Summary of Part 3, Chapters 43–47
Chapter 43: Mariam
Zalmai is suspicious of the strange man and says he doesn’t like him. Mariam tries to keep him quiet in her room while Laila meets with Tariq, but he fusses and screams until his mother comes up to hold him.
Mariam realizes now that the familiar-looking doorman at the Intercontinental Hotel, who had helped them to make the phone call to Herat, was the same man who had told them Tariq was dead. It had all been a ruse after all—Rasheed had paid his friend to lie to Laila so that he could have the girl for his own.
Chapter 44: Laila
After a tearful embrace at the door, Laila and Tariq sit in the living room and talk. Now twenty-five, Tariq is still lean and handsome, although his skin is weathered and he is beginning to lose some of his hair. His parents now are gone, and he lives alone about an hour outside of Islamabad, Pakistan, in a mountain retreat called Murree. He has a goat called Alyona—named for the heroine of a movie he and Laila once saw together—and brings Laila some goat’s milk cheese.
Tariq tells her the story of what happened since they parted. He and his family stayed in a refugee camp near the border, along with sixty thousand other Afghans. The camp, Nasir Bagh, had existed since the war with the Soviets. Life in the camp was depressing and many children died of disease and hunger. Tariq’s father died the first winter, and his mother nearly died of pneumonia. Desperate to earn money so that he could move his mother out of the camp, Tariq found a job smuggling drugs. He was caught and put into prison, where he stayed for seven years. He wrote many letters to both his mother and to Laila, but knew they would likely never be received; later, he learned his mother had died while he was in prison.
Once he left prison, Tariq found a job at a small hotel in Murree, owned by the brother of a fellow inmate. He lives there now in a small shack near the hotel, surrounded by almond trees. He tells Laila that he wishes he’d taken her with him ten years ago; everything would’ve been different had they married.
Before he leaves, Laila tells Tariq about his daughter, Aziza. They arrange for him to return the next day while Rasheed is at work and go to the orphanage for a visit.
After dinner that night, Zalmai tells his father that his mammy has a new friend—a man with a limp. Realizing at once who the visitor was, Rasheed is enraged. He calls Laila a whore and says that he knew all along Aziza was not his child.
Chapter 45: Mariam
Rasheed sends Zalmai upstairs, then beats Laila viciously with a belt. Mariam flies at Rasheed in an attempt to stop the beating, and he turns on her. Laila then rushes to defend Mariam by smashing a drinking glass against Rasheed’s face, and he begins to choke her. Mariam, watching helplessly, realizes that Rasheed means to kill Laila. She runs to the toolshed and grabs a shovel—and hits him on the head as hard as she can.
Chapter 46: Laila
With Rasheed’s hands around her throat, Laila sees bursts of blinding light, then darkness. She pictures her children’s faces and realizes she is about to die. Then, suddenly, the darkness begins to lift and Mariam is shaking her. She is coughing, wheezing, and gasping—but she is alive.
Rasheed, however, lies dead on the floor. The women wrap Rasheed in a bedsheet and drag him into the toolshed. As Mariam tends to Laila’s wounds, they discuss a plan. They will flee the country with the children and Tariq and find someplace remote and safe.
Laila goes to tend to her son. Zalmai is curled up in bed, waiting for his father to come and say his prayers with him. She lies to him that his Baba jan has gone away and that she doesn’t know when he’ll be coming back. The boy wants to know why his father left—was it because of what he said? Laila moves to comfort him, but he is already asleep.
In the morning, Mariam has a plan. Laila must go to get Aziza, then flee with the children and Tariq to Pakistan. Mariam alone will stay and take the blame for killing Rasheed. She says this is the only way; if they both flee, they will be found eventually. Besides, Mariam says, she cannot live with herself for having taken away Zalmai’s father. She’s had everything she wants from life; now it is time for Laila to go on without her. Laila is too distraught to argue. Like an obedient child, she does what Mariam says. She will never see Mariam again.
Chapter 47: Mariam
Mariam’s trial takes less than fifteen minutes. She has no lawyer, no public hearing, and there is no examining of evidence or hope of appeal. Standing before three Talib judges, Mariam admits to the crime, explaining that she did it only to save the other woman’s life. Although the judges do not appear to doubt her story, they point out that she has no witnesses, and doubt her reasoning. After all, she is a woman, and cannot think like men can. Besides, Islamic law is not vague about this matter—she must be sentenced to death.
Mariam is placed in the Walayat women’s prison, sharing a room with five women and four children. The children play in the filthy courtyard of the prison. Many of them have been born in Walayat and know no other home. All the women in Mariam’s cell are in prison for having run away from home. One young woman, Naghma, ran to escape an arranged marriage; she is sentenced to five years. Naghma becomes a close friend to Mariam.
Mariam spends ten days in prison. The night before her execution, she dreams of home—her father, come to take her at last for a ride in his shiny black car; Mullah Faizullah walking with her along the stream; and lastly her mother, Nana, calling to her.
On the day of her execution, Mariam is brought to Ghazi Stadium. Thousands of spectators watch as she is led to a goalpost on the former soccer field, where she will be beheaded. In her final moments, Mariam mourns that she will not see Laila again; she will never see Aziza grow up or play with her children. However, she experiences peace as she thinks of how her relationship with them brought meaning to her life. Finally, Mariam mutters words from the Koran, taught to her by Mullah Faizullah: “[Allah] is the Mighty, the Great Forgiver.” At the executioner’s command, she kneels and looks down.
Analysis of Chapters 43–47
Chapters 43–47 provide a dramatic climax to the novel and emphasize the themes of love, sacrifice, and feminine power. The love of Laila and Aziza have made Mariam a whole person; they have become the family she dreamt of having as a child and have given her the status of legitimacy that she longed for all her life. Love—not romantic, but sisterly and motherly—has allowed Mariam to rise above the expectations her own mother had for her. She need not be a victim of men all her life, nor look for a prince like her father to rescue her or legitimize her existence, but can find strength in her bonds with women and within herself.
When Tariq reappears in the novel, readers may expect that he will fulfill the role of knight in shining armor, or of Jack in the movie Titanic, and save Laila—but instead, it is Mariam who saves her friend. By killing Rasheed and dying for the crime, Mariam becomes a true hero, one who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for those she loves and the ideals she cares about.
Although Mariam is killed in the name of Islamic law, her last thoughts are for Allah. Thanks to her teacher, Mullah Faizullah, she knows a merciful and forgiving God, much different from the one recognized by the Taliban.
Rasheed’s death is satisfying, an example of poetic justice, as he finally gets what he deserves. Mariam’s death is tragic, but she accepts it with courage and a sense of peace.