Summary and Analysis Part 1: Chapter 2



Nana and Mariam discuss their life in the kolba, with Nana insisting that Jalil and his family see them as weeds — albeit weeds not so much plucked, but transplanted at a distance. Nana reveals that she refused to live in Herat because she did not want to have Jalil's legitimate life paraded around her constantly, so Jalil and two of his sons built the small, simple house Mariam inhabits until she is fifteen years old.

Nana also tells Mariam the story of her first beau. When Nana was fifteen, she was to marry this man, but then the jinn came over her — a seizure that scared off her beau and any other potential suitors. Despite her own youth, Mariam realizes that her mother has not been happy since losing that first love.

Mariam's parents tell her conflicting stories of her birth. Nana tells Mariam that she was alone in the hut, lying on the floor for two days with a knife by her side to cut the umbilical cord; Jalil did not come to visit his daughter for over a month. In Jalil's version of the story, he arranged for Nana to go to a hospital, where the birth was very fast, and he returned from a business trip as quickly as possible to see his new daughter. According to Nana, Mariam was named after her mother; according to Jalil, she was named after one of his favorite flowers.


Chapter 2 continues to develop the characters of Mariam, Nana, and Jalil while also establishing the themes of multiple truths and notions of fatherhood and motherhood. First of all, once jinn is revealed to be an epileptic seizure, Nana's resentful, bitter attitude toward life has some context: her condition has prevented her from marrying and having legitimate children — Mariam stands as a constant reminder to what her life has become. This resentment is amplified in her story of Mariam's birth. Nana not only highlights the pain and loneliness she felt during the birth, but she also allows her young daughter to apologize for how she was born; in doing so, Nana is firmly established as one who does not see a silver lining in any situation. Jalil's alternate story of Mariam's birth shows him to be the gentler of the two parents. Jalil uses the story to emphasize his love for Mariam, telling her how he bounced her on his knee and named her after a flower he finds beautiful. Mariam is caught between these two conflicting stories, and while she clearly prefers her father's version to her mother's story, Mariam remains unwilling to challenge Nana.

Through these conflicting birth stories, Hosseini establishes a theme of multiple truths. As Mariam hears her father and mother's stories, no hint is given as to which one is "right" or "true." Rather, the stories stand side by side and create a full picture of Nana, Jalil, and Mariam. As far as their ability to establish Nana's bitterness and Jalil's kindness — and both of their attitudes toward Mariam — the stories are true. Through these stories Mariam must develop a third truth — her story of herself and who she is, separate from but informed by her parents' depictions.

Also, by contrasting Nana's and Jalil's parenting styles, Hosseini lays the groundwork for a theme that will develop throughout the novel involving social notions and ideals of gender, fatherhood, and motherhood. Repeatedly, through depictions of various fathers and mothers, he will raise the question: what makes a good father? A good mother? What makes Jalil and Nana good parents? Nana's brutal honesty? Or Jalil's kindness? Or a mixture of the two?