Summary of Part 3, Chapters 27–31
Chapter 27: Mariam
In Part 3, the point of view of each chapter alternates between Mariam’s and Laila’s. The events of Chapter 27 are told through Mariam’s eyes. Mariam watches over Laila as she awakens in the hospital, deaf in one ear and covered in cuts and gashes from the explosion. She brings the girl home and takes care of her.
It was Rasheed who found Laila buried under the rubble of her house and saved her life. He also rescued a few of Laila’s father’s treasured books; the rest were either destroyed or stolen. Tariq’s house is occupied by soldiers, no older than boys. One morning, the house is destroyed by rockets. The neighbors find the soldiers’ body parts for days afterwards.
Laila lives with nightmares, attacks of grief, and the guilt that she was the one spared. Mariam pities her. Recalling her own guilt over Nana’s suicide, she knows there is nothing she can say that will ease the girl’s burden.
One day, a month after the blast, a man called Abdul Sharif comes to see Laila.
Chapter 28: Laila
The stranger named Abdul Sharif claims he met Tariq in the intensive-care unit of a hospital in the border city of Peshawar, Pakistan. Tariq had been on a bus filled with refugees, heading for the Pakistani border, when the bus was caught in cross-fire. Most everyone on board died, and Tariq was burned very badly. He spoke to Abdul about Laila, saying that she was his earliest memory and that he cared dearly for her. One night soon after, Tariq died of his injuries. Abdul says he hates to be the bearer of bad news, but he knows Tariq would’ve wanted Laila to know what had become of him.
Laila recalls the day when her family learned that her brothers had been killed. She hadn’t felt true sorrow then, as she barely remembered them. Now, she is devastated. Perhaps, she thinks, the loss of Tariq is her punishment for not caring enough about her brothers’ deaths and her mother’s suffering.
Chapter 29: Mariam
Rasheed expresses sympathy for Laila’s loss. Mariam notices that he is uncharacteristically polite and talkative, as if trying to charm Laila. He even speaks highly of the Tajik leader, Commander Massoud—a man he previously derided as a traitor and communist—because Laila is Tajik and he hopes to create common ground. Mariam realizes to her horror that Rasheed is courting Laila, and he does not deny it. Although Rasheed is aged sixty or more, with white hair and sagging skin, and Laila is only fourteen, he doesn’t see anything wrong with the match. Many of his friends have two, three, or four wives. Besides, there is nowhere for Laila to go otherwise, and it will appear improper for Laila to stay with them unless he marries the girl. In fact, Rasheed claims, he is actually doing Laila a favor.
When Mariam tells Laila of Rasheed’s wish to marry her, Laila says yes immediately.
Chapter 30: Laila
Rasheed proposes, presenting Laila with a ring that he’s bought by trading in Mariam’s wedding ring. He offers to buy Laila a wedding dress, but Laila says it’s not necessary; she’d just as soon get the wedding done. “Eager,” Rasheed grins.
It is not eagerness to marry Rasheed, however, that motivates Laila. Before Abdul Sharif’s visit, Laila had planned to leave for Pakistan. But now she has learned that Tariq is dead—and she is pregnant with his child. Marrying Rasheed and passing off the baby as Rasheed’s child is the surest way to keep Tariq’s baby alive and healthy.
Mariam looks on with bitter disapproval as Laila and Rasheed are wed. That night, as Rasheed makes love to her, Laila is disgusted by Rasheed’s aging body and his greedily lustful gaze. After he is asleep, Laila cuts her finger and lets it bleed on the sheets so that Rasheed will believe she was a virgin.
Chapter 31: Mariam
An awkward tension exists between Mariam and Laila, and the two do not speak. Rasheed, however, insists that they all have dinner together. In Mariam’s presence, he explains to Laila that she should excuse Mariam’s bad manners, as after all, she was brought up a village girl, and a harami, or bastard, at that. He adds that she is a good worker and unpretentious, but no luxury vehicle like Laila.
Rasheed further warns Laila that he will not be as lenient with her as her parents were; he sees it as his duty to guard their honor. She is the queen of the house, but she must not ever leave their home without his company. When she does leave the house, she must wear a burqa to protect her from the gaze of lewd men. Mariam will be watching and will be accountable for what Laila does.
Soon after, Laila nervously approaches Mariam, attempting to befriend her. Mariam, however, speaks to her angrily and forcefully. She will not be Laila’s servant, she says, and she would not have nursed her injuries as she did had she known Laila was going to steal her husband. Laila apologizes and promises to do her share of the work.
Analysis of Part 3, Chapters 27–31
Just as Hosseini’s first novel, The Kite Runner, was a story about men in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about the women of the nation, and the story is told through their eyes. In Part 3, the lives of the two main characters converge as Laila and Mariam become wives to the same man.
Mariam and Laila are quite different in some respects. Mariam is rather homely, while Laila is a stunning beauty. Mariam was an illegitimate child, forced into marriage by her father; Laila’s father adored her and encouraged his daughter to reach her full potential. Mariam was denied an education, while Laila was a top student raised with the expectation that she would go on to university. Mariam has only known the abuse of her older husband, while Laila had the chance to experience true love with Tariq.
Notwithstanding their differences, the two women, joined in suffering, are destined to become close friends. After years in an abusive marriage, Mariam has been beaten down to the point that she has no self-esteem left. Her confrontation with Laila is a turning point for Mariam; it’s the first time in years that she has really managed to stand up for herself. This is the first sign that Mariam will be strengthened, and not diminished, by Laila’s entry into her home. Laila, too, will gain from her relationship with the older woman, who will become like the dependable mother figure she lacked.
Rasheed continues to be a hateful character who represents some of the worst of what women experience in a rigidly patriarchal society. He readily takes advantage of a young, grieving girl, and disregards his wife’s feelings about the second marriage. Traditional Islamic law does permit men to take more than one wife, but the first wife must give her permission in order for the marriage to take place. Mariam does not approve, but this does not matter to Rasheed. Rasheed’s expectations for Laila—that she wear a burqa and not leave home alone—show that he plans to crush her spirit as he has done to Mariam’s. Hosseini uses an apt metaphor when he writes that “Rasheed’s demands and judgments rained down on [his wives] like the rockets on Kabul” (page 201). Rasheed’s desire to control his wives will destroy them, as surely as Afghanistan is being destroyed by those who would control the nation.
An element of suspense is introduced as it is revealed that Laila is pregnant with Tariq’s child. Readers are left wondering whether Rasheed will learn of the deception. There is also some question at this point as to whether Tariq is really dead, as the stranger claims.