Summary of Part 1, Chapters 9–12
Mariam and Rasheed arrive in Kabul in the evening of the next day. Rasheed’s two-story house, which is in the Deh-Mazang neighborhood of Kabul, is far smaller than Jalil’s, but still a mansion compared to the kolba where Mariam grew up. The street is unpaved and the houses close together. When Rasheed speaks, Mariam must listen closely, as she sometimes has trouble understanding his Kabuli dialect of Farsi, and he also has a Pashto accent. He shows little sympathy when Mariam cries of homesickness, saying: “That’s one thing I can’t stand . . . the sound of a woman crying. I’m sorry. I have no patience for it.” Mariam is relieved at least that Rasheed leads her to a guest room; they will not sleep together right away. He has placed a basket of white tuberoses on the windowsill for her. Noticing Mariam is shaking, Rasheed asks whether she is afraid of him. She lies and says no.
For the first few days, Mariam stays in bed and hardly leaves her room. She has no appetite and thinks longingly of home, missing her mother. She especially remembers sleeping on the roof of the kolba on summer nights and reading with Mullah Faizullah. Rasheed goes to work and enters her room at the end of the day to share gossip and news. At the end of the week, he informs her that the next day, she must begin behaving as a wife.
The next morning, Mariam unpacks her suitcase, cleans the house, and prepares food. She goes out to the communal tandoor, or oven, with her bread dough. The other women of the neighborhood cluster around her, curious to meet Rasheed’s new wife. A woman named Fariba introduces herself. Her husband, Hakim, is a teacher, and they have two sons, Ahmad and Noor. As more women gather around with questions, however, Mariam panics and runs back to Rasheed’s house in tears.
When Rasheed returns, he fails to notice the clean house, but praises her cooking. He brings her a gift, a blue burqa for her to cover herself with. He explains that some of his customers’ wives come to his shop uncovered, without shame, and even wear makeup and skirts. Even the neighbor, Fariba, walks on the streets alone with only a scarf. He finds this an embarrassment, a sign that a man has lost control of his wife. He won’t allow that to happen to him—he wants to be the only one to see his wife’s face. As she accepts the burqa, Mariam feels she is shrinking under the power of Rasheed’s will.
Mariam feels strange in her new burqa. The headpiece feels tight and heavy; the fabric is suffocating; and with the loss of peripheral vision, she keeps stumbling. Mariam and Rasheed visit a park and eat in a small kebab house. Mariam finds the burqa comforting. She can look out at others, but no longer worries that people will look at her and guess the shameful secrets of her past.
Rasheed takes her around Kabul and buys her ice cream, the first she’s ever tasted. They walk through a wealthy neighborhood where she sees “modern” Afghan women who walk among strangers with their heads uncovered. They wear makeup and skirts, and some even smoke and drive cars. Mariam imagines that these women have university degrees and work in office buildings; she feels inferior to them. She is pleased when Rasheed enters a shop and buys her a fringed silk shawl. She senses that this is a true gift, unlike the bribes from her father.
That night, Rasheed comes into her room and does not leave. She is astonished by the pain as he enters her. Rasheed assures her that there is no shame in what they have done, as it is exactly what the Prophet Mohammed did with his own wives. He leaves her to sleep alone.
It is the month of Ramadan, in the fall of 1974, and the city is fasting together. Rasheed does not follow the fast regularly, and when he does, he is irritable and impatient. Ramadan is followed by the Eid-ul-Fitr celebration. Mariam remembers celebrating Eid as a child. Jalil would come bearing gifts, but then leave to celebrate with his “real” family, leaving her with a forlorn feeling. However, she misses her old teacher Mullah Faizullah, who always gave her candy and cookies and watched the fireworks with her. This time, Mariam and Rasheed walk onto the streets and greet the neighbors, “Eid mubarak!” Fariba greets them, but Rasheed warns Mariam to avoid her; he thinks Fariba is a gossip and her husband a pseudo-intellectual.
That evening, Rasheed has male friends over to celebrate Eid, and tells Mariam not to come down while the men are there. Far from insulting her, this makes Mariam feel special and honored—protected by her husband. But later, while cleaning the mess from the Eid festivities, Mariam runs across some pornographic magazines in her husband’s room. She wonders—how can Rasheed insist that she covers herself while he thinks nothing of looking at the private parts of other men’s wives and sisters? But then she reasons that after all, he is just a man, and has strong appetites.
Along with the magazines, she also finds a gun in the drawer. While the discovery disturbs her, she reasons that he keeps it for their safety.
In the bottom drawer of the dresser, she finds a photo of his dead son, Yunus, who drowned at age seven, and along with it, a photo of Rasheed and his first wife. She is jealous, but then feels sorry for Rasheed, who has suffered so much loss. She decides they will be good companions after all.
Analysis of Part 1, Chapters 9–12
In these chapters, Hosseini develops the character of Rasheed further. To avoid demonizing Rasheed, he does show some sensitive moments, as when Rasheed leaves the roses in Mariam’s room and buys her a silk shawl. But if Rasheed is not completely evil, he is clearly a deeply flawed and unsympathetic character, a vehicle for Hosseini to explore and criticize the sexist attitudes of many Afghan men. For instance, Rasheed’s “protective” attitude toward his wife—his insistence that she cover with a burqa and avoid contact with males—is shown as hypocritical, as Rasheed enjoys viewing the pornographic images of other women. Rasheed and other men like him are not, Hosseini suggests, primarily motivated by a respect for women or even by religious devotion (Rasheed is not a very religious man, and avoids fasting during Ramadan). Rather, their motive is to exert control over women.
The characters of Fariba and her husband Hakim provide a contrast to Mariam and Rasheed. Fariba wears only a headscarf, or hijab, not the full burqa; her husband Hakim, a teacher, is apparently more liberal-minded. Hosseini includes details about Fariba and Hakim’s relationship to make it clear that not all Afghan men are like Rasheed, and there are more liberal views out there, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Kabul. Nonetheless, Mariam accepts the burqa, reasoning that her husband is protecting her honor. While she does feel jealous of the women she sees in downtown Kabul who walk around with heads uncovered, wearing makeup and smoking, Mariam decides that, after all, she would look ridiculous smoking a cigarette.
Hosseini weaves details about Afghan culture into his book, explaining them for his Western audience. In these chapters, he introduces the Islamic practice of fasting during Ramadan and the festival, Eid-ul-Fitr. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the month in which Muslims believe the Koran, the Holy Scriptures of Islam, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. They also make a point of doing good deeds and refraining from sin in order to purify themselves. Eid-ul-Fitr is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan and the breaking of the fast. As noted above, it is significant that Rasheed does not strictly observe Ramadan. Rasheed’s neglect of Muslim traditions shows that his sexist treatment of Mariam is not motivated by a devotion to Islam. It also further characterizes him as a selfish and self-indulgent person incapable of understanding the true meaning of religious faith.
At the end of Chapter 12, Mariam is optimistic about her future with Rasheed. However, the revelation of the gun in Rasheed’s drawer introduces an ominous note of foreshadowing, suggesting violence to come.