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

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CHAPTER 43: Mariam


Upstairs, Zalmai bounces his new basketball after first eyeing Tariq suspiciously. Mariam watches him while Laila talks to Tariq and Zalmai is particularly difficult in his behavior. When he momentarily loses the ball, he throws a temper tantrum that it’s not the same ball Baba jan had bought him. He screams until Laila comes upstairs to rock him until he falls asleep. While Laila is rocking Zalmai, Mariam stands at the top of the stair and looks at Tariq’s long legs. It is then that she remembers why the doorman at the Intercontinental Hotel had looked so familiar. He had once been at their home nine years before lying that Tariq and his family were dead. Now she wonders whether he or Rasheed had plotted the lie and how much Rasheed had paid him - this man once known as Abdul Sharif - to come and crush Laila with the story of Tariq’s death.


This chapter is a further reinforcement of the cruelty that is the basic trait making up Rasheed’s character. He had wanted Laila and knew he wouldn’t be able to get her if she believed Tariq was still alive. There is nothing will not do to fulfill what he wants.

CHAPTER 44: Laila


Tariq tells Laila about one of the men who shared his cell. He had a cousin who was publicly flogged for painting flamingos. The Taliban had taken offense at the birds’ bare legs, so the painter painted a pair of pants on every single bird. He laughed, though, because he had painted the pants in water colors and so after the Taliban was gone, he would be able to remove all the pants. Laila just can’t stop looking at him, because he has turned into an adult. He has one tooth missing, too, and he is starting to lose his hair. Laila tells him what she thought had happened to him and his parents and Tariq can only shake his head. He talks about Alyona and Laila is afraid he’s talking about his wife. However, it turns out that it’s the name of his goat. He reminds her of the Soviet film they had seen together and that Alyona had been the Captain’s daughter. He tells her all about Murree in Pakistan where he lives now. It’s a small, pleasant town which had once been used by the Victorians as a place to escape the heat. He says his life there is a plain one, but he likes it. He mentions that he doesn’t recognize Kabul. Laila says she doesn’t either and she never left.

The chapter then focuses on Zalmai and Rasheed at dinner. Zalmai mentions that Mammy has a new friend, a man. And Rasheed says pointedly, “Does she now?”

The chapter returns to Laila and Tariq who talks about the life he lived with his parents in the Nasir Bagh refugee camp near Peshawar. Sixty thousand Afghans were living there. What he remembers most about his time there was that everything was brown: tents, people, dogs, porridge. Also, so many children died while he was there especially from dysentery. His father didn’t survive the first winter. He died from heart disease in his sleep. He thought he had no pain. That same winter, his mother caught pneumonia and would have died if a camp doctor came with a mobile clinic in his station wagon. He was a decent man who gave her pills that saved her life. He found himself doing uncivilized things like holding a shard of glass against the neck of a thirteen year old boy and stole his blanket for his mother. He made a promise to himself after his mother got well that they would never spend another winter in the camp. However, every job he applied for turned him down because of his leg. Then, he was offered a great deal of money to take a leather coat to the town of Lahore. It was enough money for maybe two months’ rent, so he agreed. He didn’t get very far, never even got on the bus. He thought he was immune to any trouble, but they examined his leather coat and found the hashish in the seams. He laughs his at this point in his story just as he used to laugh when they were younger to cloak his embarrassment.

The chapter switches again to Rasheed and Zalmai. Zalmai tells his Baba jan that the man has a limp and immediately Rasheed sarcastically says, “Is this who I think it is? Well, what do you know? Laili and Majnoon reunited. You let him in here in this house with my son.” Laila, of course, immediately points out to Rasheed that he had duped her and lied to her. Rasheed then screams out at her that she lied to him as well and that he’s known for a long time that Aziza is not his. She is a little harami and Laila is a whore.

The chapter returns to Laila and Tariq where Laila listens to him so closely that she dreads the moment when he stops talking. He didn’t say much about his time in prison except that he learned to speak Urdu there. She can tell by looking at his face that prison was a place of abasement, degradation, and despair. He says that his mother came to visit him three times, but he never got to see her. He wrote to her, and he wrote to Laila and it’s obvious that Rasheed never delivered them to her.

The chapter turns to Rasheed who says it must have been like old times to see Tariq. He wonders if she showed her face to him to which Zalmai replies that she did.

Tariq tells Laila that he can see that Zalmai doesn’t llike him much. Laila quickly changes the subject, feeling guilty that she doesn’t like how Zalmai shows aversion to Tariq because of his loyalty to his father. Tariq goes on to tell her that he had befriended an older man I prison, afellow named Salim who was serving ten years for stabbing a man. He was thegoto guy that every prison has. He could get you anything for a price. He was the one who sent out inquiries about Tariq’s mother and softly told him that she had died of exposure. Tariq spent seven years in prison. He had actually gotten off easy for the crime for a reason he could never figure for sure. Any way, when he wass finally released in the winter of 2000, Salim sent him to his brother, Sayeed in Murree. When he stepped off the bus, he liked the town immediately. Sayeed hired him as a janitor and handyman for the small hotel he owned. With his first paycheck, he had gone into town and bought Alyona. Laila then tells Tariq that she is embarrassed to have believed the man who had told her Tariq was dead. However, ther is no hidden reproach, no recrimination from him. Then, she tells him that there’s a bigger reason why she married. There’s something he doesn’t know. Someone.

Rasheed questions Zalmai about whether he had talked with Tariq as well. Zalmai says nothing, suddenly knowing that he has opened a far bigger can of worms than he thought. He tells Rasheed he was upstairs playing with Mariam and Laila was downstairs talking to the man. “Isee,” says Rasheed. “Teamwork.”

Tariq tells Laila that he wants to meet Aziza. Laila promised to arrange it. He says the name of his little girl over and over, impressed by its beauty. Almost ten years has passed since she saw him last, but for a moment, standing there with Tariq in the sunlight, it is almost as though those years had never happened. Then, suddenly, Tariq’s face turns grave. He sees the bruises left by Rasheed and says, “He did this to you.” Then, he says sadly that he wishes he had taken her with him. He knows he should have married her when he had the chance. He also tells her that he doesn’t want to assume anything. If she wants him to go back to Pakistan, he will leave. But Lalila cries out that she doesn’t want him to leave and begs him to stay. She tells him that Rasheed works from noon to eight and if he comes back then, she’ll take him to Aziza. He leaves with the comment that he’s not afraid of Rasheed. She watches him walk away and something passes through her, a current of something sad and forlorn, buut also something eager and recklessly hopeful.


This chapter serves as a kind of flashback so that the reader can learn all that had happened to Tariq in the ten years since Laila has seen him. It is especially poignant interspersed with the threatening manner of Rasheed as he learns from Zalmai about Tariq’s visit.

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