Summary and Analysis
Chapter 37 - Mariam, September 1996
Two years have passed and Mariam joins Laila in her delight at the arrival of the Taliban to Kabul. Initially started by young men whose families were destroyed by the war with the Soviets, the Taliban grew up on fundamentalist Islam. Slowly, they'd been defeating the Mujahideen in towns and villages, moving from the border of Pakistan toward Kabul. With them, the Taliban leaders have been bringing not only strict Islamic law, but also peace.
Rasheed takes Mariam, Laila, and Aziza out to join in the celebration. The women are shocked by the amount of decay and destruction surrounding them as they make their way to Pashtunistan Square to hear one of the young Taliban leaders speak. Next to the leader are the bloated tortured corpses of two men: Najibullah and his brother. The speaker warns the crowd that this is what happens to the unfaithful.
The next day, red trucks mounted with loudspeakers proclaiming the new laws pour through the city. Fliers are distributed as well. Mariam finds one of the fliers, which lists strict rules regarding clothing and behavior, with particularly strict laws for women. Women are no longer allowed in public without a male relative, and they must always wear burqas when traveling. Women are also no longer able to go to school. At dinner, Laila expresses her shock at the new ways of Afghani life, but both Rasheed and Mariam view her as naive. Rasheed tells Laila that such practices are common in the rest of Afghanistan, whereas Mariam believes that she and Laila are already under such control, so why should the entire city's women live any differently? During this discussion, Mariam realizes that in the Taliban's eyes, Communists such as Najibullah are only a little more despicable than women.
Through Mariam, Laila, and Rasheed's reactions to the Taliban's arrival, Hosseini sheds light on the historical moment in which these characters find themselves. First, all three characters experience some level of hopefulness at the Taliban's arrival. They, like their neighbors, have heard that the Taliban bring peace to the territories they conquer, and after years of war, all of Kabul is ready for relief. Of the three, Rasheed is the most hopeful as the Taliban's arrival not only reinforces his beliefs regarding the place of women, but it will restore to him the freedoms he once enjoyed. Both Mariam and Laila's hopefulness is tempered by their pasts. For all of Mariam's adult life, she has been in Rasheed's control. While she is thankful for Laila and Aziza, she has no more illusions that life can improve or change from what it is. Laila, however, having been educated and taught that both she and her independence matter, is less able to accept the Taliban. Laila is shocked anyone would obey their rules. Through all three characters' reactions, Hosseini shows the complex relationship Afghanistan, particularly Kabul, has with the Taliban. While many residents, such as Laila, may not agree with their beliefs, the peace they bring, along with the people's complete lack of resources after years of war, makes them palatable if not likable. Hosseini is not making excuses for the Taliban, but rather providing historical context so that non-Afghani readers — — can get a better grasp of how and why the Taliban rose to power.