Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 13



As the first snow drapes Kabul, Mariam and Rasheed ride the bus home from the doctor, both elated with the news they're going to be parents. Rasheed insists the baby will be a boy, but Mariam's just happy to be pregnant.

The next day, Mariam discovers Rasheed in the tool shed building a crib for the baby. While touched by his effort, Mariam is also worried about Rasheed's unyielding faith that they'll be having a little boy. Soon after, Rasheed invites some male friends over to celebrate Mariam's pregnancy. Mariam cleans and cooks for the men before retreating to her room. She can hear the men playing musical instruments and laughing and singing and she shares in their joy, although she's sequestered from them. Mariam prays to Allah, thanking him for this gift. She's overjoyed at the prospect of being a mother and starting a family like the one she dreamt of sharing with Jalil and her half-siblings.

Rasheed suggests he and Mariam go to the haman, or bathhouse, where Mariam suffers a miscarriage. Rasheed and Mariam return to the doctor, who cannot find a reason for the miscarriage, which leaves the grieving couple without answers. Mariam and Rasheed return home and Mariam lies down on the couch and watches the snow fall. She remembers that Nana once called snow the sighs of upset women.


Water emerges as a symbol of gender roles in the brief but emotionally charged Chapter 13. Water first appears in the form of snow the day Mariam and Rasheed find out she's pregnant. In this scene, water is a mirror for Mariam and Rasheed's feelings — they are full of wonder and hope as they watch the snow transform the busy city into silence. However, just as water is a shape shifter, its symbolism also changes. At the bathhouse, Mariam, surrounded by hot water and steam, suffers a miscarriage. Here, the water is not gentle or awe-inspiring, but invasive and hot. It adds to her sense of overwhelming shock when Mariam begins to bleed. Finally, snow returns, but its comfort is more complicated as it reminds Mariam of Nana, and Nana's belief that snow formed from women's sorrowful sighs. Snow here connects Mariam to her lost mother and aligns her with her mother's view that it is a woman's lot to suffer, and suffer often.

Also amid Mariam and Rasheed's loss is another look into how traditional ideas of gender inform their behavior, both during their joy and their grief. First, Mariam and Rasheed are both thrilled at having a baby, although differently. For Rasheed, the news of a baby — in his mind, most certainly a boy — is a victory. This new boy can somehow replace the son he lost. Secondly, a son can pass on his name and learn his trade, making him more socio-culturally valuable than he would be with a daughter. Rasheed invites men, not other couples, over to share in his joy — so Mariam is left out of the celebration. When Rasheed learns of the miscarriage, he is distraught, but he refuses to discuss his sorrow or to comfort Mariam. Rasheed feels such emotions are for women, not men.

Mariam, too, exhibits traditional gender behavior in her joy and grief. She is overjoyed by the thought of becoming a mother as it allows her to connect back to her youth and the family she lost. S — he can now build her own family and ease the loneliness she grew up with. She feels a strong sense of purpose and worth because of her pregnancy. Her grief also reinforces her traditional notions of gender as she reconnects with the memory of her mother when watching the snowfall. Her mother always told her it was her lot to suffer and now Mariam understands — she is thinking of both the loss of her mother and her unborn child, all without emotional support from her husband, who retreats from her grief to his bedroom.