Summary of Part 2, Chapters 24–26
Rockets continue to rain on Kabul, day and night, and each day the dead are found buried under rubble and smoke. Laila and the rest of the city watch, “as helpless as old Santiago watching the sharks take bites out of his prize fish.” Tariq buys a gun for protection, a semiautomatic; it scares Laila. He says that for her, he’d kill with it. The two kiss for the first time.
In June 1992, heavy fighting breaks out in West Kabul between ethnic Pashtun and ethnic Hazara forces. Pashtun militiamen are invading Hazara households and executing families; Hazara retaliate by abducting and raping Pashtun civilians and shelling Pashtun neighborhoods. Laila’s father wants to leave Kabul, but her mother refuses. She prefers to wait for peace. The streets become so unsafe, however, that Laila must drop out of school and be taught by her father at home.
One day that same month, Laila’s friend and schoolmate Giti is killed by a stray rocket. Her body is blown to pieces; her foot would be found on a rooftop two weeks later.
It is August of 1992, and Laila is fourteen years old, Tariq sixteen. Tariq comes to tell Laila that his family is fleeing to Pakistan. Caught up by their emotions, the two make love. He pleads with her to marry him and come with him to Pakistan, but she cannot bear to leave her family, particularly her father. Finally Tariq leaves, promising to come back for her.
Tariq has been gone two weeks, and Laila struggles to hold on to every detail of their last afternoon together. Three days before, a bullet came through their front gate, narrowly missing Laila’s head, and her mother has finally agreed they must leave Afghanistan. They will flee to Pakistan to apply for visas. That night, while Laila sleeps, she dreams of Tariq.
The family decides to pack only what is absolutely necessary and sell the rest. Her mother parts with her wedding dress; her father with many of his treasured books. As they pack to leave the city where they have made their home, her father recalls a few lines from a seventeenth-century poem about Kabul, written by the Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs, / Or the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
As her father weeps at the thought of leaving his beloved city, Laila promises her father they will return. But just as the family prepares to leave the house, a rocket hits. Her house is destroyed and her parents killed; she sees a chunk of her father’s torso land in front of her. Laila survives because she is outside carrying boxes out to the taxi, although she is thrown up into the sky by the blast. She is taken to the hospital and heavily sedated.
Analysis of Part 2, Chapters 24–26
These chapters are set in 1992, when the horror of the Afghan Civil War—raging in the provinces since 1978, and now being fought as an ethnic war between the different factions of Mujahideen—is brought to the capital city of Kabul. The grisly death of Giti, Laila’s schoolmate, foreshadows the climactic scene at the end of Chapter 26 in which Laila’s parents are killed.
Here again, the love match of Laila and Tariq contrasts with the loveless arranged marriage of Mariam and Rasheed. Mariam’s first sexual experience with Rasheed is painful and frightening, but Laila’s is beautiful and filled with mutual love and trust built up over their years of friendship. Rasheed is concerned only for his own sexual satisfaction; Tariq, however, shows concern for Laila’s comfort. Mariam’s relationship with Rasheed is something of a business transaction—Mariam is there only to provide Rasheed with a son and take care of his home, and when she fails to live up to his expectations, he beats her. Laila and Rasheed, on the other hand, have a genuine romance.
The two lines from the seventeenth-century poem “Kabul” are taken from an English translation by Josephine Davis. It is not a literal translation from the original. Through the imagery of suns and moons, the poem evokes a feeling of timelessness as well as a heavenly beauty that stands in poignant contrast with the rubble and blood of the city at war. The moons and suns may be interpreted as the citizens of Kabul, with the head of each household represented by a shimmering moon on its roof. The reference to “a thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls” likely refers to the women of Kabul, glowing beauties cloistered in hearth and home, tantalizingly hidden from the outside world but nonetheless providing vital life-giving warmth. This powerful image of women as “splendid suns” ties in with Hosseini’s theme of women’s strength and importance to Afghan society.