Summary and Analysis
Chapter 15 - April 1978
Four years pass between chapters 14 and 15; it is now April 1978. Mariam is 19 years old and has been married to Rasheed for four years, during which time she's suffered six more miscarriages. The chapter opens with news that Mir Akbar Khyber, a noted communist, has been murdered. Allegations point to President Khan's regime as committing the crime. Mariam and Rasheed listen to the news on the radio and Mariam asks questions about the communist party. Rasheed dismisses her curiosity as ignorance and stupidity. As Rasheed has become quicker to anger and more physically abusive in the years of their marriage, Mariam now fears him. Mariam is relieved when Rasheed retreats to his bedroom with the radio.
Ten days later, Mariam and Rasheed awake to the sound of military planes passing overhead and explosions in the distance. Later that day, Air Force Colonel Abdul Qader makes a radio announcement that the communist rebels have overtaken the government and executed many of Khan's family and followers. After Rasheed says that the wealthy could suffer in a Communist regime, Mariam wonders how Jalil and his family are faring. Later that night, Fariba gives birth to a daughter, Laila, and her sons and husband crowd around her in joy.
At dinner, Rasheed spits out the rice Mariam's made, telling her it's undercooked. Rasheed storms outside and brings in a handful of pebbles, which he forces Mariam to chew. Two of her molars break.
Chapter 15 reveals significant changes to Mariam and Rasheed's relationship and characters, and Hosseini uses political unrest and the birth of Fariba's daughter, Laila, to foreshadow changes in Mariam and Rasheed's lives. Having fast-forwarded four years, it's clear that the problems Mariam and Rasheed experienced during their first miscarriage have only been amplified by six more losses. Mariam has become even more submissive and fearful of Rasheed, whose temper and displeasure dominate their lives. Whereas once Rasheed tolerated Mariam's questions about Kabul and other events, now he hides his own ignorance behind his impatience with her questions regarding communism. His bitterness reaches a new height at the end of the chapter when he forces Mariam to chew pebbles. As a child, pebbles signified the siblings Mariam longed for, but now become a symbol for all she's lost — most particularly her dream of starting a family with Rasheed. She knows Rasheed considers her a burden, and Mariam is constantly anxious and self-conscious, wanting to do her best to please him, but knowing all of her attempts will fall short. Having no alternatives, she's caught in a cycle of violence and forced to live in a constant state of fear.
Mariam and Rasheed's marital problems are set against the unstable political setting and the toppling of the government by rebel forces. While it's uncertain how much Mariam and Rasheed understand these changes, it's clear that the cultural landscape with which they're familiar has shifted and will influence their lives in the second part of the book. Hosseini also provides more detailed focus on Fariba and her family in this chapter. While Fariba, Hakim, and their children have been at the periphery for much of Mariam's life in Kabul, this shift to a scene featuring them, exclusive of Mariam and Rasheed, indicates that they will be more central to the second part of the book. Fariba's successful birth and the warmth of her family crowded around her and her new daughter also stands in stark contrast to Rasheed and Mariam's broken relationship.