Chapters 48–51


Analysis: Chapter 48

Tariq and Laila marry when they arrive in Murree. Tariq works in a hotel, and Laila helps him clean the rooms. Laila tells Aziza that Tariq is Aziza’s real father. Laila promises Aziza that Tariq will never hurt or leave them. Zalmai asks for his father and resents Tariq. Laila knows that Zalmai’s pain over Rasheed’s absence will ease in time. Aziza has nightmares. Laila dreams of Mariam and their home in Kabul. 

Analysis: Chapter 49

One day in September Tariq tells Laila Massoud has been killed. Laila and Tariq notice a commotion in the hotel lobby. A group gathered around the television watches as a plane hits the second tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. A few days later, U.S. President George W. Bush declares war on Afghanistan. The Taliban will not reveal the location of Osama bin Laden, the man who seems to be responsible for the attack on September 11th, 2001. Every day, Laila watches American bombs fall on her home country. Tariq suggests that perhaps this is a not a bad thing, but Laila vehemently disagrees. She lived through the violence in Kabul after Tariq escaped. Laila understands what Tariq meant, but she cannot wish her parents’ fate on anyone.

Analysis: Chapter 50

By July 2002, coalition forces have driven the Taliban out of the major cities, and Afghanistan has appointed an interim president. Although Laila is happy in Murree, she tells Tariq she wants to move back to Kabul. The family boards a series of buses back to Afghanistan, but they have one stop to make before they return to Kabul. Laila leaves Tariq and the children at a hotel in Herat, and Laila takes a taxi to Gul Daman. Laila finds the home of Mullah Faizullah. The tutor has been dead for several years, but Laila meets his son, Hamza. Laila tells Hamza of Mariam’s life, and of her death. Hamza tells Laila how heartbroken his father was when Jalil Khan gave Mariam away. Hamza shows Laila the kolba Mariam shared with Nana. Laila imagines Mariam as a child, and tearfully says her goodbyes to Mariam. Before Laila leaves, Hamza gives Laila a box that Jalil had given to Mullah Faizullah. The box contains a letter Jalil wrote to Mariam, a videocassette of the movie “Pinocchio,” and a bag. In the letter, Jalil expresses regret for how he treated Mariam, and he begs Mariam for forgiveness. Jalil had sold his land and wished to give the small sum to Mariam. Jalil ends his letter to Mariam with hope that she will come visit him before he dies. Laila shows Jalil’s letter to Tariq and the bag, which is full of cash. Tariq holds Laila while she cries.

Analysis: Chapter 51

Rain fills the Kabul River, and Laila watches her children play in the mud and water. Aziza celebrates her tenth birthday at the cinema. Laila and Aziza always wake up at five o’clock, for morning prayers in remembrance of Mariam. Laila wishes her parents were alive to see their city now. Tariq and Laila are helping to renovate the orphanage. Laila teaches at the school there, and she walks with her children to their classroom. Some of the other children call her “Mother.” Mariam is often on Laila’s mind, and Laila wishes she knew where Mariam was buried. Laila is pregnant with another child. She knows what name she will give the child, if it is a girl.

Analysis: Chapter 51

Despite their safe surroundings and hopeful future, characters still suffer the traumatic effects of the past. As the story switches to the present tense and shifts to Laila’s point of view, it offers insight into how characters process and cope with trauma. The dreams she has of Mariam are a pathway to mourning. Zalmai, in effect, mourns the loss of his father and shows resentment toward Tariq as a means of coping. Aziza experiences nightmares resulting from the violence and trauma witnessed and experienced at the hands of Rasheed. Their trauma is a reflection of the ongoing reality in Afghanistan, a country that has experienced decades-long war and instability.

Just as their past was influenced by Afghanistan’s violent history, Laila and Tariq contend with how it will affect their future. When Massoud is killed, it symbolizes the end of one era and the beginning of another in the country. A push-pull dynamic emerges between past and future when Laila and Tariq disagree about their experiences of war, causing them to view the future in two different ways. For Laila, her experience of first-hand violence proves influential. With the Taliban being ousted from major cities and no longer the threat they once were, returning to Afghanistan for Laila is symbolic of tending to unfinished business, and of accomplishing all the things she was unable to when she was younger because of the violence. Returning is a way for Laila of keep the memories of her parents, family, and friends alive, but also a way for her to become the woman they all envisioned her becoming.

Returning to Mariam’s hometown allows Laila to learn about Mariam’s past, and enables Laila to build her future. Returning also allows Laila to reconcile the sacrifice Mariam made and finally mourn her death properly. In a box left by Jalil is the answer to the question posed at the beginning of the novel: Did Jalil truly care for Mariam? The answer is a resounding yes. The box holds a videocassette of Pinocchio and a letter expressing shame at his decision to choose reputation over family. The sack of money and the cassette are both symbols of the future and the past, respectively. Although the loose ends in Mariam’s story have been closed, Laila will take what she’s learned about Mariam and carry it into the future, a future made possible by Mariam’s sacrifice.

At the novel’s conclusion, Laila embodies many of the maternal qualities once displayed by Mariam. She and Aziza pray every morning for Mariam to keep her memory alive. It is implied that Laila uses some of the money left by Jalil to renovate the orphanage where she once left Aziza, drawing influence from Mariam’s motherly nature. Laila has become the woman her family hoped she would become and is now a teacher. Her students call her “Mother,” a testament to her gentle care for them. She is also pregnant with another child, and the novel’s last words invoke Mariam’s spirit: Laila knows that she will be name the baby Mariam if she is a girl.