Chapters 27–34


Summary: Chapter 27

Rashid pulls Laila from the rubble, and he and Mariam see to the girl’s injuries. Laila has lost hearing in her left ear. Her parents are dead. Mariam administers pain medication and cleans up after Laila’s continual bouts of vomiting. Eventually, Laila’s health improves. When she says she should not have been the one to survive the blast, Mariam remembers her own guilt over Nana’s death. A month after her parents were killed, Laila receives a visit from a businessman named Abdul Sharif. The girl claims she does not know him.

Summary: Chapter 28

After a winding narrative, Abdul Sharif reveals to Laila that he has traveled from a hospital in Peshawar with news of Laila’s friend, Tariq. The truck carrying Tariq to the Peshawar border was hit by a rocket, and Tariq was injured. Abdul Sharif was ill himself, and spent time in the bed next to Tariq’s in the hospital. Tariq had lost his other leg and was struggling to stay alive. The two men shared stories, and Tariq talked mostly about Laila. Tariq asked Abdul Sharif to visit Laila when he returned to Kabul. One night, Abdul Sharif was awakened from his drugged sleep by commotion around Tariq’s bed. In the morning, Tariq was gone. The news of Tariq’s death transported Laila back to the day her family was informed of Ahmad and Noor’s deaths. Laila wondered if this was her punishment for not mourning her brothers properly.

Summary: Chapter 29

Mariam grows increasingly suspicious that Rasheed intends to court Laila. When Mariam confronts Rasheed, he claims he must marry Laila to prevent gossip about their situation. Mariam begs him not to; the girl is only fourteen, too young. Rasheed is unwilling to continue feeding Laila under the present arrangement. The girl can leave and take care of herself if she likes, but she will likely not make it far before she is raped and killed, Rasheed says. If Mariam doesn’t want the girl’s help around the house, then perhaps Laila can work in a brothel instead. Mariam submits, and takes Rasheed’s proposal to the girl that same night. Laila does not need to wait until morning: she accepts.

Summary: Chapter 30

Rasheed makes plans with Laila. When Laila is impatient with him, Rasheed grabs her by the throat. Laila had planned to leave for Peshawar before Abdul Sharif’s visit, but this is no longer an option. Laila is six weeks pregnant, and she must wed Rasheed before her situation becomes suspicious. The marriage ceremony is performed, and Rasheed and Laila spend their wedding night together. After she is sure Rasheed has fallen asleep, Laila cuts her finger to stain the sheets with her blood to prove her virginity.

Summary: Chapter 31

It isn’t too difficult for Mariam to avoid Laila during the day, but Rasheed insists that they all eat dinner as a family. Mariam and Laila are both quiet, and Rasheed fills the silence with insults and criticism. Rasheed tells Laila that Mariam is a harami. The label of illegitimacy still haunts Mariam, a woman now in her thirties. Rasheed continues, disparaging Laila’s parents for being too tolerant with her. Laila must not leave the house unaccompanied, and she must wear a burka in public. Rasheed warns the women that he will not tolerate any slipups, and that he is depending on Mariam to keep Laila in line. Once the women are alone in the house, Laila warily approaches Mariam. Mariam remembers seeing the blonde girl running around the neighborhood as a child. Laila wants to speak with Mariam about what Rasheed said. Mariam tells Laila that she needs to start contributing. Mariam will not be a servant in her own home. Laila apologizes, and she tries to thank Mariam for taking care of her. Mariam replies that she would never have done it if she had known Laila would steal Mariam’s husband. The girl is in tears now, but Mariam presses on and assigns her half of the household chores.

Summary: Chapter 32

Laila tells Rasheed she is pregnant, and he prays that the child is a boy. Over dinner, Rasheed tells Mariam of their news. Laila sees the pain this causes Mariam, and she marks her husband’s casual cruelty. Laila tries to bond with Mariam, but Mariam only hopes Laila will not use the baby as an excuse to slack off around the house. Laila reminds herself that only Mariam and the baby are innocent in this scheme. The fighting in Kabul has not diminished. Rasheed promises Laila that she is safe with him. The winter of 1992 is cold. Mariam’s hostility toward Laila grows. Laila does not tell Rasheed about her first fight with Mariam, which began when Mariam accused Laila of hiding a wooden spoon from the kitchen. Their words had escalated into insults quickly, and Laila retreated to her room. That night, Laila feels the baby kick for the first time.

Summary: Chapter 33

Mariam watches Rasheed take Laila to the hospital. When Mariam next sees Rasheed, his mood has turned. Rasheed does not help Laila carry the baby into the house. Rasheed’s prayers for a boy were not answered. Rasheed is impatient with the baby and fights with Laila. The baby cries often, and Rasheed scolds Mariam for not helping. But Mariam knows nothing of babies. Mariam pities Laila, and admires how she is growing into her role as a mother. One hot night, Rasheed’s argument with Laila grows loud. His rage quickly turns against Mariam. Laila will not sleep with him, and Rasheed is convinced that Mariam turned Laila against their husband. Laila pleads with Rasheed not to beat Mariam. Mariam awakes late in the night, and she finds Laila asleep on the floor of the kitchen. The baby is awake, so Mariam picks her up. The baby falls asleep in Mariam’s arms, but Mariam stays awake through the first light of morning.

Summary: Chapter 34

Laila loves nothing more than lying next to her daughter, Aziza. Laila is careful to only tell Aziza about her real father when Rasheed is out of earshot. Rasheed grows suspicious. He interrogates Laila about her relationship with Tariq. Rasheed reminds Laila of the gossip he had heard. One morning, Laila finds a stack of baby clothes outside her bedroom. She thanks Mariam for the gift, and the two women begin talking about cooking. Mariam thanks Laila for defending her the other night. Mariam warns Laila that she will get used to the violence as Mariam has, and that Rasheed will one day turn his violence toward Laila. The women continue the household work to have tea, and Laila knows Mariam is no longer Laila’s enemy.

Analysis: Chapters 27–34

The intersection of Mariam and Laila’s storylines draws more similarities between the two protagonists. Just as Rasheed was first kind and welcoming to Mariam, he is proud to be Laila’s caregiver. As Laila heals, she begins to display survivor’s guilt at being the only member of her family to survive. Mariam notes the similarities in their tragic circumstances by remembering when her own mother passed. However, there is nothing Mariam can say to Laila to ease her pain because she herself was not allowed adequate time to process her own grief at losing a parent.

Mentions of death, which are a form of manipulation, force Laila to accept the tragedy of her new circumstances. Abdul Sharif’s winding tale of Tariq’s death, which is a complete fabrication, leads Laila to slot into her new life easily. His story meanders so much because he is purposefully trying to tie Laila up in emotional circles. He even mentions, simply to tug at her heart, that Tariq mostly spoke of her. Every word that he utters is a form of emotional manipulation, and the reason why he lies will later be revealed. Laila is retraumatized by the news and recalls the day when her brothers died. In the throes of guilt and anguish, she resigns herself to endure these tragedies, almost as a form of punishment. With the most important people in her life gone, there is no hope or future.

Rasheed’s courting of Laila fills both Laila and Mariam with shame. Mariam interprets this blatant favoritism of the young girl as another rejection, similar to the rejections she faced throughout her childhood. Rasheed takes advantage of Laila’s dependence on him, weaponizing shame to pressure Laila into accepting his proposal. Rasheed uses the idea of reputation to justify his actions, saying that people will once again gossip and claim it is inappropriate for Laila to be underneath his roof. Although Mariam dissents—marking the first time she has stood up to Rasheed—he emotionally manipulates Mariam into submission by crudely describing the terrible things that will happen to Laila if they let her go. The shame that Rasheed forces onto Mariam makes her feel resentful toward Laila, exemplified in how she refuses to say Laila’s name.

Laila’s pregnancy is a reminder of how life flourishes amidst a landscape of death. It is quickly revealed to the reader in Chapter 30 why Laila is so eager to marry. Laila already knows she is carrying Tariq’s baby – “her last link to the person that she had been before she had become so utterly alone” ¬– and realizes she will need to make sacrifices to protect the child. For Laila, this child must survive at all costs, no matter the circumstances, violence, or seemingly bleak future of the country. Her baby represents everything missing from her current life – love, joy, and hope.

Gender roles in Afghan society are further reinforced in these chapters. If Rasheed’s role as the novel’s antagonist was ever in question, the scenes presented in Chapter 31 and his treatment of both Mariam and Laila all but dispel any wavering thoughts. In belittling Mariam in front of Laila by calling Mariam harami, Rasheed not only brings up painful memories for Mariam, but also asserts just how little value she possesses and how she will always have a lesser status in the household. In insulting Laila’s now-dead parents, Rasheed shows how little he values education and how he feels Laila’s entitled disposition needs to be disciplined. Forcing Laila to wear a burqa represents the ultimate insult for Laila and a breach of her beliefs. The relationship between Mariam and Laila will continue to be strained until they find common ground in their shared circumstance.

When Laila finally gives birth, the event mirrors the contempt Rasheed felt when Mariam had her miscarriages. Instead of a boy, Laila delivers a girl and Rasheed’s distaste for the outcome is displayed by his callous behavior toward his child. Just as he did with Mariam when she could not bear a son, Rasheed discontinues his doting behavior toward Laila because she could not provide him with what he wanted. The blatant gender bias depicted here and throughout the novel is important in understanding how gender behavior in such societies is perpetuated from generation to generation.

Rasheed’s insecurity threatens Laila and Aziza’s security. As Laila keeps Tariq’s memory alive by cooing small details to Aziza about how she and Tariq are so similar, the attention reveals Rasheed’s insecurity. Rasheed is only capable of finding solace in intimidation and threatening tactics and his intensive line of questioning shows just how insecure he is. His looming presence and obsessive sense of control are weapons with which he exerts his manhood, but purposefully raising insinuations as to the child’s father has an ironic emasculating effect.

Aziza proves to be the key that unlocks the cage of tension in which Mariam and Laila both find themselves. The birth of Aziza reveals a more tender side to Mariam’s personality. The baby neutralizes Mariam’s hostility toward Laila and the baby clothes Mariam leaves outside Laila’s bedroom symbolize a peace offering. The offering allows both women to acknowledge Rasheed’s continued abuse of them, and they find solidarity in their endurance of that abuse. In a further symbol of peace, the pair share tea together which not only is the ultimate sign of hospitality in Afghan culture, but erases the animosity they had toward one another.