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

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CHAPTER 42: Laila


On a cool morning in April 2001, Laila helps Aziza pack all the things she owns, which is enough to fill a small paper bag. She is leaving for an orphanage on Rasheed’s orders, because there is not enough food for everyone. It is a few days after Laila heard that Massoud had gone to France to speak to the European Parliament and warn the west of the terrorist camps in Afghanistan. He begs them to help him fight the Taliban. A month before, Laila had learned that the Taliban had planted TNT in the crevices of the Buddhas in Bamiyan and blew them up as objects of idolatry and sin. People all over the world begged the Talban not to commit this crime for reasons of history and culture, but they refused and the beautiful statues where Laila, Tariq, and Babi had picnicked are destroyed. However, Laila is numb to it. How can she care about statues when her life is crumbling?

Now Laila is forced to send her daughter away. She tells Aziza that she is going to special school where the children eat, sleep and don’t come home after class. Of course, Laila pelts her mother with questions, but Laila is able to reassure her with an answer for each one. When they all arrive at the orphanage, Rasheed fishes a stick of gum from his pocket and hands it to Aziza with a stiff, magnanimous air. Laila marvels at Aziza’s grace as she accepts this “gift.” She has a vast capacity for forgiveness. When Aziza is led away, Zalmai begins wailing and crying. However, Rasheed takes his attention away from his sister by pointing out an organ grinder and his monkey. The three women continue on alone. Laila reminds Aziza that if she is questioned about her father, she is to say the Mujahideen killed him. Laila also reminds her that this is only for a little while until her father finds work. She promises her little girl that if it kills her, she will come to see her.

They go into the office of the orphanage director, passing through corridors where there are children in poor condition. The longer they are there, the more apprehensive Aziza becomes. So the director sends her out with Mariam to calm her down. He is a man who behind his faint smile to be troubled and wounded, disappointment and defeat glossed over with a veneer of good humor. They talk about the vital statistics of Aziza and when she is asked about the little girl’s father, Laila has the strange experience of telling a lie that is really the truth. She begins to cry and explains to the director that she believes she is a bad mother for abandoning her own child. But the director makes her look him the eye and he tells her it isn’t her fault. It’s the fault of the Taliban, because they won’t allow women to work to feed their children. He knows that the orphanage is in dire straits, because the Taliban won’t fund it, but he promises that he will see to it that Aziza is clothed and fed.

The parting scene erupts just as Laila had dreaded. Aziza panics and has to be carried away kicking and screaming. Meanwhile, Laila runs down the hallway, head down, and a howl rising up in her throat. Later at home, she tells Mariam that she smells Aziza; she smells her sleep smell. But Mariam just tells her to stop with such thoughts, because they are no good.

At first, Rasheed humors Laila and accompanies them on visits to the orphanage even thought he rants and raves about the hardship Laila is putting him through. He won’t go in with them and only gives them fifteen minutes to see her. Sometimes, he even stops on the way, complains that his leg is sore, and begins walking home, Laila and Mariam forced to walk behind him and miss seeing Aziza. Then, one day, he tells Laila that he will not take her anymore. And so Laila’s life suddenly revolves around finding ways to see Aziza. Sometimes, she never makes it there and is sent home with a kick to the rear or even wooden clubs, slaps, and fists. Once she is beaten with a radio antenna and warned again to stay in her home. So, she begins to wear extra layers of clothes under the burqa to make the whippings less severe. The reward is not just making it past the Taliban, but also visiting with Aziza and hearing her talk about the lessons the director is teaching them. One day, while in the orphanage, Laila sees a woman who looks familiar and she realizes it’s her former teacher, Khala Rhangmaal. She was the one who had forbidden her female students to cover, saying men and women were equal. Now she, too, wears the burqa.

One Friday in June of 2001, Rasheed agrees to accompany them to see Aziza. The little girl has had her hair braided on top of her head, which makes Laila begrudge whoever had gotten that privilege. Aziza is talking about how earthquakes occur, a lesson she has just learned. Laila has trouble responding to her questions, because her lip is swollen and her keeps poking through the empty pocket of the lower incisor, knocked out when Rasheed had punched her two days before. Before her life turned upside down, Laila would never have believed that a human body could withstand this much beating, this viciously, this regularly, and keep functioning. Zalmai constantly questions when Aziza is coming home, but Laila can only answer soon, soon. As Aziza goes on talking about what she is learning, Laila wonders what the Taliban would do if they found out about these clandestine lessons. Whenever a child cries or walks by in a dirty state, Aziza is quick to explain it away. She is like a hostess embarrassed in front of her guests by the squalor of her home, the untidiness of her children. She has also begun stammering and that concerns both Laila and Mariam.

This day, they take Aziza on an outing. They have two hours before Rasheed has to report back to work. He has become a doorman at the Intercontinental Hotel, which allows him, if he’s discreet to take home food that will be thrown out. He had promised Aziza that she could come back home once he saved up some money, but so far he shows no inclination to follow though with his promise. They all ride the bus to Titanic City and walk among the Talibs who are there to punish anyone who breaks their rules. Rasheed tells Zalmai to pick out something and the little boy chooses a yellow and blue basketball. He also tells Aziza to choose a toy, but the one she picks is more expensive than he thought and he makes her put it back. Later, Rasheed drops them off at the orphanage and takes the bus to work. Laila watches Aziza wave goodbye, her high spirits gone now, and she thinks of Aziza’s stutter and how she had talked earlier about the earth’s fractures and powerful collisions deep down and how sometimes all we see on the surface is a slight tremor.

As they approach the porch, Zalmai begins to yell, “Get away, you!” at a man standing there before their door. He limps a few steps toward them and Laila stops, a choking noise coming up in her throat. She thinks she is seeing a mirage, so she holds perfectly still and looks at Tariq until her chest screams for air and her eyes burn to blink. Miraculously, no matter how many times she closes and then opens her eyes, he is still there. She takes one step and then she runs to him.


This chapter shows the agony mothers face under the Taliban. They often have to give up their children to orphanages, because the are not allowed to work to feed their children. Of course, this is just another example of Rasheed’s extreme cruelty. Then, after many examples of the despair in Laila’s and Mariam’s lives, hope arrives in the form of Tariq who brings hope once more.

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