Summary and Analysis
Chapter 39 - Mariam, September 1997
Mariam, Laila, and Rasheed join a crowd rushing the nearest hospital as Laila has gone into labor. The Taliban officials guarding the door tell the group that this hospital only serves men. They inform them that there is only one hospital for women, Rabia Balkhi. When one member of the crowd shouts that there are no resources at that hospital, the Taliban soldiers shrug off the protest and threaten the crowd by shooting their guns into the air.
At Rabi Balkhi, Mariam tries to get help for Laila. Joining the mob of wounded and upset women, Mariam asks a nurse for help and the nurse tells her to wait. They wait most of the day. Finally, when they're brought to a dirty delivery room, the female doctor working informs Mariam and Laila that the baby is breeched and they'll need to perform a caesarian. Mariam is horrified to hear that Laila will have to undergo the operation without anesthesia. The kind-hearted doctor removes her burqa to perform the surgery, having one of the nurses stand guard while she does so. The procedure begins and Laila fights the urge to scream as long as she can.
In this chapter, the presence of women is strong, and Hosseini depicts Mariam's growing sense of motherhood regarding Laila, as well as the affect the Taliban's laws have on Afghani women's lives.
Mariam emerges as a true mother figure through her care and advocacy for Laila, going so far as to call Laila her daughter when the nurse asks her what she needs help with. Then, hours later, when they meet with the doctor, Mariam again acts maternally and offers to do whatever possible to get Laila drugs for surgery. When the doctor assures her there's nothing she can do, Mariam does what she can by holding Laila's hands through the surgery, bearing witness to Laila's pain. Through Mariam's actions and dialogue, Hosseini argues that a true mother is a person who acts like one and has nothing to do with biology.
Through Mariam's mothering nature, Laila's strength, and the doctor's calm competence, Hosseini once again demonstrates that women are the hope for Afghanistan. The doctor speaks to Laila and Mariam as people, not as property or second-class citizens. The doctor speaks with compassion and focus, indicating that she is an excellent doctor despite the circumstances in which she is forced to work. Through her kindness and intelligence, she's able to calm Mariam and Laila and get them through the surgery. Through these women's ability to work together, Hosseini shows that hope exists by elevating women rather than denigrating them.