Summary of Part 3, Chapters 32–34
Chapter 32: Laila
Laila recalls hearing some gossip about Rasheed once, years before, when her mother’s friends had gathered to talk. The women said that Rasheed was formerly a heavy drinker and that he was drunk when his son wandered off and drowned in the lake. Now that Laila has revealed she is pregnant, Rasheed has gone to the mosque to pray for another boy. Mariam is even more bitter toward Laila when she hears that the girl is going to have Rasheed’s child.
Rasheed brings home news of the war and explains the allegiances of the leaders. The Tajik leader, Massoud, is siding with the Pashtun commander Sayyaf; they both fight the Hazaras, who are supported by Pashtun Commander Hekmatyar. The Uzbek commander Dostum supports Massoud. However, he has a history of switching allegiances; in the past, he sometimes supported the communist government and at other times aligned himself with the Mujahideen. Dostum may switch sides again at any time.
As the battle rages in Kabul, the capital city is falling apart. Embassies and schools close, and hospitals, flooded with the wounded, have run out of basic supplies like anesthesia.
Laila feels herself surrounded by walls. She misses Tariq but avoids thinking of him, as it is too painful. She passes the winter of 1992 doing her chores and avoiding Mariam’s accusing eyes. Out with Rasheed, Laila is grateful for the burqa, which prevents others from seeing her and realizing how low she has fallen. He shows Laila his shoe shop and feels her belly, proud of how quickly it is swelling.
Laila doesn’t tell Rasheed, but she’s had her first real fight with Mariam. Mariam accused her of stealing a wooden spoon, calling her a “thieving whore.” The women had screamed at one another, welcoming the release of their anger and grief. That night, the baby had kicked for the first time.
Chapter 33: Mariam
In the spring of 1993, Mariam watches as Rasheed and Laila leave for the hospital; Rasheed is anxious and overly attentive. When they return with the baby, he is brusque and irritable, not even bothering to open the door for Laila. The baby, it turns out, is a girl—not the precious boy he had hoped for. They call her Aziza, or “Cherished One,” but far from cherishing his daughter, Rasheed is irritated by the baby’s crying and disgusted by the smell of her diapers. He refuses to buy her any clothes, saying that she can wear the boys’ clothing he bought.
Angry that Laila is denying him sex, Rasheed blames Mariam for corrupting the girl’s mind. When he attempts to beat Mariam, Laila physically prevents him, pleading that she will give him the sex that he wants.
One night, Mariam finds the baby awake while Laila sleeps. The baby gazes at her, grins, and takes Mariam’s finger in her grasp. Mariam’s heart melts.
Chapter 34: Laila
Laila loves being near Aziza, lying close to her baby and gazing into her eyes, whispering to her daughter how much she looks like her father. Rasheed grows suspicious, questioning Laila about her relationship with Tariq, but Laila lies that he was never anything more than a brother to her. She cannot allow Rasheed to suspect anything. Secretly, she is stealing from Rasheed’s wallet and planning to run away in the spring.
Rasheed shares more news of the war. Rumor has it that the Uzbek leader, Dostum, is planning to join forces with Commander Hekmatyar and the Hazaras. If this comes to pass, the war will become more fierce than ever.
Mariam gives Laila the baby clothes she sewed years before, in hopes of having a daughter of her own. It is a sort of thanks for the way Laila stood up for her against Rasheed. Mariam warns that Rasheed will turn on Laila, too, eventually. The women share a cup of tea in the yard, and are enemies no longer.
Analysis of Part 3, Chapters 31–34
The novel continues to follow the political turmoil in Afghanistan through to the spring of 1993. Thus far in the novel, Hosseini has told of the overthrowing of the Shah in 1973, the brutal communist coup that ousted Daoud Khan’s democratic government in 1978, the civil war between the Soviets and the Mujahideen, and finally the exit of the Soviets in 1989, followed by the establishment of an Islamic state in 1992. Now the country is in the midst of an war between the ethnic Tajik, Pashtun, Uzbek, and Hazara factions of the Mujahideen over who should be president of Afghanistan.
As explained by Rasheed, the main players in the conflict are Tajik leader Ahmad Shah Massoud—known as the “Lion of Panjshir” and idolized by Laila’s mother—and his mortal enemy, Pashtun commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Massoud supports the newly selected interim president, Rabbani, while Hekmatyar and his Hazara supporters do not. Hekmatyar attacks Kabul with rockets, attempting to gain control of the government.
As Uzbek commander Dostum threatens to shift allegiances from Massoud to Hekmatyar and bring on even fiercer fighting, the allegiances are shifting in the Kabul household shared by Rasheed, Mariam, and Laila. The two women, once enemies, are becoming allies as Rasheed turns against Laila.
Rasheed’s disdain for his daughter serves to underscore the lack of respect for women in traditional Afghan society. Her name, which means “the Cherished One,” is ironic considering that she is far from being cherished by her father. However, Aziza’s love is bringing a new light and meaning to the life of Mariam.