Summary and Analysis
Chapter 16 - Kabul, Spring 1987
Part Two begins in 1987 with Laila, now nine-years-old, waking up and getting ready for school. Laila is unhappy because her best friend, Tariq, is away visiting his family in the south of the country, and she eagerly awaits his return. At 11 years old, Tariq is slightly older than Laila, and he lost one of his legs in the violence that has plagued Afghanistan for the last nine years.
Laila's parents quarrel about the political unrest in Afghanistan while Laila prepares for school. Laila sympathizes with her bookish and absent-minded father more than her bossy mother, who has become easily agitated since both of her sons left for war, seven years ago. Laila's father takes her to work on his bicycle on his way to work at the bread factory. They pass Rasheed and Mariam's house, where a Mercedes Benz with Herat license plates is parked and an old man sits in the backseat.
At school, Laila's teacher (a staunch Communist) stresses to the children that men and women are equal, therefore women should not cover themselves. The teacher encourages her students to spy in support of the Communist cause, even though the Soviet Union seems to be losing its grip on Afghanistan. The news reports that Muslim forces, with the support of President Reagan and the United States, are pushing the Communists out of the country.
After school, Laila walks home with two friends, Giti and Hasina, and the three girls discuss how to rid themselves of unwanted suitors. Laila does not mention the fact that her father has no intention of giving her away, but would rather have her get a college education and live however she chooses. Because of her father, Laila works very hard in school. Soon, the girls part ways and Laila approaches her home. The Benz and the old man are still outside Rasheed and Mariam's house. Laila watches the man until a boy points a water gun at her head.
Chapter 16 shifts our focus from Rasheed and Mariam and provides a new protagonist to the story: Laila. It establishes parallels between Laila and Mariam, and between the two married couples — Rasheed and Mariam, and Fariba and Hakim. Through these parallels, Hosseini furthers the theme of gender roles. First, because the third person point of view used throughout the novel shifts focus from Mariam to Laila, Hosseini can compare and contrast the two characters. Like Mariam, Laila is growing up as an only child since both of her older brothers left for war many years ago. Also like Mariam, Laila feels much closer with her father (who treats her with kindness and understanding) than her mother (who has become depressed and angry due to her sons' absences). Unlike Mariam however, Laila's father insists that she go to school rather than marry young. Thus Laila is already much more independent than Mariam has ever been. Laila is on her way to becoming one of the "modern" women Mariam watched with such curiosity.
Additionally, through Laila, similarities grow between Hakim and Fariba's marriage and Rasheed and Mariam's marriage, due to the ongoing war against Soviet invasion. Recall that, on the night of Laila's birth, Fariba and Hakim seemed warm and affectionate towards one another. However, since Ahmed and Noor have left for war, Fariba has grown angry and distant, fighting with Hakim frequently about his bookish, absent-minded behavior. Like Mariam and Rasheed, Fariba and Hakim's troubles stem from the absence of children, indicating the significant role children and procreation have in their sense of happiness and security. In contrast, it is Fariba, not Hakim, who takes out her sorrow in the form of anger — and it is her anger that controls the household. This, paired with Hakim's lack of traditional masculine behavior, upsets the gender expectations that are reinforced in Rasheed and Mariam's marriage, where the husband's mood determines the household's atmosphere. Thus Hosseini expands the theme of gender roles by showing how complicated and fluid notions of gender norms can be.