Summary of Part 4, Chapters 48–51
Laila and Tariq are in Murree, Pakistan, together. They married the day they arrived; the kindly hotel owner, Sayeed, paid for the wedding. On their first night together as husband and wife, they sleep with their hands held tightly together.
Laila loves the natural surroundings of their mountain retreat. They have a bathroom with running water, and Laila, Tariq, and Aziza share the household chores. A few days after the wedding, Laila tells Aziza that Tariq is her real father, and promises her that he will never leave her. Zalmai rejects Tariq, asking for his real Baba jan; however, Laila knows that with time, his wound will heal.
On family outings, they go to shops in town or out to viewpoints in the mountains. Laila realizes that they must look like an ordinary, happy family to outsiders who know nothing of their secrets, lies, and regrets. But Aziza still has nightmares, and Laila, too, has devastating dreams about her friend, Mariam.
One Sunday in September 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud, leader of the rebel Northern Alliance, is assassinated by Al-Qaeda terrorists posing as journalists. Laila remembers how her mother always admired Massoud, believing that he, the Lion of Panjshir, was a good man who really wanted peace. Laila is not so sure that Massoud was a good man; she remembers all too well the destruction of Kabul, which Massoud and all the Mujahideen had a hand in creating.
Two days later, on September 11, the family watches on the BBC as planes crash into the World Trade Center towers. Soon after, as Afghanistan, the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden are all over the news, the Taliban announce that they will not release Osama bin Laden because he is a guest in their country. U.S. president George W. Bush declares war on Afghanistan.
Tariq tells Laila that the war in Afghanistan may bring hope for the first time to their home country, but Laila, who has lost her family to war, is horrified.
That night, Zalmai wakes up coughing, and Tariq soothes him back to sleep. The little boy has accepted him at last.
It is July 2002, and the Taliban have been driven out. The country has a new interim president, Hamid Karzai. Life in Murree is comfortable and peaceful, but Laila longs to return to Kabul to help rebuild her country. She remembers her father telling her that when the war was over, Afghanistan was going to need her. She remembers her mother’s dream that one day, Afghanistan would be free; she wants to be there to witness her mother’s dream becoming a reality.
Tariq agrees to follow wherever she wants to go. They prepare to leave for Kabul, and at last say their tearful goodbyes. Before they go to Kabul, however, Laila wants to visit Herat. They take a long bus journey through Iran, passing through the city of Mashad and through an Afghan refugee camp. At last, they arrive in Mariam’s hometown.
Herat has been rebuilt under the direction of the local warlord, using customs revenue that should go to the central government. Leaving the others at the hotel, Laila goes alone by taxi to the village of Gul Daman. There she visits the home of Mullah Faizullah, Mariam’s old teacher. Faizullah is dead, but his son, Hamza, remembers Mariam, and is saddened to learn of her tragic end.
Hamza takes Laila to see Mariam’s childhood home, the mud hut, or kolba, on a hill outside of town. The house is abandoned and deserted now, but recalling Mariam’s descriptions, Laila can picture young Mariam in this place. She feels her friend’s presence and senses Mariam’s deep strength—the strength that neither Rasheed nor the Taliban was ever able to break; the strength that led Mariam to save Laila’s life. As she leaves the hut, she says goodbye to her friend.
Hamza has something to give Laila. It is a tin box that Jalil Khan had meant for his daughter Mariam to have. Hamza has never opened it; now he gives it to Laila along with the key.
Back at the hotel, Laila opens the box. Inside is an envelope, a burlap sack, and a videocassette. The tape is of Walt Disney’s Pinocchio. Laila doesn’t know the significance of this, but the reader realizes that Jalil wanted his daughter to see at last the film she’d begged him to take her to years ago.
In the envelope is a long letter, dated May 13, 1987. In the letter, Jalil writes of his regret over the way he treated Mariam and asks her forgiveness. He reveals that he lost his wife Afsoon and daughter Niloufar in the uprising of 1979 and that his son Farhad, who went to fight jihad, was killed by the Soviets in 1982. He lost his land and stores to the communists and is no longer wealthy, but he wanted his daughter to have her share of the money he had left.
Inside the burlap sack is a quantity of money in American dollars.
Chapter 51: April 2003
The drought in Afghanistan has ended and the Kabul River is flowing again. The family is renting a house in their old neighborhood of Deh-Mazang and have bought a new goat for Zalmai. Zalmai is now almost six, and Aziza is ten.
The city is being rebuilt, and people are planting flowers in the empty shells of old rockets. Tariq finds a job with a French NGO that provides prosthetic limbs to those injured in the war. Laila notices, however, that the old Mujahideen warlords have been let back into Kabul. Now ministers of government, they ride in their shiny, bulletproof SUVs through neighborhoods they demolished.
But Laila refuses to be resentful; Mariam wouldn’t have wanted that. Instead, she has a mission. She returns to the orphanage that took such good care of Aziza, and finds Zaman still there, teaching the children basketball and poetry. With the money from Mariam’s father, Laila renovates the orphanage, repairing the leaks and broken walls and windows. They plant trees and buy new playground equipment, beds, and more. Laila, too, begins teaching at the school.
There is a story in the newspaper, with a photo of Zaman, Tariq, and Laila. Laila feels that at last she has fulfilled her dreams of being someone, and better yet, has built a monument worthy of Mariam and her great sacrifice. She feels her friend in her own heart, shining “with the bursting radiance of a thousand suns.”
Laila is also pregnant again. If the baby is a girl, she plans to name her Mariam.
Analysis of Part 4, Chapters 48–51
The main conflicts of the novel are resolved at the end of Part 3; Part 4 provides the conclusion, or denouement. The political situation in Afghanistan changes once again as the Taliban are ousted in the U.S.-led invasion following 9/11 and an interim government is set up under Hamid Kharzai.
The family’s home in Murree, Pakistan, is represented as an oasis of peace and natural beauty, in stark contrast with war-torn Kabul. Laila’s idyllic marriage to Tariq is also a stark contrast to her marriage with Rasheed—Tariq even shares the chores with Laila, and, far from preventing her from leaving the house, he agrees to follow her wherever she goes.
However, the story is not complete without a return to Afghanistan and a fulfillment of Hakim’s prediction that his daughter would one day be needed to help rebuild her country. The discovery of the letter and money left by Mariam’s father provide redemption for Jalil and closure to Mariam’s story—but it also provides the funds to help Laila renovate the orphanage in Kabul. Since it is Mariam’s money (literally Mariam’s legacy) that funds the rebuilding, the project may be seen as the work of both women to build a new Afghanistan, and a real affirmation of the equal importance of men and women—moons and suns—to Afghan society.
The news of a baby on the way is a powerful symbol of hope for the future. The reader hopes that if the baby is a girl named Mariam, she will be able to enjoy the freedom that her namesake never had.
Of course, there is no happy ending to the story of Afghanistan. As Laila notes, the Mujahideen warlords enjoy a high position in Afghan society after the ousting of the Taliban, and they are not punished for the killing of countless civilians during the war. As of 2009, the Taliban continue to fight a guerrilla war in Afghanistan and Pakistan.