Summary and Analysis
Chapter 42 - Laila
By April 2001, Laila is 23 years old and, after years of suffering abuse and hunger, is hardly fazed when she hears the news the Taliban have destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan valley. Laila is more distraught by the fact that she's forced to put Aziza in an orphanage because Rasheed is unable to earn enough to feed all of them.
Laila cannot bear to tell Aziza the truth, so she tells her the orphanage is a special school. Rasheed, Mariam, and Laila walk with Aziza to the orphanage, but Rasheed stops a few blocks short, leaving the two women to walk the rest of the way with Aziza.. Aziza pesters them with questions to hide her growing anxiety.
They meet with Zaman, the director, and he interviews Laila while Mariam entertains Aziza in the hall. Laila finds it odd as she tells a lie that's also the truth: that Aziza's father is dead. Zaman believes her and agrees to take Aziza in, assuring Laila that she's able to visit Aziza whenever she wishes. When it comes time to leave, Zaman has to pry Aziza away from Laila, who's overcome with guilt and shame, feeling like a horrible mother.
At first, Rasheed agrees to accompany Laila, Mariam, and Zalmai on visits to see Aziza, but more often he returns home before they reach the orphanage, until he finally refuses to accompany them at all. Laila makes the trip alone and suffers abuse from Taliban soldiers each time. Sometimes they simply curse her and send her home; other times, they beat her so badly she gives up. When she does make it to the orphanage, Laila finds that Aziza has grown nervously chatty, trying to cover up her discomfort with living in the dirty orphanage. However, Zaman leads the students through secret lessons on a variety of subjects and Aziza enjoys the chance to learn about the outside world.
A few days later, Zalmai yells at a man standing at their front door. Laila's overcome with feeling when she sees that it's Tariq.
Hosseini expands the idea of motherhood through Laila's experiences with placing Aziza in an orphanage. The initial decision to send Aziza to the orphanage demonstrates how a mother must make painful decisions in order to assure the survival of her children. Laila's need to focus on Aziza's well-being is shown when she stresses to Aziza that there will be food at the "school" she's attending. Zaman also assures Aziza that she's not abandoning her, but that Laila's been forced into an impossible situation where she can do nothing to support her daughter except give her away. Through these moments, Hosseini shows how dramatically the Taliban's presence has affected Kabul as it has made it impossible for mothers to provide for their children.
Hosseini shows that mothers are often willing to suffer for their children. Once Rasheed stops escorting Laila to the orphanage, Laila goes alone, suffering attacks from the Taliban to do so. As Hosseini has shown throughout the novel, mothers are often forced into difficult relationships with their children in order to do what they think is best. Recall that Nana tried to stifle Mariam's dreams because she didn't want her to face later disappointment and that Fariba could only care for Laila at a distance. Now Mariam and Laila face similar difficulties in their roles as caretakers. Mariam finds new strength to endure Rasheed in her efforts to protect and provide for Laila, Aziza, and Zalmai. Meanwhile, Laila must actively give away her daughter in order to make sure she's fed and clothed.