A Thousand Splendid Suns Summary


A Thousand Splendid Suns

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 covers her hair with a scarf. Rasheed takes Mariam to a restaurant, buys her a beautiful shawl, and shares her bed that night, but when she miscarries in the public bathhouse, his attitude changes. After four years of marriage and six more miscarriages, which he regards as personal insults, he believes Mariam is a useless nineteen year old; he frequently beats her.

Meanwhile, Hakim and Fariba have a daughter, Laila. Fariba is full of fire until their two sons go on jihad against the invading Soviets. Then, blaming Hakim for permitting them to leave, she retreats to her bed. After the brothers are killed, Laila becomes a caregiver for her parents, preparing her father’s dinner while he helps her with schoolwork. A calm and patient scholar, Hakim urges her to get an education before marrying.

When the Soviets are finally driven from Afghanistan, unrest returns to Kabul, as local warlords turn against each other. Fariba supports the Mujahideen, the Islamic militia that her sons had joined, but Hakim fears them and wants to leave Kabul. As ethnic violence continues, Laila is forced to drop out of school after a fellow student is blown to bits in the street.

Laila’s closest friend, the neighbor boy Tariq, has an artificial leg because of a Soviet land mine. Tariq and Laila become intimate after Tariq announces that his family is going to a refugee camp in Pakistan. Although he begs Laila to come with them, she cannot leave her father, who seems lost without Fariba’s support. Hakim and Fariba are killed when their home is shelled, and Rasheed finds Laila injured in the rubble. Mariam reluctantly tends her as she recovers. Later, Laila is informed that Tariq has died in a Pakistani hospital. Observing her husband with Laila, Mariam realizes that Rasheed, now sixty years old, is courting the fourteen-year-old girl. Mariam attempts to dissuade him, but she is at his mercy, as is Laila, who accepts his marriage offer because she is pregnant with Tariq’s baby. She hopes to deceive Rasheed.

Rasheed keeps his new bride at home, and Mariam serves them both. The two women resent each other until Laila’s baby girl, Aziza, brings them together. In time, Mariam becomes another mother to Laila and a grandmother to the child. Laila begs her to escape with them to Pakistan. They prepare to flee but cannot travel without a male relative. A young husband offers to help but betrays them, keeping their money. They are questioned by police and returned to Rasheed, who hurls Aziza across the room and imprisons the women for three days.

The fundamentalist Taliban seizes Kabul, leading Rasheed to view them as liberators. They distribute strict rules: All men must have beards; no school for girls; no jobs for women, who must stay in their homes unless with a male relative. The university is closed, books other than the Qur՚n are burned, and musicians are imprisoned. Rasheed threatens to send Aziza away or to lie about Laila’s behavior to the authorities. Then Laila discovers she is pregnant with Rasheed’s child.

In labor, Laila goes to the former women’s hospital and is turned away because the hospital now accepts male patients only. She is sent to a small hospital without medicine, clean water, or electricity. She requires a caesarean section and must suffer through the surgery without anesthetics. Her female doctor, who is required to perform her duties while wearing a burka, is unable to properly see through the garment, so a nurse guards the door to warn of any approaching Taliban. Laila gives birth to a boy, Zalmai.

Two-year-old Zalmai loves both parents but favors Rasheed, who is gentle with him while holding his wives in contempt. Although in debt, Rasheed brings home a television for his son, but decides that daughter Aziza, who is six years old, will beg on the streets. Laila objects, and Rasheed slaps her. They struggle, then he shoves a gun barrel in her mouth. Mariam ends up digging a hole to hide the forbidden television.

Rasheed’s shop burns, and he must sell nearly everything. He steals food, but the family begins to starve. Finally, Aziza is sent to an orphanage so she will get some food. The director seems kind and comforts Laila, who is weeping, but Aziza panics when her mother leaves. Laila is permitted to visit her daughter but cannot travel without Rasheed, who often deliberately stops and turns back, forcing her to do the same. Without him, she risks a beating from the Taliban, but she quickly learns to use padding to cushion the potential blows.

Tariq suddenly appears at Laila’s home; the story of his death was false. Son Zalmai, although still an innocent, throws a tantrum, luring his mother away from Tariq. Furious, Rasheed beats her with his belt, but she retaliates. He begins to choke her. Mariam, realizing he will murder both of them if he can, hits him with a shovel. Laila revives from the beating, horrified, but Mariam is very calm. Together they dispose of Rasheed’s body, and Laila tells Zalmai his father has gone away. While Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai disappear, Mariam refuses to escape; she will accept the blame. She is sent to a women’s prison and publicly executed for murdering her husband.

Arriving with the children in Pakistan, Laila and Tariq marry. Once the Taliban are driven from Afghanistan, the family returns to contribute to the rebuilding. Kabul has changed—a seeming normalcy—although the local warlords responsible for so many deaths have also returned. Laila teaches at the orphanage where Aziza once lived, and she is once again pregnant.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Detailed Summary

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 is now dead, Jalil takes Mariam into his home, but she spends most of her time alone in her room. A week later, Afsoon, one of Jalil’s wives, summons Mariam. The family tells Mariam that she will be married off to a suitor named Rasheed who is much older than Mariam. She does not want to get married and pleads with Jalil, but the marriage is arranged anyway.

The couple take a bus to Rasheed’s home in Deh-Mazang in Kabul. Mariam must pay close attention while speaking with Rasheed because she is not accustomed to his dialect and accent. Once at the home, Mariam cries because the houses are so close together and the space is small. Rasheed insists that Mariam will like her new home, but for the next few days, Mariam stays locked away in her room. Soon, Rasheed insists that Mariam assume her responsibilities as housewife and that she have sex with him. Mariam wonders how so many women could have such an unlucky fate to end up married. Mariam’s life gets even harder when she learns that Rasheed does not believe in contemporary manners of social etiquette and forces her to wear a burqa when in public. Rather than resent Rasheed’s impositions, Mariam believes that her husband wants to protect her honor and the sanctity of their marriage. But Mariam soon changes her mind when she finds a gun and a stash of pornographic magazines in Rasheed’s drawer. From then on, Mariam dreads hearing Rasheed’s keys in the door and thinks with regret on her failed attempts to conceive a child.

In April 1978, military planes zoom over Kabul. Rebels attack the Presidential Palace, and executions of those connected to Daoud Khan’s regime are held. And in the midst of the mounting violence in the city, the violence in Mariam and Rasheed’s home begins: Rasheed forces Mariam to chew pebbles while he berates her cooking and her partnership.

Later, in the spring of 1987, nine-year-old Laila awakes, wanting to see the face of her friend Tariq. But Tariq has gone south with his parents and will be away for nearly two weeks. But Laila must maintain her daily routines in Tariq’s absence, and on her way to school, she sees Rasheed and his wife on the street. When she asks her father, Babi, who they are, Babi tells her that it is none of her business. At school, Laila has a difficult time paying attention to her teacher who normally calls her “Inquilabi Girl,” or “Revolutionary Girl.” Laila recalls that Babi has told her from a young age that marriage can wait, but that education cannot. As a result, Laila is proud of her father and his views. That afternoon, Laila’s mother does not arrive to pick her up from school, and one of the neighborhood boys sprays urine on her from a water pistol. When Laila gets home, she finds her mother in bed, the curtains drawn and the room smelling of sweat and unwashed linen. Her mother taps her chest and tells her daughter that she is ailing.

Weeks pass, and in Tariq’s absence, Laila dreams of the many disasters that may have befallen him. Then one night, she sees a small, flashing yellow light from down the street, indicating that Tariq has returned. Apparently, Tariq’s uncle was sick, causing his delay. Laila stays for dinner, loving the easy conversation around his family’s dinner table which is so unlike that of her own family. Babi once told Laila that there is tension between their people—the Tajiks, which are Laila’s people, and the Pashtun’s, Tariq’s. But Laila never feels any of it at Tariq’s house. Back at her own house over a dinner between only herself and Babi, Laila listens to her father tell her about the hardships that women face in Afghanistan. While Kabul has remained relatively progressive, Babi says that in the larger part of the country, women are forced to wear the burqa, are only allowed on the street when accompanied by a male, and are married off to suitors as young teenagers. Just then, a messenger arrives to tell the family that their sons Ahmad and Noor were killed in a battle for Afghanistan’s freedom. Later, Babi admits to Laila that at times he considers leaving Afghanistan for a better life in either Pakistan or America. But both know that Mammy will never leave behind the land for which her sons lost their lives. Six months later in April 1988, Babi learns that a treaty has been signed in Geneva, ending Soviet influence in Afghanistan. Mammy, however, does not believe that peace will come to the country.

In 1992, the jihad ends, and Mammy rises from her bed as a new woman, proud of her sons who died as heroes. The family even throws a party. But peace does not last long—the government has been prematurely organized and much tension mounts between ethnic groups. When rockets begin to fly over Kabul, everyone heads for cover. Laila hates the whistling of the rockets, and soldiers are on patrol through all the streets. When the streets become unsafe, Babi pulls Laila out of school. Later that month, Giti, one of Laila’s friends, is hit by a stray rocket. Tariq tells Laila that he and his family are fleeing to Pakistan, and in a frenzy of love and sadness, the two make love. Tariq asks Laila to go with him, but she cannot leave her father behind, and Tariq is forced to honor Laila’s sense of obligation.

Soon after, Mammy is convinced to leave Afghanistan, and the family makes plans to flee to Peshawar. The taxis arrive, and Laila goes outside while her parents fill last minute boxes. Suddenly, a rocket crashes down on the house, and Laila is thrown into the street. She falls unconscious, and when she wakes, Laila faintly sees images of lights and people. She cannot hear out of one ear. Laila has been taken in by Rasheed, who found her under the rubble. Mariam cares for her, but Mariam has little to say to comfort the girl.

One month later, a man named Abdul Sharif comes looking for Laila. He claims to have met Tariq at a hospital in Peshawar. Tariq had been in a lorry full of refugees that was caught in crossfire near the border; he lost his leg and was badly burned. Abdul tells Laila that all Tariq could talk about was her. Afterward, Rasheed expresses sympathy for Laila and changes his crude habits when in her presence. Mariam notices these changes and realizes that her husband is attempting to court Laila. Mariam begs Rasheed not to marry the girl, but Rasheed insists that he needs to legitimize their living situation. Seeing no alternative, Laila consents to the marriage. The two women keep their distance in the house, an when Laila finally approaches Mariam, Mariam clearly states that she refuses to take any orders from Laila even though Rasheed favors her. Laila apologizes for having caused Mariam trouble. As the days pass, Laila helps Mariam with the household chores and suffers the criticism of the older woman.

Laila soon shows her pregnancy, and when the time comes for her delivery, Rasheed excitedly and cautiously helps her into the taxi to take her to the hospital. But when they return the next day, Rasheed is obviously upset by the birth of the girl-child whom Laila names Aziza. The crying baby drives Rasheed mad, and Mariam watches as Laila’s life becomes consumed by motherhood. Over time, Mariam’s heart softens to Aziza, and she sews a bundle of clothes for the baby which she gives as a gift to Laila. When Rasheed begins to speak harshly to Laila, his suspicions over whether or not Aziza is really his child mounting, Mariam and Laila exchange knowing looks which suggest that the animosity between them is over.

The fighting in Kabul grows worse. Rasheed is on edge every day—he even fires his gun into the street claiming that he saw someone trying to climb over the wall into their compound. Laila tells Mariam that in the spring, she plans to run away with Aziza and she wants Mariam to join them. Mariam wonders if she should just stay put, but when the time arrives, she gets into the taxi with Laila and Aziza. The women fear that they will see Rasheed somewhere and remain on constant alert. When they reach the border, Laila bribes a man named Wakil to buy tickets for her, Mariam, and Aziza; however, the authorities do not allow the women to board, and they are taken to the police station. The police call Rasheed, and Laila and Mariam are taken home.  Rasheed punches Laila, and he boards up all the windows in the home, treating his wives as prisoners.

Two years later, the Taliban arrive in Kabul. Strict rules limiting people’s freedom are enforced by the Taliban, and cultural and entertainment centers are dismantled. In the midst of this turmoil, Laila finds that she is pregnant and considers attempting to abort the baby. However, Laila reasons that the baby is blameless and that there has already been enough killing. But when the time comes for Laila to give birth, the local hospital will not accept her, claiming that now the doctors will treat only men. The family is sent to Rabia Balkhi, an unsanitary hospital that will treat women. The hospital has no anesthetic, so Laila must endure the knife, and Mariam is impressed by the pain that Laila tolerates to birth her son Zalmai.

Zalmai loves his father, and Rasheed dotes on the boy. Later, a fire decimates Rasheed’s workshop, and because he is home, Rasheed becomes increasingly violent towards Mariam and Laila. Rasheed sells all their belongings, and when the money runs out, hunger sets in. Rasheed wants to put the children in the street to beg, but Laila will not allow her children to become beggars. Rasheed then forces Laila to put her daughter in an orphanage. One day after Rasheed takes Laila and Mariam to visit Aziza, Laila sees Tariq standing nearby. Tariq tells Laila about his hardships in Pakistan, and Rasheed finds out through Zalmai that Laila has been speaking to a “new friend.” Enraged, Rasheed takes his belt and beats Laila mercilessly. Then Rasheed goes at Laila with his bare hands, and Mariam tries to stop his attack. Mariam runs to the toolshed and gets the shovel. She smashes the shovel onto Rasheed’s head, killing him. The two drag Rasheed’s body into the toolshed. Laila wants the family to run away; however, Mariam knows that eventually they would all be caught and punished. Mariam remains behind to accept the punishment for the murder and tells Laila that she has made this sacrifice for her and the children.

Mariam spends ten days in the Walayat women’s prison before her execution. Laila takes Aziza from the orphanage, and goes to meet Tariq. The two marry and move into a small bungalow in Murree. Back home in Afghanistan, bombs continue to fall as the American military strikes the country. One day, Laila tells Tariq that she wants to take a trip to Herat, Mariam’s birthplace. Once there, Laila visits the home of one of Mariam’s familial friends and asks to be taken to Mariam’s old home. The kolba is still there, and Laila pays her respects. In the end, Tariq and Laila return to work at the orphanage, and Tariq helps the director Zaman make repairs to the building, while Laila teaches in the school. Laila learns that she is pregnant and knows what she will name the child if it is a girl.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Chapter Summaries

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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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.


(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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...

(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 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...

(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...

(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.


(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...

(The entire section is 517 words.)