Summary: Chapter 2

Unlike Saeed, Nadia doesn’t get along with her family. Her parents are religious, and encourage her to be quiet and obedient. Nadia’s father is often angry with her for her constant questioning, but he’s never violent. Despite being an unmarried woman, Nadia decides to move out after graduating university, which leads to estrangement from her family. Her new life as a single woman living alone is challenging, but she works at an insurance company to support herself.

Saeed and Nadia go on a date at a Chinese restaurant whose immigrant owners recently left the country for Canada. The food remains good, and the decor feels exotic. Saeed asks Nadia where she would go if she could travel anywhere. She wants to go to Cuba because it makes her think of music and the sea. Saeed would go to Chile to see the Atacama Desert, where the stars are so clear, you can see them move with the earth’s rotation.

After dinner, Nadia invites Saeed over because there are not many safe places for couples to be alone after dark. She adds that they won’t have sex, and Saeed feels shocked at the insinuation that they could have. As they ride to Nadia’s, Nadia on her motorcycle and Saeed on his scooter, they pass by refugees sleeping in the street. They pass through a police checkpoint and a military checkpoint. 

Nadia’s flat lies on the top floor of a building belonging to an old widow. Saeed waits in an alley while Nadia goes upstairs and puts a black robe in a bag. She drops the bag out the window to Saeed, and he puts on the robe to disguise himself as a woman so that he doesn’t arouse suspicion when entering the flat. The pair sit together and smoke marijuana.

In the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, a man sits in a bar, drinking Irish whiskey. He’s never been to Ireland but likes the idea of it. People keep far away from him, as if they sense that he’s a violent man. As he leaves the bar, he notices two Filipina women emerge from an always-locked door behind the bar. He doesn’t like Filipinos in his part of town. His hand goes to his knife, and he follows them.

Nadia’s sense of security shatters when she hears that her cousin died in a truck bomb blast. She doesn’t visit her relatives because she knows her presence will cause a scene. Nadia plans to visit his grave alone, but Saeed offers to go with her. She allows him to come with her early one morning. Saeed offers a prayer, and Nadia puts her hand on the grave without praying. Afterward, they have breakfast at a café, and Nadia feels their relationship has become solid.

Nadia has been dating a musician. The night they met at a concert, she went back to the musician’s place and had sex for the first time. She always assumed she was one of many flings for the musician, not realizing that he adored her. The narrator confides that the musician will think of Nadia until he dies a few months later. Nadia meets the musician to call their relationship off, and they go to his place to have sex for the last time. 

The next day, helicopters fly over the city. Through a door, a soldier looks down at the city below. 

Analysis: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 provides a rationale for Nadia’s practical, standoffish nature and how it contrasts with Saeed’s more romantic personality. Nadia’s clashes with her parents show that she grew up with constant disapproval for behaving in ways that felt natural to her, and the complete breakdown of the parent-child relationship after she moves out suggests she doesn't feel loved unconditionally by her family. Due, at least in part, to her relationship with her parents, Nadia never assumes she has people’s love, as evidenced by how she underestimates the musician’s feelings for her, believing he couldn’t possibly love her. She similarly underestimates Saeed’s feelings, as shown by the way she doesn’t call things off with the musician until after Saeed comes with her to her cousin’s grave. Nadia finally believes that Saeed’s feelings for her are serious after the gravesite visit because it’s not a fun date but a moment of him providing emotional support without expecting anything in return. Furthermore, Saeed allows her to grieve in her own way, without commenting on her lack of prayer. Even though Saeed himself is religious, he doesn’t expect Nadia to change who she is, a stark contrast to the criticism she received in childhood for her irreligious nature. 

Even with the environment in their city remaining relatively peaceful, the societal rules and regulations of the city shape Saeed and Nadia’s courtship. The inherent danger in a simple date gets highlighted by the two checkpoints they must cross in order to get to Nadia’s place. Although the checkpoints don’t exist to catch couples, they do restrict freedom of movement around the city, making travel between Saeed and Nadia’s not just difficult but frightening. Furthermore, Saeed cannot even visit Nadia in her flat as himself; he must disguise himself as a woman in order to gain access, restricting his movement and adding a layer of shame and secrecy to what they do.  In order to justify facing these dangers just to spend time together, Saeed and Nadia grow emotionally intimate with each other very quickly. Nadia invites Saeed to her home barely knowing him because she doesn’t have a safer place to speak with him. Saeed quickly feels emotionally close enough to Nadia to support her through grief, something that might under different circumstances take months. These examples foreshadow how Saeed and Nadia’s dangerous environment continues to shape their relationship as the story progresses.

This chapter explores the contrast between people’s love of foreign cultures and harsh treatment of immigrants. Nadia and Saeed enjoy both the Chinese food they eat and the way the decor of the restaurant gives them the sense of being elsewhere. They are happy to experience a culture different to theirs. Similarly, Nadia and Saeed dream of visiting Latin America primarily because they like their mental images of Cuba and Chile. However, immediately after this scene of delighting in the exotic, the couple passes by refugees sleeping in the streets, which shows how actual foreigners in their country, those who cannot be commodified like food or tourism, live in fear and poverty. The fact that the Chinese family who once owned the restaurant has had to leave before conflict even escalates also suggests that people like the concept of foreign food more than the immigrants who make it. The Japanese gangster encapsulates this contrast with striking violence. He happily drinks Irish whiskey, but minutes later moves to attack two Filipinas for daring to walk down the street.