The chapter begins, “Father had never before hit Abdullah.” Father—as of yet, he has no other name—hits Abdullah hard, and because he’s doing so for the first time, Abdullah is doubly hurt: he experiences the physical pain of the blow, as well as the sting of surprise. Father hits Abdullah many times, then tells him to “go home.” Father has a pained expression, as if the beating was as horrible for him as it was for Abdullah.
The beginning of this chapter comes as a shock—both to us and to Abdullah. The previous chapter had been a fairy tale—dark, but still gentle, simply by virtue of its genre—and now we are reintroduced to the harsh realities of the real world. It will later become clear that “Father” is Saboor, the storyteller of the previous chapter.
Pari, Abdullah’s sister, calls out “Abollah,” her affectionate name for Abdullah. Together, Father and Pari climb into a wagon and begin riding away from their home, leaving Abdullah behind. Abdullah tries to follow the wagon, but Father throws stones at him to keep him from pursuing any further.
It’s not clear why Abdullah is so eager to go with his father and sister, but we begin to sense that his bond with Pari is stronger than his bond with his father. Hosseini narrates these events through a child’s perspective, so many things are left to be clarified later.
Refusing to give up, Abdullah keeps running after the wagon carrying his father and sister. Eventually, he succeeds in catching up to them. Father turns around and tells his son, with grudging respect, “You won’t give up.” Nevertheless, he tells Abdullah go to home to be with his mother, and with Iqbal. Privately, Abdullah thinks that “his mother” is dead—the woman Abdullah is referring to is actually Father’s wife, his stepmother. Abdullah looks into Father’s eyes, and reluctantly Father agrees to allow Abdullah to ride along with them.
We learn more about this family: the woman who gave birth to Pari and Abdullah is dead, and replaced by another woman. That Father eventually allows Abdullah to spend time with him suggests that there’s something uniquely strong about the biological family: like it or not, Abdullah feels closer and more connected with his father and his sister, the people who share his blood, than with his stepmother.
Abdullah, Pari, and Father ride along in their wagon—their destination isn’t clear. They travel through a vast desert, full of cliffs and rocks. As they travel, Abdullah sees a tiny feather floating through the air. It may have come from a dove, or a falcon. Pari snatches the feather from the air as it drifts to the ground. She keeps a collection of rare feathers: peacocks, hawks, sparrows, etc. The peacock feather was a gift from Abdullah: he traded his shoe for the gift, and had to walk many miles afterwards, bloodying his foot.
This section establishes two things: 1) the setting of this section of the novel—rural Afghanistan—and 2) Abdullah’s devotion to his sister, Pari. The family is clearly very poor, and yet Abdullah sacrifices his shoe for a feather to give to Pari without any second thoughts: he’s utterly devoted to Pari, for reasons that he can’t put into words.
Abdullah turns to thinking about his stepmother, Parwana. She is a kind, wise woman, but he can’t force himself to love her. Abdullah’s own mother died while giving birth to Pari. Iqbal, Abdullah’s half brother, is the son of Parwana and Father—he is one year old. Sometimes, Parwana hits Abdullah, but she’s also kind and tender with him at times. She teaches Abdullah and Pari how to cook and make dolls and toys out of cornhusks. Nevertheless, Abdullah recognizes that Parwana has far more love and compassion for Iqbal, her biological son.
Family is the fundamental unit of this chapter of the book: the people who aren’t biologically related to Abdullah may be kind, likeable people, but they’re simply no replacement for family. Parwana isn’t someone Abdullah distrusts, but he can’t love her like a true mother. In the same way, Parwana seems not to love Abdullah in the same way that she loved her own child, Iqbal. It’s important to keep track of these names, as they will reoccur throughout the novel.
As the three ride in their wagon, Abdullah sees a group of Kuchi nomads (an Afghani tribe that specializes in herding). One of the nomads reminds Abdullah of his late mother, especially her hair. He remembers his mother as a person of boundless joy and goodness. His sister, Pari, has some of the same goodness in her, Abdullah believes. Sometimes, Pari seems to be the only true family he has.
We get a better sense for the environment in Abdullah’s world: many of the people in his life are always wandering between places—just as years later Abdullah, and many of the other characters in the novel, will wander around the world in search of peace and happiness.
Pari asks Abdullah if their dog, Shuja, will be all right back at their home. Abdullah assures Pari that Shuja will be fine—he can take care of himself. Pari then asks Abdullah if, when she grows up, they can live together. Abdullah says that they can, but adds that one day, Pari won’t want to. Pari insists that she will. Pari asks Abdullah to promise her that they’ll be close when they grow up. Abdullah promises.
Immediately after Shuja (the dog) is presented as being able to take care of himself, Pari reaffirms her human need for companionship and family. This childlike promise, along with the story of the div, adds to the foreshadowing that the family will soon be broken apart.
It is revealed that the children’s “Uncle Nabi” has found a job for Father—the job that Father, Abdullah, and Pari are riding out to perform. Uncle Nabi is actually Abdullah’ step-uncle, Parwana’s elder brother. The job, which will take a month to complete, involves building an extension for the house of a wealthy family. Abdullah is familiar with the sight of his father working: Father works hard lifting bowls of cement, moving dirt and straw, etc. As Abdullah thinks of all this, he remembers his other half-brother, whose name was Omar. Omar, the son of Father and Parwana, died of the cold recently, and Father blames himself for Omar’s death. Abdullah realizes that he can’t picture his Father as a young man—it’s as if he’s always had a shovel in his hands.
The introduction of Uncle Nabi expands our understanding of family in the novel. Nabi isn’t related to Abdullah by blood—and yet he seems close to Saboor and his children (at this point). Nabi will be a major character later on, but here he is introduced in the periphery, as Hosseini often does in this novel. Abdullah seems curiously alienated from his own father, an intimidating man who doesn’t seem to offer Abdullah much love.
Night falls, and Father, Abdullah, and Pari eat dinner together in the middle of the desert. As they do so, Abdullah remembers “Omar’s labored cries.” Cautiously, Abdullah asks his Father to allow him to help build the family’s guesthouse. Father says that he’ll be allowed to fix mortar. He adds that Pari will be in charge of water—people can’t work if they’re thirsty. Abdullah remembers raising Pari, his younger sister, starting when he was only ten years old. He was with her when she took her first steps, and when she spoke her first word.
Father, it would seem, relates to his family members through work—thus, Abdullah will “become” his son by participating in construction work, and even Pari will have a part to play. By contrast, Abdullah’s relationship with Pari seems close and perfectly sincere—it’s not mediated by work, age, gender, or any other factor: Pari and Abdullah love one another deeply, and that’s that.
As it gets later, Pari and Abdullah ask their Father to tell them a story. Sometimes, Abdullah notes, Father enjoys telling them stories, but often he’s too quiet and closed-off to oblige. Tonight, for instance, he refuses, and tells his children to go to sleep—they have a long day tomorrow. As Pari and Abdullah fall asleep, Abdullah sings a song to Pari. The song is about a “sad little fairy / who was blown away by the wind one night.” Abdullah likes this song, in part because Pari means “fairy” in Farsi.
In contrast to the fascinating and well-crafted tale we heard in the previous chapter, we learn here that Father is a reluctant storyteller, and usually, he doesn’t tell his children any stories at all. This makes the first chapter of the novel more mysterious than ever—why, exactly, did Father choose to tell such a long and thematically complicated story? We should also contrast Father’s reluctant storytelling with Abdullah’s enthusiastic singing: Abdullah’s love for Pari seems unconditional.
Abdullah wakes up in the middle of the night, and sees that his Father is gone. He wonders, frantically, if his father has been kidnapped or killed by bandits or nomads. Then, suddenly, he hears footsteps—it is his Father, returning from a short walk. Abdullah tells his Father that he thought he’d been killed, adding that he knows Father would never leave his family voluntarily. Father tells Abdullah to go to sleep.
The qualifier that Abdullah adds to his statement—that he knows Father would never abandon them—actually weakens his statement, rather than strengthening it. It’s as if Abdullah senses, deep down, that his Father is capable of leaving his children, and wants to force himself to forget this fact.
The next morning the three proceed on their journey. The construction site is in the city of Kabul. Abdullah has never been there before , but he has heard about it from Uncle Nabi. When Abdullah first sees the city, it’s far louder and more energetic than anything he could have imagined: there are lights, tall buildings, big crowds, and movie theaters. Abdullah hopes that Uncle Nabi will take him to see a film soon.
Abdullah’s relationship with the other character in the novel is largely determined by his relationship with various forms of art: stories, songs, and here, movies. Some of the other characters we’ll meet bond with their friends and family through art.
Father leads his children through Kabul, to a building where Uncle Nabi has been waiting for them. Nabi embraces Abdullah and Pari warmly, and leads them to his car. He drives the family through the streets, pointing out the buildings and establishments. Eventually, he arrives at the construction site where Father will be working: the luxurious house of his employers. Nabi warns everyone to be on their best behavior around the owners of the property.
So far we’ve been dealing with characters who are impoverished: they’re willing to travel through a desert for nearly a day just to get to a potential source of income. Now, however, Hosseini introduces wealthier, more powerful people into his novel. The large cast of characters can get confusing, but it also highlights the diversity of Afghanistan and the globalized world.
Nabi leads everyone inside the house. Abdullah is immediately struck by the beautiful indoor garden, white pillars, veranda, and indoor plumbing. Nabi leads Abdullah to his boss, Mr. Wahdati. Mr. Wahdati wears a beautiful, expensive suit, and offers Pari and Abdullah cookies, which they both eagerly accept. This charms Mr. Wahdati’s wife, Mrs. Wahdati, who is sitting in the living room. Abdullah looks around the living room, and notices old photographs of Mrs. Wahdati being married to a man who, much to Abdullah’s surprise, is not Mr. Wahdati. This reminds Abdullah that he has met Mrs. Wahdati before. When Abdullah was about eight years old, Mrs. Wahdati had come to Shadbagh—the town where Abdullah lives—because she claimed to want to meet Nabi’s family. Although Abdullah was young at the time, he noticed that Mrs. Wahdati made a great show of seeming to care about Nabi’s house and life—a show which nobody, even Abdullah, found very convincing.
In this scene, Hosseini describes the house from a child’s point of view. There are some advantages and disadvantages to this approach. One disadvantage is that our knowledge of Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati’s lives is limited to a child’s understanding—we can’t understand who the man in the photograph is or why Mrs. Wahdati married him. On the other hand, the simplicity of Abdullah’s observations is striking and sometimes moving. For instance, he has no trouble detecting the showiness and falseness of Mrs. Wahdati’s desire to seem like “one of the common people” when she visits Shadbagh. At times, Abdullah comes across as the young child he is, but at other times, he seems remarkably mature and insightful.
In the Wahdati house, Mrs. Wahdati asks Father if he’s been to Kabul before. She addresses him as Saboor. Saboor says that he has been a few times before, and he always finds the city very crowded. Mrs. Wahdati goes on to say that while she’s “progressive” in her thinking, she’s always had a fondness for the Afghani countryside—the “real” Afghanistan. Addressing her husband as Suleiman, she points out that people in small towns live more “authentic” lives and have more pride in themselves. Suleiman seems to find this irritating, and he tells her to be quiet, calling her Nila. Nila offers to take Pari and Abdullah to the local bazaar while Father proceeds with his work.
Here we get a sense for the tension between Mrs. And Mr. Wahdati, but little context for it. Mrs. Wahdati seems more adventurous and eager to explore the unknown, even if her attempts to escape her obvious wealth and privilege don’t always pay off. It’s not clear how seriously we should take Mrs. Wahdati’s talk about “authenticity.” She seems to be romanticizing—or even fetishizing—poverty, treating it as an interesting “tourist destination” instead of the nightmare it often is.
Nabi drives Pari, Mrs. Wahdati, and Abdullah to the bazaar. As they drive, Abdullah sees schoolchildren, about his age, wearing black uniforms and walking through the streets. Mrs. Wahdati arrives at the bazaar, which is a huge, lavish spectacle, full of merchants selling jewelry. Mrs. Wahdati shops for earrings and other trinkets. She also buys Abdullah a pair of sneakers. She notices that Abdullah is looking at her oddly, and suggests that he thinks she’s a bad person. Abdullah denies this. Though it’s unclear why, Abdullah begins to cry. This distresses Mrs. Wahdati, and she begs him to stop, telling him that “it” is for the best.
We’re not meant to entirely understand the exchange between Mrs. Wahdati and Abdullah in this scene, but it’s also apparent that Abdullah knows more than he’s letting on. The story of the div, his promise to stay close to Pari, and Mrs. Wahdati’s mysterious visit all suggest that Abdullah can sense that the Wahdatis are about to have a hand in breaking up Abdullah’s family. At the very least, Abdullah can tell that something bad is about to happen, and this is what makes him cry.
The narrative cuts ahead to the winter of 1952, when Father is busy cutting down an oak tree that grows near his home. Abdullah helps his father move the trunk of the tree. As he works, he notices a small yellow feather, a wonderful gift for Pari, and picks it up. Abdullah thinks about the party he’ll be attending in the evening: it’s being hosted in honor of Baitullah, a local man whose wife has just given birth to a baby boy. Suddenly, Abdullah’s thoughts turn to Pari. It’s revealed that Pari has not lived in the village for months. Nobody talks about her or mentions her name. Abdullah thinks about the story Father told them before their trip—the story about the farmer who sacrifices his favorite child to the div.
We now begin to understand what is going on, and Mrs. Wahdati’s apology to Abdullah makes more sense. Pari no longer lives with Father and Abdullah, and the Wahdatis must have been responsible for Pari’s disappearance—they’ve adopted her as their own child. It’s heartbreaking to see how the community responds to Pari’s absence—nobody talks about her, or even mentions her name. This provides a real-world example of the purposeful forgetting we saw in the div story: when confronted by crisis, most people try to forget their pain.
Abdullah returns to his home, carrying the yellow feather. He finds Pari’s collection of feathers, and adds the new one to it. Though it’s not revealed exactly what’s happened to Pari, Abdullah resolves to leave his hometown of Shadbagh one day, and to find Pari, wherever she might be.
By the end of chapter two, we’ve established a potential arc for the novel: Abdullah struggling with his sister’s disappearance. In the coming chapters, however, Hosseini will destroy our expectations of what sort of book this is going to be. The yellow feather will come to be a poignant symbol of memory and forgetting, like Qais’s bell in the div story.