Summary of Part 3, Chapters 35–38
Chapter 35: Mariam
Mariam and Laila begin doing their chores together, and Aziza grows attached to Mariam. Mariam has never been loved like this before, and she is deeply moved.
In January 1994, Commander Dostum does switch sides, joining Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and firing on Massoud and his forces at the Ministry of Defense and the Presidential Palace. The streets are littered with bodies and there is looting, murder, and rape, which women kill themselves to avoid. In the name of honor, men also kill their wives and daughters who have been raped by the militia.
The fighting grows so severe that Rasheed is forced to stay home. He locks the door, sets booby traps, and stalks the house with his gun. The Mujahideen are forcing young boys, at gunpoint, to join the war. If captured by the other side, the boys are tortured in horrible ways and their families are killed. Rasheed boasts that he will protect his family.
When the fighting subsides, the women are relieved to have Rasheed out of the house again. Laila braids Mariam’s hair, Mariam tells her about Jalil, Nana, and the jinn, and everything that happened to her before and after her forced marriage to Rasheed—the miscarriages and how Rasheed turned on her. Laila, in turn, tells Mariam about Tariq, the true father of Aziza, and of her plans to run away in the spring.
Mariam lies awake, thinking of Laila’s plan. Laila and Aziza have become extensions of her, or like flowers sprouting unexpectedly in her garden. She imagines Mullah Faizullah telling her that she must tend to these two flowers, which God has planted in her life.
Chapter 36: Laila
One day in the spring of 1994, Laila and Mariam are ready to leave Rasheed. Laila is terrified that he knows of the plan, but he leaves for work as usual. The two women leave in a taxi for the bus station, Aziza with them; they will take a bus to Pakistan. At the station, they feel watched by the Mujahideen militia. Since the Mujahideen takeover in April 1992, women’s rights have been severely limited. They are ordered by law to cover themselves and forbidden to travel without a male relative. Adultery is punished by stoning.
The women worry about what will happen when they reach the border; Pakistan has closed its borders to Afghans, but they hope they will be able to find a way to be smuggled through. First, though, they must find a man to agree to pose as a male relative. They find a young man who is traveling with his family and pay him a large sum of money to accompany them. He agrees to pose as their cousin, but at the last moment they realize he has given them away to the Mujahideen. The women are detained and questioned, and finally brought back to Rasheed.
As they arrive back at the house, Laila attempts to protect Mariam by explaining to Rasheed that it is all her fault; she forced Mariam to go along with the plan. Rasheed punches her, drags her by the hair, and locks her into her room. Mariam is beaten and thrown into the toolshed, while Laila and Aziza are left in the room for three days in the suffocating heat with no food or water. Just when Laila is sure they will die, Rasheed lets them out. He threatens that next time, he will find them and kill them both in a horrible way. Mariam will be killed first, and he’ll make Laila watch.
Chapter 37: Mariam
It is September, 1996, two and a half years since the women’s attempt to flee. The sounds of firecrackers and music herald the coming of the Taliban to the city. The Taliban are a guerrilla force of young Pashtun men raised in refugee camps after their families fled to Pakistan during the war against the Soviets. Schooled in Shari’a, or Islamic religious law, by mullahs in Pakistani madrasas, their mission is to return to their native Afghanistan and found an Islamic government. Their leader is the one-eyed recluse Mullah Omar.
The Taliban boys have no roots in Afghanistan, but Rasheed believes they will be an improvement over the corrupt, greedy Mujahideen commanders, who are rich off heroin and spend all their time declaring jihad on one another and killing. As devotees of radical Islam, the Taliban will clean up Afghanistan and establish peace and order.
The Taliban had one thing the Mujahideen did not: they were united. Together, they were able to capture cities from the Mujahideen and end factional warfare. Rasheed looks forward to their entry into Kabul.
As the Taliban enter, Defense Minister Massoud and President Rabbani withdraw from the city. People rejoice and display signs reading “Long Live the Taliban!” The women go with Rasheed and Aziza to see the Taliban leaders speak in the Pashtunistan Square, where they have displayed the dead bodies of former president Najibullah and his brother. Aziza cries at the horrific sight, while Rasheed smirks.
The next day, the Taliban issues a list of laws that will be enforced under the new Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Prayer is mandatory five times a day; men must grow their beards and wear turbans and Islamic clothes. Singing, dancing, playing cards, chess, gambling, and kite flying are all forbidden, as are artistic pursuits such as writing books, watching films, and painting pictures. Keeping parakeets is forbidden. Thieves will have their hands cut off at the wrist; on a second offense, the foot will be cut off. Non-Muslims will be beaten and imprisoned for worshipping in public, and will be killed for trying to convert non-Muslims.
For women, there is a special list of rules. Women must stay inside their homes at all times unless accompanied by a male relative; they must never show their face in public but must always wear a burqa outside the home. Cosmetics, jewelry, nail polish, and attractive clothes are forbidden. Women may not speak unless spoken to and may not make eye contact with men or laugh in public. Women are forbidden from attending school or working. If found guilty of adultery, they will be stoned to death.
Laila is shocked by the new restrictions; after all, this is Kabul. Women here used to practice law and medicine and hold government offices. Rasheed laughs at her. The Taliban’s ideas are not new or radical, he says; these are the values held by most places in the country outside of her precious urbane world in Kabul.
Chapter 38: Laila
Laila is glad that her father is not alive to see what the Taliban do next: they go into the Kabul Museum and smash statues, close down the university, and destroy paintings, books, and televisions. The words of the great poets are all burned, and musicians are beaten and imprisoned. Cinemas are shut down; Mariam wonders what has become of her father’s theater. People are dragged from the streets for skipping prayer or not wearing beards.
Rasheed has no problem following the rules set by the Taliban; he merely grows a beard and visits the mosque. He takes a sadistic pleasure in watching others being punished, describing the lashings, beheadings, and hangings to Laila. When Laila calls him savage, he points out that the Soviets killed a million people and the Mujahideen killed 50,000 in just four years. What the Taliban are doing is nothing by comparison, and it’s all done according to the Koran.
Rasheed enjoys his increased power over his wife, as sanctioned by the leadership. Looking at Aziza, whom he has noticed doesn’t resemble him, he points out that whenever he desires, he can give Aziza away and have Laila executed for adultery. She should learn to appreciate him more.
Soon after, Laila learns she is pregnant again. She plans to abort the child herself with a bicycle spoke, but finally decides she cannot bear to do it. Enough innocent lives have been lost already.
Analysis of Part 3, Chapters 35–38
These chapters tell of the events of 1994 and 1996. In 1994, the fighting between the factions of the Mujahideen becomes so severe that the family is unable to leave their home and bodies litter the streets. It is clear by this point that the Mujahideen are not the heroic freedom fighters Laila’s mother once believed them to be, but vicious and power-hungry warlords. Armed to the teeth by the U.S. government as part of the Cold War strategy against the Soviets, they now wreak terror on the nation they wanted to free. In 1996, the Mujahideen are ousted from power in 1996 by a new force, the radical Islamist Taliban. When the Taliban enter Kabul, the people celebrate. A new hope rises that there will be peace at last. However, in a continuation of the cycle of hope and disappointment, the Taliban quickly establish themselves as more repressive than any government before them.
The events of Afghan history mirror what is happening in the lives of Laila and Mariam. Now as close as sisters, they have formed a new family alliance. Mariam feels closer to Aziza upon learning that the girl is actually a harami, or bastard child, like herself. The women suffer Rasheed’s abuse, but their escape plan provides a sense of hope. This hope is dashed when they are punished and sent home. Brutally beaten and nearly left to die by Rasheed, they enter a new life of fear and increased repression.
Women’s rights, severely limited after the takeover of the Mujahideen in 1992, are ever more restricted in the name of Islam, especially as the radical Taliban take over in 1996. The incident in the bus station, as Laila and Mariam attempt to run away and are delivered back into the hands of their abusive husband, illustrates how inhumanely women are treated under the Islamic law. Through Mariam’s recollections of Mullah Faizullah, Hosseini suggests that there is another way to interpret Islam, and it is not the fault of the religion that these leaders insist on repressing women.
Rasheed welcomes the increased power he has over his wives under the Taliban government. His comment that he might turn Laila over to the Taliban and give Aziza away foreshadows Aziza’s being given to an orphanage in the chapters that follow.