When Jalil finally speaks, his tone is as if he were the one being tortured. The wives try to reassure Mariam of a happy fate, but Mariam can only stare down at...
(The entire section is 473 words.)
Chapters 8-9 Summary
On the morning of her wedding, Mariam is given a green dress and white trousers with a pair of sandals. She is taken into the room with the long, dark brown table and already seated are a couple of men and a mullah whom she does not know. Jalil pulls out a chair for Mariam, and he and his wives sit at the table. Nargis, one of Jalil’s wives, arranges a veil on Mariam’s head. When Rasheed enters the room, Mariam is looking at her hands, but she smells his overpowering scent of cigarette smoke combined with sweet cologne. She sneaks a glance and is much displeased by the immense size of the man: he is tall, and his belly is large. When the mullah asks Mariam if she accepts Rasheed as her husband, Mariam remains silent, and one of Jalil’s wives speaks in her place. But the mullah says that Mariam must answer herself, and Jalil pressures her to respond, “Yes.” The rings are exchanged, and the marriage contract is signed. As the couple head for the bus, Jalil tries to convince Mariam that Kabul is beautiful. Mariam stops him and tells him that she has known for a long time that he is ashamed of her. When Jalil attempts to make amends, Mariam tells him to never visit her because she will not see him as her guest. As the bus pulls away, Mariam does not look back at Jalil.
Mariam and Rasheed arrive in Deh-Mazang the following evening, and Mariam is not impressed by the crowded houses that line the streets and the gutters filled with muddy water. Inside their own gate, Mariam takes note of the small, unkempt yard which is home to a few dying saplings. The house itself is small, and the walls are bare. The rooms in the house are sparsely furnished with secondhand furniture, and everything reeks of cigarette smoke. The unfamiliar place causes Mariam to cry, and Rasheed is wholly unsympathetic, saying that he has no patience for the sound of a woman crying. He takes her upstairs to her bedroom—the couple will sleep separately because Rasheed has grown accustomed to sleeping alone. Secretly, Mariam is relieved and welcomes her privacy. On the windowsill, Rasheed has placed a basket of white tuberoses. Rasheed tells Mariam that she will like her new home. Then he leaves and closes the door behind him, leaving Mariam alone.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
Chapters 10-11 Summary
Mariam hardly leaves her bedroom the first few days after moving into Rasheed’s home. She arises for early morning prayers and gets back into bed while Rasheed washes and prepares for work. On some days, after Rasheed leaves for work, Mariam goes downstairs to the kitchen and looks at the grease-stained counters and stove. She feels “like an intruder on someone else’s life.” Mariam paces the house and feels the nausea associated with homesickness. Her anxiety increases near the evening of each day when she knows that Rasheed will be making his way home. He enters her room, and Mariam pretends to be sleeping. When Rasheed persists, Mariam acknowledges him, and he sits to tell her about his day at the shoe workshop. One week later, Rasheed tells Mariam that she must unpack her suitcase and start behaving like a wife.
The next morning, Mariam unpacks and begins cleaning the house and cooking meals. She leaves the house to go to the communal tandoor to bake bread, and along the way, she listens to the chatter of the neighborhood women as they talk of family life and responsibility. In the tandoor line, Mariam notices the other women staring at her, and she becomes nervous. Then one of the women, Fariba, approaches and asks if she is Rasheed’s new wife. After a brief introduction, the other women then overwhelm Mariam with questions, and Fariba must pull the women away. Mariam runs off, tripping in the street, unable to find her own house.
When Rasheed returns home after work, he does not notice the cleanliness of the house, but he compliments Mariam’s cooking. Rasheed offers to show Mariam around Kabul the next day, and he also tells her that he believes it honorable for a woman’s looks to be her husband’s business only. Before they leave, Rasheed makes Mariam put on a burqa. She is unnerved by the loss of vision and suffocating cloth. The couple takes a bus to Shar-e-Nau Park and strolls the grounds, watching children play. They eat lunch at a restaurant, and Rasheed buys ice cream for Mariam—this is the first time she has ever had such a treat. Mariam is most intrigued by the women she sees in Kabul; they are dressed in modern, flashy clothing so unlike the dress of the women in her neighborhood. In comparison, Mariam feels plain and homely.
That night, Rasheed comes to Mariam’s room and slides under the bedsheets. Mariam tells him, “I can’t,” but Rasheed’s hands explore her body....
(The entire section is 478 words.)
Chapters 12-13 Summary
That year, 1974, Ramadan comes in the fall. The entire city falls into a lull, and the streets become free of traffic and chatter. Most people fast during the day and eat modest meals at sunset. Mariam enjoys the communal experience of the fast, but Rasheed on most days does not observe. On the days that he does observe the fast, hunger makes him moody and irritable, and he unleashes his temper on Mariam. She is happy when Ramadan ends.
Mariam thinks of her childhood and remembers the first day of Eid-ul-Fitr, the celebration that follows Ramadan. Her father, Jalil, would come to the kolba bearing gifts before excusing himself and heading back over the stream. Nana would say that he was off to visit his real family. On that day, Mullah Faizullah would come to the kolba also and bring chocolates, boiled eggs, and cookies for Mariam. Even though she liked the treats, Mariam felt little joy; the Eid celebration was meant to be celebrated by families, and Mariam could only think of the high spirits among Jalil’s family in Herat. Her bad mood would only lift once the celebration passed.
Now, after Ramadan, Rasheed and Mariam walk the streets of Kabul, and Mariam is amazed at the liveliness of the city. Mariam sees Fariba, who waves and calls out to her. Rasheed asks her if she knows Fariba, and Mariam denies the acquaintance. Rasheed tells her to stay away from Fariba because she is a “nosy gossiper.” Then Rasheed and Mariam go to Shar-e-Nau and watch the children play in the park. Festive lanterns and women selling sweets add to the celebration. Rasheed takes Mariam to see the fireworks. As she watches, Mariam misses sitting outside with Mullah Faizullah watching the fireworks explode in the distance over Herat. She also misses her mother and wishes she were still alive to see it all.
Eid visitors arrive at the house; they are all men and friends of Rasheed. Mariam goes upstairs and closes her door; she is only permitted to return once the men leave. Mariam is not angry; she feels flattered by Rasheed’s desire to protect the sanctity of their marriage. On the third day of Eid, Rasheed leaves the house to visit friends. Having the house to herself, Mariam goes into Rasheed’s bedroom and looks through his drawers. Her mouth drops when she finds a gun and pornographic magazines. She sits on the bed trying to make sense of it all. She opens the bottom drawer and finds a picture of Rasheed’s former wife and...
(The entire section is 616 words.)
Chapters 14-15 Summary
Mariam is surprised by the grief that overtakes her for a baby that she has never seen. She dreads going outside to see other women surrounded by many children whom they take for granted. Although she tries to comfort herself by thinking that someday she will have other children, Mariam cannot help but grieve for this child. Mariam begins to believe that she is being punished for disobeying Nana so many years ago. Rasheed’s mood and behavior also change after the loss of the child: in the evenings, Rasheed eats silently. Mariam asks him if he is angry with her, and Rasheed yells at Mariam to stop pestering him. Mariam thinks that they should have a proper burial for the child, but Rasheed thinks this is foolish and turns up the volume on the television. A few days later, Mariam digs a hole in the yard and buries a suede coat that Rasheed had bought for the baby. She says a prayer as she pats the dirt and closes her eyes.
A few years later in April 1978 (the year that Mariam turns 19), a large demonstration erupts in Kabul following the murder of Mir Akbar Khyber, a known communist. His supporters blame his murder on the government of President Daoud Khan, and the city buzzes with gossip about the incident. But Mariam does not understand, and she asks Rasheed what a communist is. He waves away her ignorance and tells her that she is like a child. Out of fear, Mariam tolerates Rasheed’s insults. Since she lost her first child, Mariam has lost six others, and Rasheed has grown more resentful toward her. Now Mariam’s days are filled with trying to find ways to not infuriate her husband.
At the end of April, Kabul roars from military planes zooming overhead and bombs exploding in the distance. Rasheed tries to get information via the radio, but all that will transmit is static. Then a man’s voice announces himself as a colonel in the Air Force and says that Daoud Khan’s regime is nearly defeated. A revolutionary council has taken over the government and the country will now be known as the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. During the broadcast, Rasheed has sat down to eat dinner, and now he grimaces as he chews a rice ball. Mariam says that she boiled the rice for an extra five minutes, but Rasheed calls her a liar and storms out the door. He soon returns and forces her to chew a handful of pebbles. After he leaves, Mariam spits out the pebbles along with blood and fragments of two broken teeth.
(The entire section is 440 words.)
Chapters 16-17 Summary
In Kabul during the spring of 1987, nine-year-old Laila wakes and regrets that she will not see her friend Tariq this morning. Tariq will be gone for two weeks; his parents have taken him south to the city of Ghazni to visit a sick uncle. So Laila begins the morning routine—her mother Fariba storms loudly about the house, while her father Babi waits for the mood to pass. When Mammy finally settles back into bed, Babi calls out to Laila so that the two can ride to school together. Laila loves her father’s quiet ways, and at night, she always finds him reading a book. Babi cannot take care of simple household tasks, but he is well versed in literature and history and can speak at length on the plight of Afghanistan. As Laila climbs onto Babi’s bicycle, she sees an expensive car with Herat license plates parked outside Rasheed’s house. Babi tells his daughter that it is none of their business.
In school, Laila finds it difficult to concentrate because she continues to think about Tariq’s absence and her parents’ fighting. Her teacher Shanzai, whom the students secretly call Khala Rangmaal—Auntie Painter—disrupts Laila’s daydreaming. Shanzai calls Laila Inquilabi Girl—Revolutionary Girl—because she was born on the night of the coup. When asked by her teacher for the names of politically friendly countries, Laila answers correctly, earning her teacher’s favor.
Mammy forgets to pick Laila up after school, so she walks home with two friends—Giti and Hasina. The girls talk about taking on suitors, but Laila is not thinking about suitors: Babi has told her many times that her education is most important. Giti and Hasina turn onto their street, and Laila walks the last three blocks alone. Near her house, a voice behind her mocks her yellow hair, and she turns to see Khadim, a neighborhood boy, pointing a water gun in her face. Khadim sprays Laila with urine from the gun and meanwhile a group of boys arrive and jeer. Laila runs home crying. When she gets there, she finds her mother still in bed; the room smells unclean. Around the room are pictures of Laila’s two brothers, Ahmad and Noor, who are now absent and off fighting the war. Mammy apologizes for not coming to get Laila from school and promises to be there the next day. Laila has heard this before. When Laila asks what is ailing her, Mammy touches her chest and says, “You just don’t know.”
(The entire section is 424 words.)
Chapters 18-20 Summary
Weeks pass, yet Tariq does not return from Ghazni. Laila fears the worst and considers that Tariq has once again fallen victim to a landmine like he did when he was five. That time he lost a leg, and Laila now believes that he may have lost his life. But a few nights later she sees a flashing yellow light from down the street, signaling that her friend has returned. The next day, Laila visits Tariq and is shocked at his newly shaven head. When Laila enters the family room, Tariq’s father calls her “our aroos (daughter-in-law),” and Tariq’s mother scolds her husband. Laila is invited to stay for a meal, and the family speak of their trip to visit Tariq’s sick uncle. Laila loves eating meals at Tariq’s house because the conversation is easy and the family always eats together. Babi once told Laila that there is much tension between their ethnic groups: the Pashtuns, Tariq’s people, and the Tajiks, Laila’s. However, Laila never feels any tension when in Tariq’s home. After eating, Tariq invites Laila to play a game of cards, and the two go to his bedroom. Laila confesses that she missed him while he was away, and Tariq is embarrassed.
When Tariq and Laila are outside, Laila sees Khadim and tells Tariq about the urine spray from the water gun. Tariq unstraps his prosthetic leg and hops towards Khadim. After Tariq gives Khadim a swift beating, Khadim never bothers Laila again.
Back at home, Laila and Babi eat dinner without Mammy, who remains in bed. Babi tells Laila that women have always had it hard in their country but that at least under the communists, women had more rights. Then, they are interrupted by a knock at the door. A man arrives bearing the tragic news that Laila’s two brothers, Ahmad and Noor, have been killed in battle. The next morning, mourners arrive at the home. Laila finds it difficult to feel Mammy’s grief, for she barely knew her elder brothers.
After the death of her sons, Mammy’s physical ailments plague her body even though the doctors find no illness. She remains in bed most of the day, and she always wears black. Mammy does not, however, miss her five daily namaz prayers. Laila ends up taking on more chores around the house, but Mammy takes little notice—Laila’s presence has been overshadowed by the memory of her brothers. Laila worries that her mother might do something to hurt herself or to take her life, so she hides dangerous items like...
(The entire section is 476 words.)
Chapters 21-22 Summary
On his limited salary, Babi hires a driver and takes Laila and Tariq on a trip. They pass through varied landscapes of snowy peaks to dry deserts, and Laila imagines that this is the landscape of Afghanistan that was well known to her brothers.
After passing a few checkpoints, Babi points out Shahr-e-Zohak, The Red City, to Laila and Tariq and tells them about the history of Genghis Khan. Babi says that the history of Afghanistan is filled with stories of invasions. Shortly, the driver pulls over, and all get out of the taxi to explore the area. Two enormous Buddhas are chiseled into a rock cliff. Babi invites Laila and Tariq to climb up to the statues. Babi tells them that the area was once home to a Buddhist center until Islamic Arab rule began in the 9th century. Lining the cliff are many caves in which the monks used to live. When the three get to the top of the statue, they look out into the Bamiyan Valley, and Laila comments on how quiet it is. Babi tells her that he always remembers the peaceful nature of the place and that he has wanted her to experience it. Babi then tells Laila that he used to bring her mother to visit the place, but now Mammy is so broken by the death of Ahmad and Noor that she has lost the zest for life. Babi admits that he too is terribly upset by the death of his sons and that he misses them dearly. Laila rests her head on her father’s chest, and he then confesses that he often thinks of one day leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan or even America. He dreams of the better life that they might have away from Afghanistan. However, Laila knows that her mother would never be convinced to leave her homeland and that Babi would not leave without her. Then in April 1988, a treaty is signed in Geneva and the Soviets must leave Afghanistan. Mammy does not believe that communist occupation will end, and she gets back into bed.
In January 1989, spectators gather to watch the Soviet convoys leave Kabul. Mammy holds a photograph of Ahmad and Noor overhead; other women in the crowd also hold pictures of the husbands, brothers, and sons they lost in the war. On the bus ride home, a man in a nearby seat claims that the war will continue while Mammy mutters prayers to herself.
Later that day, Laila and Tariq go to Cinema Park and watch a dubbed film. A wedding scene is featured at the end of the film, and Tariq claims that he is never getting...
(The entire section is 525 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Three years pass. Tariq’s father has suffered a series of strokes which have left his left hand clumsy and his speech slurred. Tariq has outgrown his prosthetic leg and had to wait six months for the Red Cross to issue him a new one. Laila’s friend Hasina has been forced by her family to move to Lahore to marry a cousin who owns an auto shop. The Soviet Union is quickly falling, and Babi often returns home telling of yet another newly independent republic. In Kabul, government leaders attempt to persuade the Mujahideen into believing that they are devout Muslims; however, none are swayed. Mammy continues to wait for the government to fall. Mammy gets her wish in April 1992, when Najibullah surrenders, ending the jihad.
On the day following Najibullah’s surrender, Mammy gets out of bed and appears to be a new woman. For the first time in five years, she does not wear black and instead dons a blue dress. She cleans the house, takes a bath, and declares that a party is in order. Mammy goes into the kitchen and begins preparing food to entertain her guests. Mammy asks after Tariq and his family, playfully hinting that Laila and Tariq might have romantic feelings for each other. She tells Laila that she must look after her reputation, but Laila claims that she and Tariq are simply friends and that he is like a brother to her. Mammy takes offense to this comparison and tells Laila that no one could ever be like her brothers. Laila knows that Mammy has a point; she is forced to admit that she has fallen for Tariq. Laila suspects that more than a few of their neighbors gossip about her and Tariq—she has noticed the sly grins on their faces when she walks by them. Yet Laila is angry that Mammy, who has been so removed from their lives for the past five years, is making a comment about her life.
Visitors arrive at the house and drink tea and smoke in the yard. Lamb sizzles on the grill, and Babi and Tariq’s father play a game of chess in the shade. In the kitchen, Laila talks with her friend Giti, who has transformed from a shy girl into an attractive young woman because she fancies an eighteen-year-old boy named Sabir. All around them, women carry food in and out of the kitchen. Tariq slips in and is scolded by Giti and another woman. Later, when the meals are done and tea is served, Tariq motions with his head for Laila to come outside. She waits five minutes before meeting him down the street. Laila chides him for...
(The entire section is 519 words.)
Chapters 24-26 Summary
Laila cannot stand the sound of the whistling of the bombs; she hates the uncertain time between the start of the whistling and the destruction upon impact. She fears that Tariq will be hit by a stray rocket. All night, Laila sees flashes of light outside her window, and she cannot sleep. In the morning, the Mujahideen call a cease-fire to enter prayer, but once namaz is over, the fighting resumes. Massoud’s men are everywhere: in the streets, atop tanks, at intersections. Laila rarely goes out, and when she does, she is escorted by Tariq. One day, Tariq admits to Laila that he has bought a gun for protection—he has heard stories about women who were raped and mutilated in the street. Tariq has become Laila’s lifeline to the happenings in the city, and he reports events to her as he hears them. Nowhere is safe. Tariq tells Laila that he would kill to protect her. He leans over and kisses her, and Laila thinks that all Mammy’s warnings are immaterial.
In June 1992, heavy fighting cripples Kabul, and many bodies are found tied to trees. Babi pleads with Mammy to leave the city. Mammy thinks that Babi is betraying the country. Fearing the worst, Babi withdraws Laila from school and teaches her from home. But Laila continues to daydream about Tariq, making it difficult to pay attention to Babi’s lessons. The same month, Laila’s friend Giti is hit by a rocket, and at her fatiha, Laila releases the tears that she has kept inside.
In August of the same year, Tariq tells Laila that he and his family are leaving Kabul the next day for Pakistan. Almost everyone whom Laila knows has fled the city. Laila cries and slaps Tariq, but then she falls into his arms, and the two make love. Tariq begs Laila to leave with him and tells her that he wants to get married. And although the two profess their love, Laila resolves that she cannot leave her father behind because she is all he has left.
Heat oppresses Kabul, and the gunfire continues. Laila tries to convince herself that she has done the right thing. She tries to keep the memory of her and Tariq’s passion alive. Then Laila hears Babi calling her from the hallway—Mammy has finally agreed to leave Kabul. Babi says that they should only take the items that are absolutely necessary. The family gathers all the items in the household that they will sell. Laila is surprised that Mammy wishes to sell her wedding dress, but Laila knows that Babi has...
(The entire section is 531 words.)
Chapters 27-29 Summary
Rasheed and Mariam have taken Laila into their home, and as Laila slowly regains consciousness, she quietly tells Mariam that she cannot hear out of her left ear. For the first week, Laila sleeps much. Sometimes she cries out names in her sleep and weeps in agitation, kicking the blankets off the bed. Other times she vomits continually. When not upset, Laila simply stares and refuses to eat or move. Mariam asks Rasheed how long the girl will stay, and Rasheed tells her that Laila is in no condition to go anywhere else.
Rasheed tells Laila that it was he who found her in the rubble of what used to be her home. He also managed to save a few of Laila’s father’s books, but most of them were turned to ash in the explosion. Mariam thinks that Laila is lucky to have gotten out of the disaster with only minor injuries. Soon, Laila begins to eat more and come out of her shock, but sometimes her memories push her into withdrawal and nightmares. One day as Mariam is changing the sheets, Laila offers her a little piece of the story—it had been her father who was supposed to carry the boxes outside, not Laila. Laila should have died in the house with her mother. Mariam does not know what words she could possibly offer to ease Laila’s suffering and thus remains quiet.
A month later, a man named Abdul Sharif calls on Laila at Rasheed’s home to bring her news about Tariq. Abdul tells her that he was admitted to a hospital in Peshawar for a high fever and while there, he met Tariq. Abdul had listened carefully to the banter between nurses and patients and gathered that Tariq had been in a truck full of refugees headed for Peshawar when a rocket hit the truck—only six people survived the blast. Tariq had lost his other leg and had many internal injuries. Tariq was placed in the bed next to Abdul, so the two spoke often, and Abdul tells Laila that most often, Tariq spoke of her. When Tariq learned that Abdul would be going back to Kabul, he asked Abdul to find Laila and tell her that she was in his thoughts. Some nights later, Abdul woke to doctors and nurses huddled around Tariq’s bed. One of the nurses said that Tariq “fought valiantly.” At the news of Tariq’s apparent death, Laila is paralyzed.
During a meal, Rasheed tells Laila that he is sorry for her loss and that Tariq’s passing away is a terrible occurrence. Mariam watches Rasheed’s new-found manners in front of Laila and understands that her...
(The entire section is 528 words.)
Chapters 30-32 Summary
The next day, Laila remains in bed. When Rasheed returns in the evening, he makes a spectacle of showing Laila the wedding band that he has bought her (he traded in Mariam’s wedding ring to make the purchase). But Laila does not want to accept such a gift and asks him to take it back. Rasheed tells her that he spent much money on the ring and then rambles on about flowers and a dress fitting. Laila interrupts him and tells him, “I’d just as soon we get it done,” and Rasheed interprets her submission as eagerness.
Laila had been planning to run away to Pakistan, but the new changes in her body make her realize that she cannot leave. Her missed menstrual cycle, full breasts, and daily nausea are all signs that Tariq is still alive in the baby growing inside her. Already Laila understands the sacrifices that a mother must make for her child. At the wedding, Laila cannot bear to look at Mariam. That night, after Rasheed is asleep, Laila punctures her finger with a knife and smears the blood on the marital sheets.
During the day, Mariam and Laila rarely cross each other’s paths, and when they do, Laila quickly apologizes for getting in Mariam’s way. However, in the evening, Rasheed insists that they all eat together as a family. At dinner one night, Rasheed compares both women to grades of cars, and Laila flashes him a glance full of hatred. Then Rasheed tells Laila that she must never leave the house without him to accompany her, claiming that it is his duty to protect her honor. He also tells her that anything that she needs will be provided by Mariam. A few days later in the yard, Laila approaches Mariam to talk about Rasheed’s orders, and Mariam tells Laila that she would rather die than take orders from Laila. But Laila does not want Mariam to act as her servant; she simply wants to thank her for having taken care of her. Mariam threatened, Laila hurt, the two women remain distanced from each other.
Laila remembers a time when she heard her mother chatting with a group of women about the death of Rasheed’s son. The boy had drowned in Ghargha Lake, and Rasheed had been drunk that day. Laila thinks of this story when she tells Rasheed the news of her pregnancy. Excited, Rasheed goes to the mosque to pray for a boy-child. Mariam is upset by the news, and Laila thinks that Mariam and the baby are simply innocent victims of this situation.
As the days pass, Rasheed brings home more news...
(The entire section is 544 words.)
Chapters 33-35 Summary
In the spring of 1993, Mariam watches from the window as Rasheed escorts Laila from the house on their way to the hospital. When the couple returns the next evening, Rasheed enters the yard first and lets the gate nearly slam in Laila’s face. Laila struggles to get through the door while carrying both her newborn daughter and a bag of belongings, but Mariam turns away to return to the kitchen to warm Rasheed’s food. The first few months, Rasheed cannot stand the baby’s crying and threatens to send little Aziza down the Kabul River. Rasheed and Laila argue much about caring for the baby and Laila’s refusal to have sex with Rasheed. But Laila revels in her role as a new mother, and Mariam is exhausted by Laila’s new preoccupation. Rasheed cares little for the daughter whom he wanted to be a son and sees her more of a burden than as anything else.
One night after Rasheed’s having said that one in four children die in Afghanistan by the age of five, Laila refuses him, and the two get into a heated argument. Rasheed rushes from the room and enters Mariam’s bedroom, claiming that Mariam has taught Laila to deny him. Rasheed attempts to beat Mariam with a belt, but Laila runs into the room and lunges at him, begging him to spare Mariam. Later that night, Mariam wakes and goes to get something to drink when she finds Laila and Aziza asleep on a blanket in the middle of the floor. Aziza is awake, so Mariam comforts her and begins to bond with the baby.
Laila often whispers to Aziza that her father was handsome, and she gets nervous when she sees Rasheed looking at the baby in a strange way. He has on past occasions asked her about the relationship that she had with Tariq, but Laila maintains that they were simply like brother and sister. Laila fears what Rasheed would do if he found out that she has been stealing money from his wallet to make her escape in the spring.
Two days later, Laila wakes to find that someone has left a stack of baby clothes in front of her bedroom door. Later, she finds Mariam in the kitchen cleaning fish and thanks her for the clothing. Laila praises Mariam’s skill at cleaning fish, and the two women talk about the previous abusive situation with Rasheed. Mariam warns Laila that soon he will turn violent against her too. They sit to drink tea and realize that they are no longer enemies.
Laila and Mariam now do all their chores together, and they grow used to each...
(The entire section is 584 words.)
Chapter 36 Summary
On the morning that Laila and Mariam plan to leave, Laila listens as Rasheed prepares for work and watches him as he pedals away on his bicycle. She fears that he knows that she has been lying about his being Aziza’s father and that he knows of her and Mariam’s plan to escape. The taxi arrives, and as they drive, Laila fears that Rasheed will be somewhere on the street to spot them. Mariam mutters prayers. On the street are the signs of the fighting that has taken over the city: ruins of homes, destroyed buildings, shattered glass, and overturned cars are everywhere. As they pass a funeral procession and a cemetery, Laila clutches Aziza’s arm. The taxi driver drops the women off at the bus station, and Laila and Mariam look around for a man whom they think might agree to pose as one of their family members. Women in Kabul are no longer allowed the freedoms of the past, and travelling without a male family member as a chaperone is strictly forbidden. Laila and Mariam know that they will also face great risk if they make the journey to Pakistan because the country is already overburdened with refugees and only those with official visas are admitted through the border. The pair hope that they will be able to bribe their way into Pakistan.
After some deliberation, Laila and Mariam agree on a man whom they see sitting on a bench with a veiled woman and a young boy outside the park. Laila is encouraged by the man’s soft face and demeanor, and she asks the man, Wakil, if he will do them a favor and act as a family member. The man agrees, and he takes Laila’s money to buy the bus tickets. When the time comes to board the bus, Wakil’s wife and son go on first, and Wakil whispers something to the guard. The guard pulls Laila and Mariam to the side, and they are forced to board a truck heading to the police station.
At the police station, Laila and Mariam are interrogated separately. Laila claims that Mariam is her mother and that they had been headed to visit an uncle in Peshawar. After more questions, the officer tells Laila that it is a crime for women to run away from their husbands and that she and Mariam could be put in prison for their actions. Laila begs the officer to let them go, telling the officer that there is no saying what Rasheed might do to them if they are taken back home. The officer replies that a man may do as he like in his own home.
When the police drop Laila and Mariam back home,...
(The entire section is 593 words.)
Chapters 37-39 Summary
Two and a half years pass, and Mariam awakes to shouting, whistling, music, and firecrackers outside the window. The Taliban have arrived in Kabul. Many of the men in the Taliban have grown up as refugees in Pakistan—the men have no roots and no past, and they look to conquer all in their path. Rasheed respects the fact that the men are at least united unlike the previous factions in the government. That afternoon, Rasheed takes the family to the town square, and there young Talib men over loudspeakers rail against the government. The next day, Kabul is flooded with trucks, and messages and announcements blare over loudspeakers declaring the creation of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Countless rules limiting people’s freedom are doled out to the public. Women must be escorted in the streets, and all must obey times of prayer. Laila refuses to believe that the Taliban will be able to enforce such laws, and Rasheed laughs, claiming that her father's ideas about education have made her naive. The university and cinemas are shut down, pre-Islamic institutions are destroyed and looted, and people are forced into mosques during namaz. All Rasheed has to do is grow a mustache and beard, so he accepts the new impositions of the Taliban and speaks ill of the former Soviet rule. When Laila questions him, he threatens to give Aziza away, claiming that he has suspicions about the parentage of the child. Laila is disgusted by Rasheed’s threats and worries about the safety of herself and her daughter. She even considers committing suicide, but she reasons that too many innocent people have already died in the crossfire of enemies.
The next year, Laila is ready to deliver her second child, but the nearby hospital no longer treats women according to mandates by the Taliban. The women’s hospital, Rabia Balkhi, lacks clean water, electricity, and medication. Still, Laila must be taken there, and in the waiting room, dozens of women wait for medical care. Mariam tries to get a nurse to admit Laila, but other women are also trying to get their cases heard. Finally, Laila is taken in to see a doctor, and upon examination, the doctor declares that Laila needs a caesarian section to birth the baby because it is in a breech position. The doctor covers Laila's lower body with a cloth. She slits Laila’s abdomen, but the hospital has no anesthetic. Mariam praises Laila for her ability to endure such pain.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
Chapters 40-41 Summary
Kabul is in the second year of a severe drought that has driven farmers off their land and into other countries. Lines at the public wells are long, and Mariam and Laila wait for hours just to get a little water for the family. Mariam and Laila dig a large hole in the yard to hide household items from the Taliban. While they work, Zalmai chases his sister, Aziza, around the yard. Zalmai resembles his father in looks, yet when he is alone with Laila, he is a sweet, good-natured boy. However, Zalmai worships his father, so when Rasheed is around, Zalmai resorts to mischievous behavior that Rasheed praises as “a sign of intelligence.” Laila gets to spend little time with her son because Rasheed often takes the boy to his shoe workshop during the day. At home, if Laila asks to hold her son, Rasheed glowers at her.
A few weeks after Zalmai’s second birthday, Rasheed returns home with a full-size television and a VCR. These types of items have been banned by the Taliban; Rasheed purchased them on the black market. Once the television is set up, Aziza pushes the power button, and Rasheed grabs her hand away. Rasheed says the television belongs to Zalmai. Later, after dinner, Rasheed tells Laila that he has borrowed more money than he has let on and that the money from his shoe shop is not enough to continue to sustain the family. He tells her that Aziza will have to beg for money in the streets. Laila protests, and Rasheed slaps her. Laila retorts by punching him in the face, and someone screams in the back of the room. Rasheed walks out of the room; when he returns, he chokes Laila and shoves a gun into her mouth.
After Rasheed’s abuse, the women bury the television in the large hole they have dug in the yard. Afterward, Laila dreams that she and Mariam lower Aziza, not the television, into the hole. Laila tells her daughter that it will only be for a little while, but Aziza fights against the sheet of plastic in which her mother has wrapped her. She fills the hole. Laila wakes from her nightmare out of breath.
The drought reaches its worst year in the summer of 2000. Entire communities turn nomadic for their survival. The movie Titanic is released, and Aziza forces Mariam to role-play with her. “Titanic fever” takes over Kabul—vendors swarm the riverbed and sell a plethora of goods relating to the film.
One night, a fabric merchant falls asleep holding a lighted cigarette, and many...
(The entire section is 547 words.)
Chapter 42 Summary
In April 2001, the Taliban plants TNT in the two giant Buddhas in Bamiyan and chant as the artifacts are blown to pieces. The Taliban claim that they are ridding the country of idolatry and sin. As the statues crumble, Laila sees her own life crumbling as well. Rasheed tells his family that they must pack to go away, and Aziza puts into a paper bag all the small things that are precious to her. The five leave to Karteh-Seh, and when they arrive at the barracks, Aziza asks her parents how long she will have to stay in the orphanage. Rasheed gives her a stick of gum to quiet her. When Aziza is taken away, Zalmai cries for his sister. Mariam and Laila walk the rest of the way with Aziza, and they promise to visit her. They soon meet the director of the orphanage—a balding man named Zaman. He asks Laila about Aziza’s background, and when Laila tells Zaman that the girl’s father, her husband, is dead, Zaman says that he runs the orphanage on an honor system and does not question desperate mothers. Aziza panics when Mariam and Laila leave the orphanage, and Laila bursts into tears.
For a while after, Rasheed humors Laila and walks the family to the orphanage to visit Aziza, but soon this wears off and Rasheed complains that his feet and legs ache from the walking. One day, he tells Laila that he will no longer take her to the orphanage. Laila says that she will go alone, and Rasheed warns her about the Taliban. Most of the time Laila cannot make it all the way to the orphanage because she ends up running into a Taliban member on the street. On the days that Laila does make it to the orphanage, she spends hours with Aziza talking about what she learned in class that week.
One afternoon in June 2001, Rasheed gives in to Laila’s requests and takes the entire family to visit the orphanage. As Aziza tells her family about tectonic plates, Laila responds gingerly: her jaw is still sore from the beating that Rasheed had given her two days earlier. Mariam remarks that Aziza is getting very smart in her class. Laila notices some neglect in Aziza’s hygiene, and Aziza tries to hide her dirty fingernails from her mother. Aziza also tries to explain away the grime on the other children and insists that she is coping well with life at the orphanage. Later, the family takes a short outing from the orphanage and visits Titanic City. Rasheed tells Zalmai to pick out a gift for himself, and the boy chooses a rubber basketball. When it...
(The entire section is 538 words.)
Chapters 43-44 Summary
Mariam takes Zalmai upstairs to her bedroom, and the boy bounces his new basketball around the room. Mariam asks him to stop, but Zalmai never respects Mariam as an authority figure, so he continues misbehaving. Zalmai is skeptical of Tariq; when they met him at their front door, Zalmai resorted to childish behavior and shoved his thumb in his mouth. Zalmai asks Mariam who the man is and tells her that he does not like him. Meanwhile, his basketball has rolled into the closet, so he screams for his toy until Laila comes upstairs to soothe him. Mariam waits outside the room and sees Tariq near the bottom of the stairs. She realizes that the story of his death was a rouse and wonders how much Rasheed paid Abdul Sharif to come to their home years ago to tell the lie of Tariq’s death.
Tariq tells Laila stories of his time in prison. One tale involves the Taliban’s forcing Tariq’s cellmate to paint flamingoes in a decent manner. Laila laughs at the image of trousers painted onto the bare legs of the birds, but she hides her smile; she feels ashamed of her yellowing teeth and the gap where a tooth is missing. Laila looks at the signs of age on Tariq—his slimmer frame, new gestures, and dull eyes. She thinks of his parents. When Laila inquires about them, Tariq sadly tells her that both have passed away. Tariq offers Laila a block of cheese made from the milk of his goat, and he tells her about his home in the foothills. Both agree that they no longer recognize anyone from the old days, nor do they recognize the new face of Kabul. Tariq tells Laila about his time spent at the Nasir Bagh refugee camp in Peshawar. Many children died from dysentery and other diseases. His father died that winter and his mother nearly died of pneumonia.
After a few more stories, Zalmai cries upstairs, and Tariq remarks that the boy must not like him. Laila tells him about Aziza, and Tariq wishes to meet his daughter. Tariq’s face turns grave as he looks at Laila’s face. He asks if Rasheed has hit her. Tariq tells Laila that he wishes he had never left her. Laila asks Tariq to return the following afternoon when Rasheed is at work so she can take him to the orphanage.
Later that evening, Rasheed returns home. Zalmai tells his father that a strange man came to see his mother that afternoon. Rasheed pries the details out of the boy, and Zalmai says that a man with a limp was downstairs talking to Laila. Rasheed knows that the man...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Chapters 45-47 Summary
Rasheed orders Zalmai to go upstairs, and the boy has a stricken look on his face. The sound of a brass buckle at the end of a belt follows Rasheed down the steps. Mariam tries to block his path. He shoves her out of the way and attacks Laila with such speed that she has no time to even try to get out of the way. Mariam screams for Rasheed to stop, and Laila runs around the room in an attempt to dodge the blows. Rasheed catches her and slams her against the wall, striking her over and over with the belt. Mariam claws at Rasheed, and he releases Laila and turns on her. Mariam looks into his eyes and thinks about the fact that she gave her entire youth to this man. He drops the belt and says that some things must be done with bare hands. Mariam sees Laila pick up something, Laila smashes a drinking glass on Rasheed’s head. Mariam leaves the room and goes outside to grab a shovel. When she returns, Rasheed is choking Laila, so Mariam slams the shovel across Rasheed’s temple. He looks at the blood and sneers at her, and again she brings down the shovel with all her strength, killing Rasheed. Laila regains her senses and realizes what Mariam has done. Neither woman speaks for some time. Laila finally says that they need to move the body before Zalmai sees what has happened. They wrap the body in a bedsheet and hide it behind a workbench in the toolshed.
The women know that they must run away and leave the city behind. They imagine going to a remote village where they can disown their pasts and start a new life. Mariam sends Laila upstairs to tend to Zalmai; she finds him curled up on Rasheed’s side of the bed. He asks for his father so they can say prayers together, and Laila tells her son that Baba has gone away. Laila wonders how many more times she will be forced to tell this lie. Back downstairs, Mariam tells Laila that she should go see Aziza at the orphanage. Laila realizes that Mariam does not intend to run away with her and the children. Mariam explains that the authorities will look for someone to blame, and she plans to sacrifice herself so Laila and the children can get away. The next morning, on the way down the road, Laila turns to look at Mariam. The two never see each other again.
The authorities arrest Mariam, and she is put into the Walayat women’s prison in Shar-e-Nau. All the women in Mariam’s cell have been imprisoned for trying to run away from home—Mariam is the only one convicted of a violent...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Chapters 48-49 Summary
Now, Tariq often has headaches. They started in Nasir Bagh and grew worse while he was in prison. Some nights, Laila lays a cold compress on his head or Tariq takes the pills prescribed by the doctor. These help, but many nights all Tariq can do is hold his head and moan. Laila and Tariq married the day they arrived in town, Murree, and the hotel owner Sayeed was happy that he would not have an unmarried couple living under his roof. Sayeed arranged to have a mullah come for the ceremony, and Tariq bought two simple wedding bands from the mall. That night as they lay in bed together with their children sleeping nearby, Laila reminisced about their lost youth and thought it a great blessing to have Tariq with her now.
Laila likes the atmosphere of Murree—the foggy mornings, the twilight and night sky, the souvenir shops, and the hotels. Laila likes that they have an indoor bathroom, so unlike the outhouse at Rasheed’s place, and she likes waking to the sound of Alyona, the goat, bleating in the yard. In the mornings, Laila and Tariq go around to all the rooms in the hotel, cleaning each one. Even the children help, and Aziza has taken it upon herself to clean the windows.
Laila tells Aziza the truth about Tariq, that he is her father. Laila promises her daughter that Tariq will never leave, and a look of relief appears on Aziza’s face. Tariq also acts as a father to Zalmai; he builds the boy a wagon and makes him zoo animals out of meticulously cut and folded paper. But Zalmai rebels because he misses his own father. Laila hates lying to him about Rasheed, but she knows that happiness must come with a cost. Some nights, both Aziza and Laila wake from nightmares.
One morning in September, Tariq bursts into their bungalow bringing news of Massoud’s death. The rumor is that men from Al-Qaeda who posed as journalists are responsible. Two days later, the television in the hotel lobby broadcasts the falling of the Twin Towers in New York. The Taliban promise to hide Bin Laden according to the Pashtunwali code of protecting guests. President Bush declares war on Afghanistan. Tariq wonders if the war will not be such a bad thing, and Laila is upset because people will end up dying. She blames him for not understanding what life was like in Afghanistan during the previous war. That night, Zalmai wakes up coughing, and Tariq rushes to him. When he returns to bed, Laila sees that he has been crying.
(The entire section is 438 words.)
Chapters 50-51 Summary
One night in July 2002, Laila and Tariq lie in bed and whisper about all the changes that have taken place back in Afghanistan. Coalition forces have driven the Taliban out of the major cities, and the country has an interim president. And although Laila likes their new life in Murree, the sense of restlessness from living away from their home has gotten to her, and she wants to go home. But first, Laila wants to visit Herat.
The children need some reassuring, but Tariq and Laila are able to get them to pack up and board the bus. On the way out of town, Laila recalls her father’s farewell ode to Kabul and feels confident that she has made the right decision to return to the city. War has ravaged the roads, and they must travel via Iran to get to Herat. They spend the night at the Muwaffaq Hotel, and the next morning, Laila takes a taxi to Mariam’s village, Gul Daman. Laila goes to the home of Mullah Faizullah and is greeted at the door by his son Hamza. At the mention of Mariam, Hamza’s face brightens, but his smile fades when Laila tells him that Mariam has passed away. Inside, Laila tells Hamza all that she knows about Mariam’s life, and Hamza says that his father was broken-hearted when Jalil gave Mariam away to Rasheed. Laila asks Hamza to take her to Mariam’s kolba.
The path is rough and uphill, and the two must stop to catch their breath. Hamza stops where the stream used to be and tells Laila to go on and take her time. The kolba is dim inside, and Laila wonders how Mariam and her mother spent fifteen years in such a place. Laila imagines Mariam’s face and sees the strong nature of her good friend. She says good-bye and returns to meet Hamza. Back at the house, Hamza gives Laila a box that Jalil gave Mullah Faizullah for Mariam. Inside, Laila finds an envelope, a burlap sack, and a videotape. Pinocchio is recorded on the tape, and inside the envelope is a letter to Mariam from Jalil, begging forgiveness for turning her away. Money is in the sack.
In April 2003, the drought in Afghanistan has ended. The children play happily in the yard. Tariq has gone to work—he now has a job with a French NGO that fits people with prosthetic limbs. Laila takes the children to school. She looks at all the changes that have occurred in Kabul and tries to not be resentful of some of the injustices that still occur in the city. She then goes to the orphanage where she now works as a teacher. While...
(The entire section is 517 words.)