Describe the focus on legitimacy and illegitimacy in the novel. Include the stories of individual characters and the political climate in Afghanistan.
Mariam's birth was considered illegitimate by those around her during her childhood, yet as an adult she provided the ultimate sacrifice in saving Laila, Tariq and their children. Rasheed, on the other hand, was considered legitimate by his peers in Kabul and by Jalil, yet his actions in his home were atrocious, unjustified, and what could be called illegitimate. In terms of the Afghan power struggle, all groups which gained power, the Soviets, the Mujihadeen, and the Taliban did so with the people of Afghanistan questioning the legitimacy of their rule.
Mariam and Laila were brought together due to circumstances they could not control. Describe how and when both women were able to regain power over their own lives and who was essential for them to gain this personal power.
Mariam did not gain control over her own life until she attempted to leave Rasheed with Laila. Though Mariam had run away from Nana with a tragic outcome, she had never really made a determination that was as defiant as her running away. This event, however, was only the beginning of her regain of power. The ultimate event which solidified her personal power was when she killed Rasheed.
Laila came into her relationship with Rasheed with the decision to marry him in order to save her baby. She too, began to find power in her run away attempt, but was shut down. Laila only found her true power of self when she was able to live contently with Tariq, able to speak her mind and act freely.
Mariam needed Laila to gain personal power, and Laila needed Tariq.
The two times in the book in which Mariam needs to sign a contract are during her marriage and before her execution. Discuss how these two events mirror each other and what they symbolize.
In both events, Mariam is placed before a Mullah. She is also surrounded by mostly strangers, and is held to a charge that she objects. Her offense in each case is determined by her gender. In both scenarios, Mariam does her best to make her case (either by remaining silent or by presenting her side of the argument) but in both cases, she is ultimately overruled by the greater authority.
Nana tells Mariam that a man always finds a way to blame a woman. Discuss examples throughout the book in which Nana's statement rings true.
First, when Mariam moves in with Jalil, he blames her for combating her marriage arrangement, acting as if Mariam was a burden to him. Rasheed continues to blame Mariam profusely for her lost pregnancies and bad food. Rasheed blames Mariam when Laila withholds sex. Rasheed blames Aziza for the way that she smells and sounds. When Rasheed spends too much money on luxuries for Zalmai, Aziza is seen as the extra mouth to feed and is sent to the orphanage.
Many characters in the novel have troubled pasts. Discuss how these characters' past experiences affect their decisions and interactions.
Nana has a troubled past revolving around a jinn and Jalil's abandonment of her, causing her to influence Mariam's upbringing harshly. Mariam's past experience as a "harami" does not prepare her to have any self-confidence. Soon after her marriage to Rasheed, she feels that he is gentle and sweet, but after he becomes abusive, Mariam can not defend herself. Rasheed lost his first son and wife, and for this he is obviously resentful, abusive towards the women in his life, and in constant hope for another son. Laila's troubled past revolves around her loss of Tariq, which influences her hope in Aziza and her negativity towards Rasheed even before she really gets to know him.
Discuss how the positions held by women and the rights that they are afforded change in Afghanistan as the political environment changes.
The position of women changed not only by the leader of the nation, but also by geographic region. The most consistent city in which the…