Khaled Hosseini has yet again concocted an unforgettable plot. This time he presents us with a heart-wrenching tale of two women from two not so modern Muslim cities (Herat & Kabul). The lives of his two female protagonists reflect the lives of countless other women of Afghanistan from 1973-2003. Kabul is wrecked with a series of turmoil one after another in the three decades of anti-Soviet jihad (Mujahedeen), civil war and Taliban tyranny. With his instinctive story telling skills he gives life to the characters. Loud & distinct emotions, well- chosen metaphors & dates based on political turns work wonders. At one point the story turns so depressing & violent that it becomes unbearable. The plight of Afghanistan & its people can be felt sitting at home.
The story begins with a little girl, Mariam(a illegitimate child) living in a shack with her mom (Nana) in outskirts of the city of Herat. She adores her father & longs to live with him. An incident leads to her discovering the insincerity in her father, which also results in Nana killing herself. Against her will, her father’s family marries her off to a shoe maker (Rasheed) in Kabul. At first her husband seems placid although he makes his conservative nature clear to her. But surprisingly she likes that as she feels valued for the first time in her life. Her series of miscarriages brings out the abusive side of Rasheed and her life turns from bad to worse.
The second phase focuses on Laila, Mariam’s neighbor. Born in a liberal family, Laila is blessed with a loving dad & a protective friend Tariq. As she is growing up, the country’s political instability impact their lives heavily. Her brothers get killed while fighting against the Soviet Union. Civil war prevails & Afghanistan bleeds. She ends up an orphan when her parents get killed in a blast. She gets shelter in Mariam & Rasheed house.
Now, the lives of the two women are weaved together as Rasheed decides to marry Laila. Laila agrees as she knows she is pregnant with Tariq’s child. Mariam despises Laila for stealing her husband. But as Laila’s first child (a girl) is born, Mariam softens. They turn friends & shield each other of Rasheed’s brutality. As the Taliban takes over, their lives become worse. Drought strikes & the sufferings only grow. Laila, bears Rasheed a boy. One day she finds Tariq at their doorstep. When Rasheed learns this, he savagely tries to strangle her. In order to save Laila, Mariam kills Rasheed with a shovel. She surrenders herself to Taliban to clear the way for Laila. Laila,Tariq & the two children flee to Pakistan but return back later to serve their own country.