Summary: Chapter 11

As people all over the world move away from where they once were, Saeed and Nadia move away from each other. While they smoke marijuana one night, Nadia suggests she move out. Saeed doesn’t respond. The next morning, Saeed says that he should move out instead. Nadia insists that she should move out and packs her things. They stare at each other but do not embrace. Then, Nadia turns and walks into the rain.

Nadia moves into a spare room at the co-op. Initially, Nadia didn’t make friends at the co-op because her coworkers found her black robe intimidating, but one day a tattooed man brings a gun into the co-op and puts it on the counter. Nadia stares at him impassively until he leaves. After that, her coworkers make an effort to talk with her. A coworker tells her about the rooms available for employees in need, and Nadia thinks of it like a door opening. While at a concert, Nadia runs into a woman who cooks at the co-op. She and the cook start dating.

Saeed grows closer to the preacher’s daughter. They spend time together during their volunteer shift and take hikes in the afternoon. The preacher’s daughter likes Saeed’s attitude toward religion and the way he talks about the stars. Saeed finds her easy to talk to. She makes him want to listen. The preacher’s daughter works for a campaign to create a Bay Area regional council comprised of all residents regardless of where they come from. She shows Saeed a tiny device that can ensure that each person only votes once. She believes this is key to her political goals. Saeed is surprised it’s so lightweight.

Saeed calls Nadia on the second night of their separation to make sure she’s safe. They begin meeting once a week to go for a walk. These walks are difficult because they miss each other, and sometimes they regret separating. Eventually, their new relationships interrupt their weekly ritual, and they begin to see each other less and less. Eventually, they fall out of contact entirely.

Near Marrakesh, Morocco, a mute maid works at a grand house. Although many people have left her village, she can’t imagine leaving. Her husband left her, which her mother blames on her mutism. Her daughter left through the doors but still returns to visit. The maid doesn’t want to leave because she believes herself unwanted. She thinks that at least people know and tolerate her in the village and grand house. One day, the maid’s daughter comes to visit and asks the maid to come with her. The maid isn’t ready to go through yet.

Summary: Chapter 12

Fifty years later, Nadia returns to her native city to find it restored and renewed. She learns that Saeed is in town and gets in contact. They meet up at a café near Nadia’s old flat and catch up on each other’s lives. Nadia comments that their lives would be different if she’d agreed to marry him. Saeed wonders what would have happened if they’d had sex. Nadia counters that they had. Nadia asks Saeed if he has ever seen the Chilean desert. He has and offers to take her someday. She agrees. They embrace and part not knowing if they’ll ever see each other again.

Analysis: Chapters 11 & 12

Although Saeed and Nadia eventually flourish in their new relationships, the slow process that is required for them to pull apart from each other reflects how their breakup constitutes a major life change, just as migration did. Nadia thinks of the room available at the co-op as a door opening, comparing moving on to a chapter of her life without Saeed to traveling through the doors to a new country and a new life. Saeed, who approached migrating with a focus on what he left behind, is the first to contact Nadia after they separate. Although the narrator states that Saeed calls to check on her, we can infer that he also misses her and doesn’t entirely want to lose her. Nadia, always forward thinking, leaves Saeed in a decisive manner, with a new home already lined up. Their reliance on cell phones at the end of their relationship mirrors the beginning, when they couldn’t see each other often. Whereas before the glimpses into each other’s worlds via the phones created a shared intimacy, they now become a painful reminder of a closed chapter, and this ultimately encourages them to create more space between them. 

The sad story of the maid in Chapter 11 highlights that migration requires someone to have a sense of faith in their future. Despite the maid’s daughter’s encouragement, she doesn’t migrate because her low self-esteem means she cannot imagine a new life in which she’s accepted. This story of a mother left behind recalls Saeed’s father, who also refused to migrate at his son’s behest and emphasizes that he didn’t have a sense of hope for his own future. When violence begins in Saeed’s city, he prays for peace, imagining a positive outcome, but Saeed’s father prays only for Saeed, signaling that his hopes for the future lie in his son, not himself. After his wife’s death, Saeed’s father focuses on visiting relatives who knew her—looking backward—while Saeed and Nadia focus on ways to leave the city—looking to the future. The juxtaposition of the maid remaining static with Saeed and Nadia moving forward in a forward-looking city reminds us that although the end of their relationship comes with sadness, to stay where they are because they cannot envision a different life would be tragic. The ability to change, adapt, and look ahead allows people to overcome the sorrow of moving through different chapters in their lives.

The novel ends with Saeed and Nadia each happy in their new lives, which signals the peace that can be found in change and letting go of old places. Although her old city eventually flourishes, Nadia doesn’t return to it until fifty years later, and then presumably for a visit, signifying that although she can appreciate the changes in the city, she has moved on in her life. Similarly, although Nadia and Saeed fall into an easy and flirtatious comradery, they leave each other at the end without a pressing need to formalize the details of Saeed’s offer, implying that they have each created a satisfying life without the other. They both use the word “different” to describe how they imagine what their lives would be if they stayed together, a neutral word without implied sorrow or regret. That both Nadia and Saeed find happiness apart from each other and—at least in Nadia’s case—apart from the city they called home signifies that sometimes the goal of leaving a place or a person is not to return to it someday but to find something new.