Nana always gave a slow, burdened smile here, one of lingering recrimination or reluctant forgiveness, Mariam could never tell. It did not occur to young Mariam to ponder the unfairness of apologizing for the manner of her own birth.

In Chapter 2, Nana tells Mariam about the traumatic experience she had giving birth to her. Their relationship is so fraught that Nana shames Mariam before she was even fully brought into this world. Even Mariam’s birth is a cause for shame. It is unclear to both the reader and to Mariam how much affection Nana has for her own daughter. Because of Nana’s cruel words and behavior toward Mariam, Mariam feels like she has to apologize “for the manner of her own birth,” something she had no control over.

She would never leave her mark on Mammy’s heart the way her brothers had, because Mammy’s heart was like a pallid beach where Laila’s footprints would forever wash away beneath the waves of sorrow that swelled and crashed, swelled and crashed.

Laila ponders her difficult relationship with her mother in Chapter 20. In a society where sons are favored, Laila feels she lives in the shadows of her two brothers. Not only are they sons, but they are war martyrs. By using the metaphor of a beach, Laila implies she will never leave a lasting impression on her mother’s heart. She truly feels that her mother will never care for her the same way she felt for her sons, even though Laila is the one who is alive and taking care of her through grief.

And when she did that, Mariam swooned. Her eyes watered. Her heart took flight. And she marveled at how, after all these years of rattling loose, she had found in this little creature the first true connection in her life of false, failed connections.

In Chapter 35 Mariam finally realizes the intense love she has for Aziza. Up until this point in the novel, Mariam has wanted to create as much space as possible between herself and Laila and Aziza. This quote, where Mariam finally allows herself to feel love for Aziza, marks a significant turning point in her character. By recognizing the “false, failed connections” in her life, she acknowledges that people who were meant to love her in the past did not extend the affection she felt she needed. Mariam has finally found true connection in Aziza.