The chapter begins with an “editor’s note” for the literary journal Parallaxe, dated winter 1974. The note explains that the journal features an interview with a young, promising poet named Nila Wahdati. The editor is sad to say that though Nila gives a wonderful interview, she has died recently. She’s survived by her daughter.
Much like Chapter Four, Chapter Six “begins at the end”—we learn, right off the bat, that Nila Wahdati, an important character in the previous chapters, has died. It seems that Nabi was right, and Nila was indeed a very talented poet.
After the editor’s note, the chapter describes a meeting between Pari—in her mid-twenties—and a middle-aged man named Julien. Pari and Julien are standing in Julien’s apartment, preparing to meet with old college friends of Julien, Christian and Aurelie. Just as Pari and Julien are about to leave, the phone rings. Knowing that it could be important, Pari answers. She is surprised to hear the voice of a man who introduces himself as Dr. Delaunay. The doctor explains that Pari’s mother has had “an accident.” He says that the accident is not serious, but that Pari should come to see her anyway. As he goes on, Pari thinks back to when she was ten, and her mother left her alone in the house for a few days. She tells the doctor that she’ll be at the hospital in half an hour.
Because of the opening section, we assume that the news Dr. Delaunay is going to tell Pari concerns her adopted mother’s death—but at this point, Nila is only injured. Hosseini likes to play with our expectations, forcing us to pay close attention to the novel. While Pari seems perfectly attentive to Nila’s needs—even staying with her past the point where she’s required to do so—we also sense that Nila hasn’t been a very attentive mother, and Pari may be hiding feelings of resentment.
We cut to another excerpt from Parallaxe, Winter 1974. In the issue, the editor asks Nila Wahdati about her heritage. He describes Nila as a strikingly beautiful woman, who does not consider herself to be an Afghan. Nila explains that her family moved to Afghanistan to advise the king at the time, Amanullah, who wanted to introduce secular reform to the country. When Amanullah tried to ban the female headscarf (a fixture of many Muslim societies), Nila explains, the people of Afghanistan revolted, and cast Amanullah out of the country. Nila concludes by saying that she wanted her daughter to grow up happy and strong, and this would have been difficult had she grown up in Afghanistan. She adds, darkly, that “children are never everything you’d hoped for.”
It seems that Nila doesn’t particularly like her daughter, and her decision to adopt Pari turned out to be a disaster for her. We also learn more about Afghan history, and about Nila’s relationship to Afghanistan. She’s never felt entirely comfortable, either in Europe or in Afghanistan—she’s caught between two highly different worlds. This is excellent material for poetry, but not necessarily for happiness and fulfillment.
Pari arrives at the hospital where her mother is being held. She greets her mother, who is lying in a stretcher, her forehead wrapped with thick bandages. Pari asks her mother what happened, and repeats something the doctors told her: she’d been driving. As Pari and her mother talk, Pari remembers meeting Julien, her lover, ten years ago, when she was only 14. Her mother had driven her to the hospital after she sprained her ankle. In the hospital, Julien, also in medical care for an injury, struck up conversation with her. In the coming weeks, Pari and Julien became close friends, despite the fact that Julien was far older (in his early thirties). Julien was working as a professor at the Sorbonne. Pari quickly developed a crush on him. Julien also bonded with Nila over discussions of jazz. Pari noticed Nila flirting with Julien, and felt jealous of her mother.
Julien first appears as Pari’s lover, but now we learn that he used to be Nila’s lover as well. This adds a sexual element to the competition between Nila and Pari. The family dynamics in the novel often include lots of jealousy and competition. This is apparent in the case of Parwana and Masooma, Idris and Timur, and Pari and Nila—the only real exception seems to be the pure, unselfish love between Abdullah and Pari. Like several other characters in Hosseini’s novel A Thousand Splendid Suns, Julien and Nila bond with each other over an appreciation for art: in this case, jazz.
Pari often thinks about her appearance, and about the lack of resemblance between herself and her parents—whom she believes to be Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati. Nila often tells Pari that Pari was lonely because she wasn’t living with her father—whom Pari believes to be Mr. Wahdati. Pari also thinks about the brief romance between Julien and her mother, a romance that lasted only half a year. Pari was always resentful of their relationship, and made excuses for not spending time with them. Instead, she became closer with her friend, Collette. After six months, Julien and Nila ended their relationship, just as all men ended their affairs with Nila. Pari has become very familiar with the pattern in her mother’s romances: passion, followed by a breakup, followed by a period of solitude and sullenness.
Like Parwana in the earlier chapter, Pari seems insecure and concerned with the flaws in her own appearance. There’s something poignant, though also amusing, about Pari’s familiarity with her mother’s “romance routine”—Nila has had so many boyfriends that Pari knows the discrete “steps” in their relationships. Just as Abdullah sized Mrs. Wahdati up as a small child, Pari has no problem sizing her mother up as a young adult.
Back in 1974, Pari and Nila are leaving the hospital. Nila mentions that she has an interview the next day with a poetry magazine. Pari congratulates her, and assures her that she’ll be able to hide the stitches on her forehead.
For all her resentment and jealousy of her mother, Pari is remarkably supportive of her, at least on the surface of things. This is another unique kind of family unit, among the many Hosseini portrays.
We cut to another excerpt from Nila’s interview in the poetry magazine Parallaxe. Nila explains that her daughter studies mathematics at the Sorbonne, and that she’s living with someone “far older,” someone with a huge ego. She adds that she’s given her daughter everything she could possibly want in life. The editor asks her about her father, and Nila explains that her father was a pretentious, wealthy man who aspired to be European in every way, from his clothing and manners to his French wife. Nila recalls that her father used to call her his “fawn,” a nickname that she later realized to be rather sinister—as her father shot deer for a hobby.
One recurring theme in this chapter—and the ones that precede it—is that people are far more insightful about others than they are about themselves. Thus, Nila does an excellent job of sizing up her father, but seems not to realize that her description applies almost perfectly to herself as well. Like him, she exploits her children, aspires to be perfectly European, and is wealthy to the point of being spoiled.
After leaving the hospital, Pari drives Nila back to her apartment, which Pari hasn’t seen in years. As she drives, she notices that Nila looks old and tired, far older than her 44 years. Inside the apartment, Pari asks Nila if she’ll be all right on her own—Nila insists that she will, and goes to sleep. Instead of leaving, Pari washes her mother’s dirty glasses, as there are many lying around the apartment. As she cleans, she thinks of her romance with Julien.
Pari’s sympathy for her mother seems to have increased—not coincidentally, at the time when Nila is beginning to lose her looks. It’s as if Nila is no longer a romantic threat to Pari, and so it’s easier for Pari to sympathize with her. The two women also have no other family, essentially, so they will always be connected, no matter their problems.
Pari reconnected with Julien at a student protest in 1973. Julien greeted her, and Pari noticed that he seemed refined and elegant. The go to drink coffee together at a nearby café, and talk about their lives. Julien has been working for the International Monetary Fund, and enjoys his work because he gets to travel. Pari confesses that she wishes she could travel back to Afghanistan to see her old home. She remembers her old family cook, a man named Nabi. The conversation moves abruptly to Nila. Pari explains that Nila has supported herself by owning a bookstore, but she is now in danger of having to close down the store.
It becomes apparent that Pari is attracted to Julien because he’s something of a father figure to her: Pari has no father of her own (not even an adopted father), and so Julien’s age and sophistication are attractive to her. This section is also important because it shows us that Pari still remembers her cook, Nabi—even if she doesn’t remember that Nabi was her uncle, she’s capable of sensing some kind of intimate connection with him.
A few weeks after their coffee date, Julien asks Pari to move in with him. Pari accepts, largely because she’s been arguing with her friend and roommate, Collette. An unclear amount of time after Pari has begun living with Julien, they strike up a romance. Neither one of them tells Nila about their living arrangement. Eventually, Pari works up the courage to call her mother. When she explains to her that she’s in love with Julien, her mother only laughs. Then she explains that Pari is now a stranger to her, and hangs up.
The power dynamic between Julien and Pari is tipped in Julien’s favor— Julien is older, more experienced, and has more money. This becomes especially clear when he asks Pari to move in with him: he’s confirming his greater wealth and power in the same breath that he expresses his romantic interest. Pari, for her part, seems perfectly willing to live with an older man—he’s an attractive father figure.
In Parallaxe, the editor proceeds with his interview with Nila. Nila explains that her parents divorced in 1939, when she was only 10 years old. Her mother died of pneumonia during World War II, during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Growing up in Afghanistan, Nila was often beaten by her father, who accused her of embarrassing him with her frequent relationships with local boys. The editor praises Nila for her literary innovations, and suggests that if she’d been born in a wealthier nation, she’d have a reputation as a major literary pioneer. Nila laughs and says that her reputation in Kabul is that of a whore. When she was about 18, she explains, she fell very ill and nearly died. Afterwards, she felt “lost” and lonely—as a result, she married Suleiman Wahdati in 1949.
It’s both ironic and depressing when the editor points out that Nila could have been a famous poet, had she lived in another country. It is explicitly stated to Nila’s face that she was unlucky in being born in Afghanistan—because in many ways international prestige and value is dependent on luck and privilege as much as talent. This is also ironic because we know that Pari is actually the one who was snatched from her life in Shadbagh and moved to a different country, where her interests and abilities are treated very differently than they would be in Afghanistan.
The Parallaxe editor continues talking with Nila. She explains that she slipped and hurt her head the previous night, which is why she’s wearing a bandana. She then says, abruptly, that she hated her husband because he was in love with his chauffeur. As a result, she packed her bags and brought her daughter to Paris. She explains that her daughter can be “breathtakingly thoughtless,” and that she’s Nila’s “punishment.”
The abruptness with which Nila reveals that her husband was gay implies that the issue has been weighing on her for many years now, or else that she finally feels comfortable discussing it now that he is dead and she is in Europe. The ease with which Nila criticizes her daughter in public shows that she certainly wasn’t a very loving mother, and her adoption of Pari was mostly an impulsive, foolish move.
In 1975, Pari comes home to her apartment. She has left Julien several months previously, and now lives with a young nursing student named Zahia. She sees that she’s received a letter. The letter bears a note from Julien, explaining that it was first sent to Nila, and then to Collette’s former apartment, and then to Julien. Julien adds that Pari should read the message “at her own peril.” Pari opens the letter, and finds that it’s really a copy of Parallaxe, containing her mother’s interview.
This chapter echoes Nabi’s letter, as both chapters consist in large part of their main character’s “last will and testament.” In Nila’s case, her interview with the magazine is something like a suicide note: a confession of the intimate details of her life. Of course, it’s impossible to know if Nila was already planning to kill herself at the time of the interview, and so knew she wouldn’t have to face the consequences of her words.
Pari proceeds to read her mother’s interview. As she does, she thinks about her mother’s recent suicide, and about how Collette read her mother’s poetry at the funeral. She reads the interview, and isn’t sure whether she can believe it or not. It’s not clear, for example, if her father was in love with Nabi, the old chauffeur and cook, or if Nila is only being dramatic. She wonders if it’s possible that someone could endure as much pain and humiliation as her mother claims to have done. As she finishes reading, Pari resolves to go to Afghanistan with Collette and investigate her family’s heritage.
Pari seems remarkably level-headed about her mother’s rather cruel interview. For all her dislike for Nila, Pari still manages to respect her—here, for instance, she recognizes that Nila was going through a great deal of pain and self-doubt, and implicitly admits that this personal suffering could have made Nila resent her daughter. Pari understands and sympathizes with her mother, even if she doesn’t love her.
Pari meets with Collette to discuss Afghanistan. Instead of planning a trip, Collette introduces Pari to a young man named Eric Lacombe, who would often attend student protests with Collette. Eric and Pari end up marrying in 1977. Pari trusts and respects Eric. When she tells Eric about her plans to go to Afghanistan and learn more about her family, he responds that she may have been adopted. Pari is surprised to hear Eric say this, but realizes that she’d been thinking it for many years.
In this section, and continuing for the rest of the chapter, the pace of events increases dramatically. In a few paragraphs, Hosseini covers many years of Pari’s life. It’s as if the death of Pari’s mother was the defining event of her early adulthood, and everything that came after it was deeply influenced by it.
Eric and Pari prepare to travel to Afghanistan together. They learn Farsi and take lessons, and at the same time, Pari pursues a Ph.D. in mathematics. Shortly before they’re scheduled to go to Afghanistan, however, Pari learns that she’s pregnant. Pari says that there’s no way they could go to Afghanistan now: it’s not safe for her to travel with a child inside her. The next year, Pari gives birth to Isabelle, a beautiful, happy child. As time goes on, Pari forgets her urge to go back to Afghanistan.
Much like her adopted mother, Pari is limited and constrained by her obligations to her child. And yet, unlike Nila, Pari seems not to resent her daughter in the slightest—she’s clearly learned from Nila’s mistakes. This is an interesting variation on the novel’s theme of forgetting. Sometimes, obligations to certain loved ones make one forget other loved ones.
In 1981, Isabelle is three years old, and Pari has traveled to Germany to present a paper on mathematical research. At night, Eric calls her to say that Isabelle has a fever, and is bleeding profusely. Frantically, Pari places a call from Germany to Collette’s new husband, a psychiatrist named Didier. Didier assures Pari that Isabelle will be fine—she probably has a cold sore. Relieved, Pari continues with her work in Germany, and then travels back to Paris to be with Isabelle. At the moment when she reunites with Isabelle, Pari feels a strong sense of connection with her deceased mother. She tells Eric that they shouldn’t have any more children after the one she’s currently pregnant with, Alain.
As Pari becomes a mother herself, one might think that she would grow to resent Nila more, and recognize every single thing that Nila didn’t do for her. Yet the opposite is actually true—as Pari becomes a mother more than once, she feels a strong sense of sympathy and compassion for Nila. She recognizes that being a mother is difficult, and perhaps understands that Nila didn’t know what she was getting herself into.
In 1985, Isabelle is seven years old, and Pari has two more children: Alain, aged four, and Thierry, aged two. Pari is teaching mathematics in Paris, and has become very successful in her field. She hasn’t told her children about their grandmother’s suicide, and probably never will, she thinks.
We see that Pari’s plan to have one more child hasn’t exactly worked out. Just as Nila concealed from Pari the truth about her parents, so Pari conceals from her three children the truth about Nila’s death.
In 1994, Pari and Eric go on vacation to Majorca (a popular tourist destination in Spain). They stay for two weeks with Collette and Didier, who now run a prominent travel agency. Pari has been unhealthy, and taxes regular steroids and methotrexate. As she’s walking through the avenues in Majorca, she sees herself in a mirror, and has a sudden, profound realization that she’s middle-aged, and plain-looking. Shortly after she returns from Majorca with her family, Eric has a heart attack, and dies a few years later of cardiac complications. Pari is left a mother and a widow, just like her own mother was.
As Pari grows older, she comes to feel a more powerful connection with Nila. Eric’s death is sudden—but so is his introduction in the text (he comes as quickly as he goes). The events of Pari’s childhood and early adulthood seem much more concrete and vivid—at least how Hosseini portrays them—than her life as an adult, even though the latter includes many traditional milestones like getting married and having children.
In 2010, Pari is living in Paris, and is virtually confined to a wheelchair. Isabelle, who’s now married to a man named Albert, visits her regularly to bring her food. Isabelle works as a musician for film and television. Her younger brother, Alain, lives in Madrid, with his wife, Ana. His apartment is small, but he seems happy with his four children. Thierry lives in Chad, where he works with Darfur refugees. Thierry doesn’t speak with his mother very often—Pari knows that he lived in Vietnam, and was married to a Vietnamese woman very briefly. She guesses that Nila would have been a good grandmother to Thierry, had she lived long enough.
Pari, like Mr.. Wahdati and Masooma, can no longer walk, and so provides another example of the nurse/patient aspect of a family relationship with her daughter Isabelle. We never get to see details of Pari as a mother (the character seems to necessitate this, but Hosseini is frustratingly withholding), but it seems likely that she was a better parent than Nila, and learned from her adopted mother’s mistakes. No matter one’s strength of affection, however, not all family members are close, as with Thierry.
One day, Pari sends Isabelle home earlier than usual, and receives a phone call she’s been expecting. The call is from Markos Varvaris. Markos has contacted Pari via email, saying that he has information that she’ll want to hear. On the phone, Markos gets to the point: he explains that Nabi, whom Pari thinks of as her cook, was actually her uncle. He then reads her the end of the letter Nabi wrote to him (the contents of which can be found in Chapter Four).
We’ve been waiting for this scene for nearly a hundred pages so far—ever since Nabi passed on the information about Pari and Abdullah to his friend, Dr. Markos. It’s extremely satisfying, in the dramatic sense, to see Pari receiving this news at last, after decades of forgetting. At the same time this also must be a huge blow to Pari’s concept of her identity, as everything she though she knew about her past was basically a lie.
Pari hangs up the phone, shocked—she’s just learned that her supposed parents were actually her adopted parents, and that her real family lived in an impoverished Afghan village. As she reels from the shock of this information, she feels something strange—the sense of a person who she’s suddenly aware of, as if for the first time. She whispers, “Brother.”
In this optimistic conclusion to the chapter, the power of love and memory is confirmed. Just as Baba Ayub can’t entirely forget his son, Qais, Pari can’t entirely forget about Abdullah, even though she hasn’t seen him since she was four years old.