A third year of drought blankets Kabul during the summer of 2000. Across the city, black market copies of Titanic have taken the people by storm and Laila, Mariam, Aziza, and Zalmai join in, secretly watching a recording of the film with the curtains drawn and the lights off. Vendors have flooded the desiccate riverbed and set up "Titanic City," where various knock-off items based on the film are sold. Also during this summer, a store neighboring Rasheed's shoe store catches fire, burning down his store as well.
After the fire, the family begins selling off whatever they can. Rasheed gets fired from two restaurant jobs and Laila baits him, suggesting his poor work ethic and bad temper are the cause for his unemployment. Rasheed attacks Laila and when Mariam defends her, he attacks Mariam, too.
Throughout the summer, starvation becomes a possibility. The children lose weight and energy. The entire family skips meals more often and Rasheed has taken to stealing food occasionally. Fed up with the situation, Mariam decides to do something about it and she and Rasheed travel to the Intercontinental Hotel where they borrow a phone for five minutes. Mariam calls the mayor's office in Herat in an effort to find Jalil and ask him for financial support. A groundskeeper gets on the line and informs her Jalil is dead.
During the phone call, Mariam remembers back to 1987, when Jalil came to visit her and she refused to see him. Mariam went so far as to tear up the letter Jalil left for her after he finally gave up on waiting for her to see him. Mariam feels a wave of regret wash over her and wishes she'd been more charitable.
Chapter 41 demonstrates Mariam's growing identity as mother to Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai through her relationship with them and her willingness to make sacrifices for them. Mariam's relationship with Aziza is like that of a grandmother to a granddaughter. The two play at being Rose and Jack and Mariam indulges the silly game, taking pleasure in Aziza's enjoyment of it. Mariam also acts more and more motherly to Laila, particularly when she warns her to stop egging on Rasheed. In advising Laila to leave Rasheed alone, Mariam shows concern for Laila's safety, trying to share what she's learned: sometimes silence is more fruitful than sharing one's thoughts. Through these interactions with Aziza and Laila, it's clear how much Mariam has developed: she's no longer silent and submissive, but contributes her wisdom and compassion to her new family.
Mariam's decision to contact Jalil shows how seriously she takes her role as mother. When Laila laments that she'll have to watch her children starve to death, Mariam takes matters into her own hands. By letting go of her rancor against Jalil, she demonstrates one of the highest qualities of motherhood: self-sacrifice. She's willing to sacrifice her own sense of dignity in order to save Aziza and Zalmai's lives. Through this sacrifice, despite its failure, she learns to feel compassionate for her father, who she realizes wasn't cruel the way Rasheed is, but a sad mixture of weakness and good intentions.