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In January 1989, Laila and her family gather to watch the last of the Soviets leave the city. Tariq joins them. A few months ago, Tariq’s uncle died and his father had a heart attack. It was a difficult time for Tariq, but he is now in better spirits. Tariq and Laila go to the cinema together. During a wedding scene, Tariq remarks that he will never get married. Laila feels disappointed inwardly but agrees. As the on-screen couple share a romantic kiss, Laila notices that she and Tariq are watching each other. Laila wonders what it would be like to kiss Tariq. As they exit the cinema in evening darkness, Laila is relieved that she won’t have to meet Tariq’s gaze in daylight.
Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine have all declared independence from the crumbling Soviet Union. By Laila’s fourteenth birthday in April 1992, the communist regime has been defeated. The Afghan soldiers whom Ahmad and Noor had fought alongside are coming home. Mammy starts wearing colors again, discarding the black clothes of mourning. Mammy invites the neighborhood to a party. Mammy asks Laila about Tariq, and she warns Laila to guard her reputation. Laila is annoyed by the conversation, but she understands Mammy’s meaning. Laila’s feelings for Tariq have evolved beyond friendship. Even Rasheed, the shoemaker, has teased Laila and Tariq when they walk through the neighborhood together. At the party, Laila learns that her friend Giti plans to be married soon. Their friend, Hasina, has already married and moved to Germany. Laila tries to avoid getting caught staring at Tariq, aware of her mother’s new scrutiny. But Laila still follows when Tariq asks her to leave the party with him. Laila scolds Tariq for smoking, but he doesn’t care that it’s bad for his health. Tariq thinks his smoking will attract girls. Tariq is pleased that people gossip about him and Laila, and he tells Laila that he only has eyes for her. Just as their conversation turns political, Tariq and Laila are drawn back to the party by sounds of a fight.
There is infighting among factions on the new national leadership council, too, and soon the city of Kabul is once more under fire. In the evenings, when rockets fall on the city, Laila and her family wait in their darkened home. Whenever their home is spared, Laila’s relief is momentary. Each explosion that doesn’t destroy her home could be the one that kills Tariq. The Mujahideen break for morning prayer, and then the firefight resumes. Tariq now accompanies Laila wherever she goes. He bought a gun to protect Laila, as the city is now a maze of shifting territories each ruled by a warlord. Though Laila hates guns, she is moved by Tariq’s chivalry. Laila does not shy away from Tariq’s affections now, and she gives no thought to her reputation when their relationship turns romantic. Fighting in West Kabul between the Pashtun and Hazara has become brutal. Kidnappings, rapes, and hangings of civilians have become commonplace. Babi and Mammy argue about leaving Kabul, and Mammy will not leave. Babi pulls Laila out of school, fearing for his daughter’s safety. When Laila’s friend Giti is killed, Laila mourns her more deeply that the brothers Laila never really knew.
In August, Tariq tells Laila that his family is leaving Afghanistan. Tariq’s father’s heart is weak, and his mother is aging. Furious, Laila slaps Tariq across the face, but Tariq holds her wrists and tries to comfort her with kisses. Laila and Tariq sleep together, and Laila feels shame over the sin they have committed. Tariq asks Laila to leave Afghanistan with him. He wants to marry her, and he will ask Hakim for Laila’s hand. Laila refuses. Mammy will not leave Afghanistan, Babi will not leave Mammy, and Laila will not leave her father. Laila must close her door on Tariq to get him to leave. Through the door, Tariq still pleads with Laila.
Babi and Mammy continue to discuss leaving Kabul, as the conflict moves closer. Tariq has been gone for two weeks, and Laila’s pain over his absence has eased. Laila is still torn about their shared intimacy. Laila has been taught that sex between unmarried people is a sin, but her time with Tariq felt beautiful and right. For years afterward, there will be sudden moments when Laila’s memory transports her back to that afternoon with Tariq. One night, Babi interrupts Laila’s solitude with the news that Mammy has agreed to leave Kabul. Laila is frustrated at her mother’s timing, but she eagerly waits to travel to Peshawar, where they may meet up with Tariq’s family. As the family prepares to leave, Laila daydreams about being with Tariq. Her thoughts are interrupted by screams, followed by an explosion. Laila is thrown against a wall and loses consciousness.
While the development of Tariq and Laila’s relationship ushers both characters into adulthood, it also serves as a remembrance of childhood for Laila. Chapter 22 marks the moment when Laila realizes her feelings for Tariq extend beyond a childhood crush. Going to the movie theater together is the first time they discuss their future, and Tariq’s line, “I’m never getting married,” depicts a point of irony given how their relationship will grow. From this point on, Laila’s relationship with Tariq becomes a touchstone in her life as well as a constant reminder of her childhood.
Here, the theme of reputation is first brought up to Laila by her mother, who tells her to be careful of how she proceeds with Tariq. Now that they are older, it is inappropriate for them to run around together as if they were still children. Mammy’s concern of town gossip, and the possibility of Laila’s reputation being tarnished, is a point in which Mariam and Laila find commonality. Further connecting Mariam and Laila is Mammy’s mention that even Rasheed the shoemaker notices Laila and Tariq’s closeness, comparing them to characters from a famous poem. Laila’s reaction to the conversation signals her understanding that the feelings she has for Tariq are not platonic, and that she is no longer a child. Laila has internalized society’s expectations of how a woman should conduct herself and her reputation. She is growing into a young woman and experiences the first tastes of desire and of love. In Afghan society, a woman should only display these things within the context of a marriage.
The inherent privilege Laila possesses creates a division between Laila and her friends. Before her friend Hasina married and took her leave to Germany, she assured Laila, “But you, Laila, you’ll make us two dummies proud. You’re going to be somebody.” Laila has what others, like Mariam, are not so fortunate to have. These privileges could allow Laila to circumvent the traditional gender roles in Afghan society, which is what Hasina alludes to. However, even Laila’s pure love for Tariq is a luxury not afforded to girls her age, who are often wed in arranged marriages.
The final three chapters in Part Two establish another antagonist: the conflict gripping Afghanistan itself and the ensuing war. This structure mimics the final moments of Part One in their effect on the storyline. Kabul becomes fractured by the Mujahideen infighting, and this division preludes how Laila’s life will begin to fracture because of it. Instead of being forced to chew rocks like Mariam, the violence confronts Laila with the loss of her once beatific romance with Tariq and even death itself. Tariq and Laila’s desperate first kiss is a testament to the foreboding tone these chapters hold due to the encroaching violence. The novel spares no words to describe the atrocities committed by the Pashtun and the Hazara. The graphic imagery used to describe Giti’s death emphasizes the horrors of the Afghan war.
The novel continues to use striking imagery to underscore the atrocities of violence. At the end of Part Two, the violence not only runs parallel to formative events in Laila’s life, but begins to actually shape her life. The rocket that destroys Laila’s house and kills her parents is a cruel twist of situational irony as they were just on the brink of escape. The novel provides little information to decipher the blur that occurs after the strike and immerses the reader in Laila’s point of view. Much like how Giti’s death was portrayed, Hosseini uses sparse and stark prose to describe the violence engulfing Laila. The descriptions echo the visceral imagery that accompanied both Mariam chewing the rocks and the treatment she receives from Rasheed during her miscarriages.