Summary of Part 1, Chapters 13–15
Mariam learns that she is pregnant, and her world suddenly seems colorful and happy. Rasheed is delighted. He is convinced the child will be a boy and plans to name him Zalmai. He even begins building a special crib and buys a suede coat for his son. Mariam feels nervous, fearing Rasheed’s disappointment if the child should turn out to be a girl. Buoyed by happiness, she prays to God not to take her good fortune away. But soon after, while visiting a bathhouse, she suffers a heartbreaking miscarriage. The doctor is unable to tell them why it happened; it was simply “God’s will.”
Mariam is overcome with grief and questions why this has happened—is it punishment for having driven her mother to suicide? or because Rasheed was too proud, certain it was a boy, and giving the boy a name? was it the bathhouse? or something she did or ate? Perhaps it was God Himself who did this simply to taunt Mariam? But, remembering the teachings of Mullah Faizullah, Mariam reproaches herself—Allah is not a spiteful God.
Rasheed’s attitude toward Mariam changes; he now treats her with cold disdain. She asks whether he is angry, but he tells her to stop pestering him, as he is listening to the radio—President Daoud Khan has angered the Kremlin by sending another group of Soviet consultants back to Moscow.
Mariam asks Rasheed whether they can have a proper burial for their lost child. He thinks the idea idiotic, and says he’s already buried one son; he won’t bury another. Alone, Mariam buries the little suede coat and says prayers to Allah.
It is April 17, 1978, the year Mariam turns nineteen. A prominent communist named Mir Akbar Khyber is found murdered in Kabul, and protestors blame the murder on President Daoud Khan, who is seen as anticommunist. Mariam asks Rasheed what a communist is. He mocks her for her ignorance, but it is clear that he has no more idea than she does about it. Mariam says nothing; she’s become afraid of Rasheed. His shifting moods, his scorn, his ridicule, and even punches, kicks, and slaps have all cowed her after four years of marriage. She has been unable to carry a child—she’s had seven miscarriages—and now Rasheed views her simply as a burden to him.
Ten days later, on April 27, communist rebels led by Air Force Colonel Abdul Qader attack the Presidential Palace and seize Kabul. President Daoud Khan, his family, and all his supporters are killed, many of them in a horrible manner. Abdul Qader announces over the radio that the country will now be called the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Aristocracy, nepotism, and inequality has ended and the people now have the power. The new government will respect the principles of Islam and democracy. Rasheed predicts that the communist victory is bad news for the rich, but may not be so bad for people like Mariam and himself. Mariam wonders what will happen to Jalil and his sons.
Down the street, Fariba delivers a baby daughter, Laila. The girl has light hair and jade green eyes.
Rasheed, enraged that Mariam has undercooked his rice, forces her to chew a mouthful of pebbles. As he clamps her jaw shut, he tells her that she has given him nothing in the marriage but bad food. When he lets her go, she spits out pebbles, blood, and the fragments of two broken molars.
Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 13–15
The events in Mariam’s life continue to unfold in a parallel fashion with the events in Afghanistan. Just as Rasheed begins to turn against Mariam, the Soviets turn against their former ally, Afghanistan. The leadership of Afghanistan under Daoud Khan, which began with the promise of democracy, has now ended in violence. Communist rebels, armed by the Soviets, have taken over the government, and Soviet bombs will soon follow to crush resistance. So, too, have Mariam’s hopes for her marriage ended in violence.
Now that Rasheed knows Mariam cannot deliver him a son, he has no use for her. His cruelty toward her is shocking, but it is nothing more than Mariam’s mother, Nana, led her to expect from life. Nana wanted her daughter to learn one skill in life: to endure. Mariam’s strength under suffering is one of the main themes of the novel. Bolstered by Mullah Faizullah’s teachings, she maintains her faith. Although the doctor says that her miscarriages are “God’s will,” Mariam refuses to believe that Allah is denying her happiness out of spite. She stays with Rasheed and still tries to make him happy despite his mistreatment of her.
After one baby dies (the first of seven miscarriages for Mariam), another is born. Laila, the infant daughter of Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbors, will become the second protagonist of the novel. The new baby and the new regime coincide, as Laila is born on the day of the coup. In Part 2 of the novel, readers will learn the fate of both the baby and the nation of Afghanistan.
The baby, Laila, is noted for having light hair and jade green eyes, which make her somewhat special. Afghan people commonly have dark hair and eyes; however, light hair and eye colors do occur as well, particularly in western provinces like Herat. Mariam’s eyes are also green, indicating a connection between the two women.
The green eye color of the women is reminiscent of the iconic photograph of an Afghan girl with piercing green eyes that appeared on the cover of National Geographic in June 1985. The girl in that famous photo, Sharbat Gula, fled Afghanistan after Soviet planes destroyed her village and killed her family. Laila’s life, too, will be devastated by war in Part 2 of the novel.