One of the novel’s protagonists, Mariam is the illegitimate daughter of one of the most successful businessmen in the city of Herat, Jalil. She grows up in a small hut several kilometers outside the… read analysis of Mariam
Unlike Mariam, Laila is a beautiful young girl from an educated family in Kabul whose father is committed to giving her an education and preparing her for life as an independent woman. However, Laila suffers… read analysis of Laila
The undeniable villain of the novel. Rasheed owns a shoe shop in Kabul, and is initially a successful businessman, though as things unravel in Afghanistan, he ends up struggling and eventually losing his business. Before… read analysis of Rasheed
Laila’s childhood friend and eventually lover and husband. Tariq wears a prosthetic leg since he stepped on a land mine at the age of five. He can be mischievous and goofy, and he is always… read analysis of Tariq
Mariam’s father, a successful cinema owner in Herat, who has three wives and nine legitimate children in addition to Mariam. Jalil comes to see Mariam every week when she is a child, but he never… read analysis of Jalil
The village Koran tutor that teaches Mariam to recite the Koran and memorize the daily prayers. Mariam trusts and looks up to Mullah Faizullah. Though he cannot fully comfort her following Nana’s suicide, and… read analysis of Mullah Faizullah
Laila’s mother. She was originally a curious, joyful woman but, by the time Laila is growing up, she is increasingly depressed at the departure of her two sons to fight in the Mujahideen. Their death… read analysis of Fariba (Mammy)
Laila’s father, and a high school teacher in Kabul before being fired by the communists. Nevertheless, Hakim supports the communist regime’s policy of equality between men and women, and strongly supports Laila’s education, even tutoring… read analysis of Hakim (Babi)
Laila’s son with Rasheed, whom she nearly aborts, but whom she ends up loving just as much as she loves Aziza. When Zalmai is with his father, however, he becomes cranky and difficult… read analysis of Zalmai
Mullah Faizullah’s son, who meets Laila when she goes to Herat at the very end of the novel, and who shows her where Mariam once lived.
Laila’s older brother, who goes off to fight with the Mujahideen against the Soviets and is killed.
Brother of Ahmad and Laila, also killed while fighting the Soviets.
A friend of Rasheed’s who, perhaps paid off by Rasheed, tells Laila the entirely fabricated story of Tariq’s death, so that she will no longer await or attempt to find him.
A schoolmate and friend of Laila’s, who is quiet and earnest before falling in love with an older boy and becoming more confident. She is killed by a stray rocket as a teenager.
Another friend of Laila’s, who is chatty and mischievous. She is sent away to marry a cousin in Lahore.
The village leader, who often comes to visit Mariam and Nana when Mariam is a child.
An old woman and friend of Nana’s who also visits the two of them at the kolba.
Laila’s teacher during the communist regime, who is wholeheartedly committed to the communist cause, and also to the liberation and education of women.
One of Jalil’s official wives.
Another of Jalil’s wives.
One of Mariam’s half sisters, who, unlike Mariam, is sent to school in Herat.
Another of Mariam’s half sisters, who also attends school.
Rasheed’s first son, who drowned in a lake as a child, while Rasheed had been passed out from drinking.
A neighborhood troublemaker, who pulls practical jokes on Laila until Tariq beats him up and puts an end to it.
A man whom Laila asks to accompany her, Mariam, and Aziza on the bus to Pakistan, but who betrays them to the Mujahideen.
The kindly orphanage director who looks after Aziza, and eventually becomes Laila’s partner in the orphanage renovation.
A friend of Tariq’s from prison, who puts him in touch with his brother Sayeed.
The owner of a hotel in Murree, Pakistan, who hires Tariq and eventually Laila and helps the two of them settle as exiles there.
A woman in the jail with Mariam.
The daughter of Laila and Tariq. Laila marries Rasheed in order to hide the fact of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Laila is eventually forced to put Aziza into an orphanage, but she and Tariq eventually get her back out.
One of Jalil's wives.