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Study Guide: A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - BookNotes

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A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS: BOOK REVIEW / PLOT SUMMARY

CHAPTER 23

Summary

It is three years later in April of 1992. Tariq’s father has had a series of strokes. Tariq has outgrown his leg and must wait six months for the Red Cross to provide him with a new one. Hasina, as she feared all those years before, is made to marry her cousin who owns the auto-shop. He makes plans to take them to Germany where his brothers live and Laila never sees her again.

The Soviet Union crumbles with astonishing swiftness. The various republics under its once heavy hand declare their independence, and the Republic of Russia is born. Meanwhile, Najibullah tried to reach a settlement with the Mujahideen, but the rebels balk. Mammy is glad to hear that and continues to hold her vigil for the victory parade. And eventually her enemies fall in Aoril of 1992, the year Laila turns in fourteen. Mammy knows all the names of the Mujahideen heroes, but she is especially in awe of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir, who had personally overseen the funerals of Ahmad and Noor. She has a poster of him hanging in her room. This is the day she has been waiting for. At last, she can end her vigil, and her sons can rest in peace.

After she hears the news that Najibullah has surrendered, Mammy rises from her bed a new woman. She takes off her black clothes and puts on a cobalt blue dress. She washes the windows, and cleans and airs out the house. She is shrill with merriment and decides that they will have a big luncheon party the next day. Then, she goes into the kitchen and wonders as she begins to plan the food what Laila has done with the room. She moves everything around to the way it was before the war and Laila knows to stay out of her way in case this is just one of her fits of euphoria.


While she is cooking, Mammy notices things about Laila she hadn’t been told: Laila is plucking her eyebrows and wearing a bra; she is also being seen with Tariq in the streets together. However, because she is now fourteen and he is sixteen, they have become the subject of gossip. Mammy talks to her about the importance of her reputation. She says that a girl’s reputation is a delicate thing. It is like a mynah bird in your hands. Slacken you grip and away it flies. Laila insists that Tariq is just a friend or he is like a brother. That disturbs Mammy, because Laila already has two brothers even though they are dead. She emphasizes to Laila that if she is not careful, people will talk. Laila knows Mammy is right. The days of innocent, unhindered frolicking in the streets with Tariq are over and there is a new strangeness between the two of them. Unfortunately, it is now easy to stay away from him, because she has fallen hopelessly and desperately for him. Even Rasheed, the shoemaker, calls them Laili and Majnoon, the Afghan version of Romeo and Juliet. Yes, Mammy has a point, but what rankles Laila is that Mammy hasn’t earned the right to make this point. All her years of aloofness and of not caring what Laila did gave her no right now to tell Laila how she should behave. However, Laila lets it pass so as not to spoil the day.

It is a perfect day for a party. The men sit in the yard and discuss the slow formation of a new government while the women gather in the living room, the hallway, and the kitchen. Laila goes to the kitchen also where she talks to Giti. This girl has changed immensely and is no longer the brooding, severe girl she had been. Laila knows this change has come about because of and eighteen year old boy who has caught Giti’s attention. They are planning to marry as early as that summer. Laila asks her, “What about school?” But she and Giti know that there is no school in future. Giti and Hasina always said their futures would be filled with husbands and children, while they believed Laila would someday be on the front page of the newspaper because of her success.

Mammy is telling all the ladies in the kitchen that she is going to present Commander Massoud, her hero, with a picture of Ahmad and Noor. She thinks he will appreciate it. Meanwhile, Tariq wanders in and out of the kitchen, sampling food and being shooed away. He seems to enjoy this attention of being shooed away as the only masculine image among many females. Laila does her best not to look at him in order not to give anyone an excuse to talk. She remembers a dream she had of her and Tariq’s faces together in a mirror, beneath a soft green veil. Tariq’s mother catches her making a sidelong glance at her son and shows her approval with a small smile.

Eventually, Tariq motions with his head and slips out the door. She finds him three houses down, leaning against the wall and smoking a cigarette. He has taken on this habit as well as several others because of the new group of friends that Laila despises. She tells him he shouldn’t smoke and he tells her he does it to attract girls who find it sexy. Laila says he looks like a half-wit. Tariq wonders if the people at the party are talking about them at that moment. Laila is thrilled that he says us rather than me or you. It makes them a conspiratorial couple, “canoeing down the River of Sin.” Then he says very briefly, “You know,” to which Laila responds, “Know what?” Then Tariq brings it all out in the open: “That I have eyes only for you.”

He then quickly changes the subject to the Mujahideen and asks her what she thinks about them. She begins to tell him something Babi had said about the rebel forces when suddenly they hear screaming and loud voice at her house. They rush back to find a knife fight going on between a Pashtun and a Tajik who disagree about whether Massoud is a traitor. Tariq throws himself into the fight but only ends up crawling out of a pile of crazy men throwing punches and bringing out more knives.

Then, everything in the new Afghanistan begins to unravel as the Mujhideen troops begin to fall back into their tribal allegiances. They no longer have a common enemy; they have found the enemy in each other. Rockets begin to rain down on Kabul, and Mammy once again changes into black, goes into her room, shuts the curtains, and pulls the blankets over her head.

Notes

This chapter reflects how events come about very quickly including in Laila’s personal life. The Soviet Union falls apart. The Mujahideen finally marches victorious into Kabul. Mammy becomes her real self again and organizes a celebratory party. Tariq admits to Laila that he only has eyes for her. Then, the party at Laila’s house breaks up over a fight which foreshadows the disintegration of the new Islamic government. Finally, war returns to Afghanistan. The feeling in the end is one of loss of control for both Laila and the people of Afghanistan.


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