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

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CHAPTER 41: Mariam


In the summer of 2000, the drought reaches its third and worst year. People in the country who have lost their pastures and herds migrate into the city and place an even larger burden on supplies there. It is also the summer when the movie Titanic comes out. The children forever want to play Jack and RoseBut the fever over this movie also grips Kabul. Peopl smuggle copies of the film from Pakistan and after curfew, everyone sits in the darket and watches the tape. Mariam and Laila unearth the TV from the hole at least a dozen times. Vendors in the city hawk everything Titanic from carpets to cloth to deodorant, to toothpaste and even Titanic burqas. They set up their wares in makeshift shops on the bed of the Kabul River and Titanic City is born. Laila philosophizes that it’s all about the character of Jack. “Everybody wants Jack to rescue them from disaster. But there is no Jack, Jack is not coming. Jack is dead.”

Then, a real disaster strikes when a fabric merchant falls asleep and forgets to put out his cigarette. He survives the fire, but his store does not, and neither does Rasheed’s shop. His only livelihood is gone. So they begin to sell everything: furniture, clothes, toys, and even the TV. After this, if it is possible, Rasheed behaves even worse. He slaps Aziza, kicks Mariam, and throws things. He finds continuous fault with Laila and tells her she’s turning into Mariam. He eventually finds a job at a kebab house, but he is fired for being rude to the customers. He gets another restaurant job and loses it when customers complain of long waits. Laila is appalled at his losing two jobs and goads him about why. He eventually turns on her, beating her and kicking her. He says, “I swear you’re going to make me kill you, Laila.”

Soon hunger begins to cast a pall over their lives. It is stunning to Laila how quickly alleviating hunger becomes the crux of their existence. Death from starvation has now become a distinct possibility. She tells Mariam after observing how thin and wan her children are that she thinks they are going to die right before her eyes. Mariam reassures her that they will not die, because he knows just what to do.

On a blistering hot day, she puts on her burqa and she and Rasheed take a bus to the Intercontinental Hotel. Rasheed speaks to the doorman while Mariam stands to the side and watches. She thinks there is something vaguely familiar about the doorman, but soon he is letting them inside, and his familiarity slips her mind. He allows them access to a telephone and says they have five minutes. Mariam begins to speak after Rasheed dials. Her mind wanders to the last time she had seen Jalil, thirteen years earlier. He had stood outside her home and waited, every now and then calling her name and asking her to come down. He had seen her too for only a minute when she peeked through the curtain. He had finally left her door with a letter propped against the doorframe. She had shredded it unopened. And here she is after all these years calling him. Now she regrets her foolish youthful pride and wishes she had let him in. She reaches the office of the mayor of Herat and asks if the man to whom she is speaking knows Jalil Khan. She explains that it is a matter of life and death that she find him. The man finally tells her there is a groundskeeper who remembers him, but says he died years ago in 1987. Mariam realizes that he must have been dying when he came to her house that day and left the letter. She hangs up the telephone and shakes her head sadly at Rasheed. In her mind, she sees Jalil waving at her, skipping from stone to stone as he crosses the creek. And she thinks even more sadly about all the times she had asked God to grant her more time with him. Rasheed is angry, and says she is useless just like her father. On the way out of the door, Rasheed sees a plate of sweet jelabi, the same plate Mariam had seen and which reminded her of how much Aziza loves it. He pockets it and takes it home and gives it to Zalmai.


It is unbelievable how hunger can completely consume the lives of people who are poor. It is also unbelievable just how selfish Rasheed is when it comes to himself and Zalmai. The women can do without as long as he can provide for his son. There is also an important aspect about pride in this chapter. Mariam had allowed pride to rule her all those years ago when Jalil came looking for her. Now she must swallow that pride and hope to find her father so he can help them find food. However, the hope is gone when Jalil is found to be dead.

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