Summary and Analysis
Part 2: Chapter 23
Jumping ahead in time again, Chapter 23 opens three years later in Spring 1992. Laila is 14 and Tariq is 16. Over the last three years, the Mujahideen have continued fighting on the borders and Najibullah has attempted to win over the Muslims by following Muslim traditions, himself. Finally, Najibullah steps down in April 1992 and all the soldiers return. Fariba, overjoyed, finally emerges from her sloth-like depression.
She works in the kitchen for the first time in years and starts asking Laila questions about her life, particularly her relationship with Tariq. Fariba warns Laila to carefully protect her reputation because people will start to assume that she and Tariq are romantically involved, even if they are just friends. While Laila resents her mother's newfound interest in her life, she secretly agrees with Fariba. Laila knows the neighbors are already gossiping about she and Tariq.
Fariba throws a neighborhood party to celebrate the "real" end of the war. The men gather outside over the grill and the women prepare the other dishes in the kitchen. Tariq stops by the kitchen to nibble on some food and the women shoo him out playfully. Laila does her best to avoid eye contact with Tariq because she's come to realize she's secretly in love with him.
After everyone eats, Tariq motions for Laila to follow him down the street. They meet and joke around with each other about how others suspect them of having an affair. Their conversation is interrupted by screams coming from Laila's house. They rush back and find a group of men fighting on the lawn. Laila learns from other guests that the men were fighting about politics. Sadly, a few days later, the short-lived nationwide peace is disrupted. Different factions of the Mujahideen start fighting amongst themselves as they're unable to develop a clear way to govern the nation. Fariba retreats back to her isolated, bed-ridden life.
In Chapter 23, Hosseini explores both the theme of gender roles as well as how the ongoing political unrest shapes the lives of the main characters. Through Tariq and Laila's evolving relationship, Hosseini shows how traditional gender roles of their community influence their behavior. Now that Tariq and Laila are teenagers, other people see them as approaching adulthood and thus make different demands on Tariq and Laila's behavior. Laila's mother reminds her that she should distance herself from Tariq because even an innocent friendship can be perceived as sexual. Fariba stresses this point because a girl's reputation is essential to her social standing in their community — while Laila is pursuing her education, she is still expected to marry; and to marry well, she must remain pure.
At the same time Laila is experiencing new limitations on her behavior, Tariq is experiencing new freedoms. He's able to wear t-shirts that show off his young, muscular body. He has developed a flirtatious nature, teasing Laila and the other women at the party. Through Tariq and Laila's actions in this chapter, it's clear that although Tariq seems comfortable with the growing flirtation between him and Laila, Laila struggles with the situation as she's torn between obeying her mother and her growing attraction to Tariq.
The emerging love story between Laila and Tariq is counterbalanced with the continually unstable political atmosphere in which they live. The chapter begins with a new sense of peace with the announcement of Najibullah's resignation. This peace is most prominently demonstrated by Fariba's decision to take an active role in life by throwing a neighborhood party. However, at the party, men from different tribal backgrounds begin to fight and their fighting parallels the unrest that takes over the nation as the once unified forces turn against each other in their bids for power. The party thus becomes a symbolic microcosm of Afghanistan as a whole. At the party, politics intersect with personal relationships. For instance, no matter how much Laila and Tariq would like to enjoy their teenage years separate from their community's prying eyes — as shown through their secret meeting in the alley — they are called back to the party when the fight erupts. On a larger scale, this is true of all the people in their community; try as they might to lead "normal" lives, their lives are constantly interrupted by the political battles going on around them.