And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter begins with an invocation to Allah (the Muslim name for God). It becomes clear that the chapter is a letter, addressed to one Mr. Markos, the man who taught the letter’s author to speak English and Farsi. The author reminds Mr. Markos that he’s been instructed not to read the letter until the author is dead—thus, if Mr. Markos is reading, the author has passed on. The author asks Mr. Markos to extend his gratitude to the author’s old friend, Ms. Amra Ademovic. The author adds that he intends the letter for Mr. Markos, but also for another person, whose identity will become apparent later on.
In this chapter, Hosseini almost starts teasing us a little. By now we know that each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, but here Hosseini begins by not only disguising the narrator but also mentioning totally new related characters. It’s also noteworthy that this chapter doesn’t correspond to any particular year—it will cover a far longer period of time, signaling the escalating scope and ambition of this novel.
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The author begins by explaining that he finds it difficult to say where he should begin his story. He is about 80 years old (like many men of his generation, he’s unsure of his exact age). After some thought, he decides to begin with Nila Wahdati, since his story also ends with this woman.
Mrs. Wahdati is the first familiar name we see in this letter. The introduction of new, non-Afghan characters continues to widen the scope of the novel.
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The author met Mrs. Wahdati in 1949, the same year during which she married Mr. Wahdati. At the time, the author had already been working for Mr. Wahdati for two years. The author was born in Shadbagh, and chose to leave because he was tired of caring for his sisters, one of whom was an “invalid.” Because the author worked full-time for Mr. Wahdati, he enjoyed the privilege of spending time in Mr. Wahdati’s beautiful house. He cooked for Mr. Wahdati, sleeping every night in a small shack beside the house. Over the years, the author came to know Mr. Wahdati very well: his idiosyncrasies, his habits, his sleep schedule, etc. Every few days, the author drove Mr. Wahdati into the city so that he could visit his mother. Sometimes, Mr. Wahdati would ask the author to drive aimlessly for hours.
It now becomes more clear that the character who’s narrating the chapter is Nabi, Abdullah and Pari’s uncle who worked for the Wahdati family for many years. Nabi is then also the brother of Parwana and Masooma—it seems that he too, like Parwana, abandoned Masooma when caring for her conflicted with his own goals. It’s interesting to see how Nabi builds a relationship with Mr. Wahdati without ever really conversing with him.
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The author would visit his family, telling them stories about his new life. He was careful never to talk about Mr. Wahdati, however. His brother-in-law, Saboor, would praise him for his career success, calling him Nabi. By this point, the author (Nabi) had come to think of Mr. Wahdati as an unsatisfied man: a man without a profession or a passion, content to live off of his enormous inheritance. Eventually, Nabi notes, he would come to see that this impression of Mr. Wahdati was entirely incorrect.
Nabi is a gifted storyteller, capable of keeping our interest even before we know his identity. The format of a letter allows Hosseini to compress events that take place over the course of decades into one narrative flow. Nabi is writing as an old man, and so he (like the author) has a sense of perspective regarding his past life, and can even find a plot arc within his personal history.
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One day, Mr. Wahdati asks Nabi to drive him to a neighborhood of the city where Nabi has never driven before. Following his employer’s directions, Nabi drives to a huge house, and as he pulls up, he sees a beautiful woman stepping outside. At this point, Nabi stops to explain that at that time he’d had some considerable experience with prostitutes in the local whorehouse.
Nabi is the narrator, but he talks about himself very little. He’s an observer first and foremost, and comments about himself usually arrive as asides, as they do in this case. Nabi, we learn, is sexually inexperienced, but certainly heterosexual—a fact that will become important later on.
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The night that Nabi drops Mr. Wahdati off at the beautiful woman’s house, Mr. Wahdati tells Nabi that he’s getting married. In the coming days, Nabi hears lots of gossip about the woman (the same beautiful woman he saw) from the other workers. Some, including an irritable gardener named Zahib, say that the woman is immoral—she’s had affairs with many men, and even writes poetry about it. Nabi tries to defend Mr. Wahdati around the other workers, and as a result he gains a reputation for being a “suck-up.”
In this scene, we first see the extent of Nabi’s loyalty to his employers. While it’s true that Nabi has told us about his punctuality, his talents as a driver, etc. before, it’s not until this moment that we realize that his devotion to Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati goes beyond a professional relationship—he’s willing to hurt his own reputation in order to defend them as people.
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Nabi explains that he’ll refer to Mrs. Wahdati as Nila from hereon out. He notices almost immediately that Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati have an unhappy marriage: he sees that Nila spends long hours alone. He can’t help but look at her when she passes through the house. Sometimes, when he drives her through the city, he finds small reasons to make their trips last a few seconds longer, so that he can spend more time with her. During one car ride, Nila asks Nabi about his village. Nabi explains that in his village, there are beautiful, delicious grapes. Nila seems to find this information interesting.
There’s an old cliché that the “help”—the servants, in other words—always knows what’s going on in a house. This is certainly the case here: although Mr. Wahdati seems strangely oblivious to the wellbeing of his wife, Nabi has no trouble seeing the truth of her unhappiness. It’s a recurring theme of the novel that wealth and power interfere with people’s ability to empathize with others.
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Encouraged, Nabi asks to tell Nila another story, and Nila invites him to do so. Nabi explains that there is an old mullah (Islamic holy man) in his village. The man knows hundreds of stories. One of his favorite stories was about how all Muslims in the world bear the same lines on their palms, lines which spell out the numbers 18 and 81. Once, the mullah was informed that some Jews have the same lines on their hands. The mullah only replied that these Jews must have been Muslims at heart. Nila seems to find this anecdote amusing.
It’s important that Nabi and Nila first interact as friends through storytelling. While this isn’t exactly surprising—Nila is a writer herself, and would naturally want to hear stories from other people—it’s worth keeping in mind that the other characters in the novel also use art (stories, photographs, etc.) to share their feelings with each other.
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In the coming months, Nabi becomes increasingly fascinated with Nila. She is beautiful, and also highly intelligent and energetic. After a while, Nabi and Nila begin speaking every day. She tells him about the hunting trips she used to take as a girl. For the most part, Nabi listens while Nila talks—an arrangement that suits him fine. He gets the sense that Nila turns to him as a way to fight her loneliness.
Nabi and Nila seem to be developing feelings for each other—or at least Nabi seems to be falling for Nila. It’s an interesting side effect of Hosseini’s style that we’re never sure how reliable his narrators are. At this point Nabi almost seems to be becoming a part of the strange, unhappy Wahdati family.
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One day, Nila tells Nabi that she finds Mr. Wahdati aloof and arrogant. When Nabi tries to protest, she insists that Nabi can be honest with her. Nabi remains diplomatic rather than criticize his employer, but Nila continues to insult Mr. Wahdati. She adds that his mother didn’t approve of their marriage to one another. Nabi wonders why Nila married Mr. Wahdati in the first place, but can never summon the courage to ask.
Even in the middle of a complicated story, Nabi remains a good storyteller. There are clearly deep, underlying issues in the Wahdatis’ marriage, but Nabi is still on the outside—although Nila is more and more coming to him as a confidante.
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In the fall of 1950, Nila summons Nabi and asks him to take her to the town of Shadbagh. Nabi reluctantly agrees, worrying that she’ll be dismissive of his family’s poverty. In Shadbagh, Nabi introduces Nila to his family. Saboor in particular is uncomfortable around Nila. Nila tries to make pleasant conversation, and praises a large rug in Saboor’s house. She also asks Parwana how far along she is: at the time, Parwana is pregnant with Iqbal.
It’s not clear to us why Nila wants to visit Nabi’s family in Shadbagh. Abdullah’s perspective on the matter (which we saw in Chapter Two) may be more accurate than Nabi’s, as Abdullah better sees how Nila is uncomfortable among the poor, and how she overcompensates with forced politeness.
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Nabi stops for a moment to note the intimate connection between Abdullah and Pari, Saboor’s two children. For whatever reason, he explains, the two siblings were extremely close. During her visit to Shadbagh, Nila finds Pari adorable. Then, for no discernible reason, she bursts into tears. She asks Nabi to take her home, and Nabi obliges.
It’s a constant mystery in And the Mountains Echoed why certain characters feel connected with one another. Sometimes, the characters are related by blood (like Abdullah and Pari), and sometimes they’re strangers. Surprisingly, Nabi’s “for whatever reason” is as much explanation as we’re given—there’s just no way to explain why certain people feel such an intimate bond from such a young age.
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When Nila returns to her home in Kabul, she goes to her room and doesn’t come out for days. After four days of this, Nila’s father, an intimidating man, arrives at the house. Although Nabi can’t eavesdrop on their conversation, while he’s working outside he glimpses Nila’s father shouting at her. That night, Nila emerges from her room. The next day, she tells Nabi that she’s planning a party, and that he’ll need to procure alcohol, food, and other things. These parties—frequent since Nila moved in to Mr. Wahdati’s house—are lavish affairs, full of American music (mostly jazz). Nabi is somewhat uncomfortable at the parties, because men and women dance together at them—in his village, parties are always separated by gender.
Although our knowledge of Nila Wahdati is always limited by Nabi’s affection for her, a few facts about her emerge from this chapter. One is that Nila feels trapped, and glamorizes escape of any kind. There’s also something strangely arrogant about Nila’s tastes—they seem like a way for her to show off her sophistication and wealth. Nabi, poor and raised in a traditional Islamic household, is highly uncomfortable with the party, reinforcing the cultural—and financial—barriers between himself and Nila.
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At parties, Nila likes to recite poetry. Nabi secretly enjoys these recitals, both because he loves the sound of Nila’s voice and because Nila’s poetry is brilliant and surprising. During the party that she hosts after her father shouts at her, Nila recites a poem about a man and his wife, mourning the death of their infant child. The next day, Nila pulls Nabi aside and tells him that he is her only friend. Nabi is more disturbed than flattered—he’s so shy with Nila that he can’t understand what they’ll do next.
Once again, we can’t tell how objective Nabi’s admiration for Nila’s poetry is—but later we’ll see some more confirmation that she is, in fact, extremely talented. In any event, it’s hard not to think that Nila is using Nabi—treating him as a vessel into which she can pour her anxiety and guilt, much as Parwana pours her secrets into the mountains.
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A few weeks after Nila’s party, Nabi has a “dangerous” idea. He realizes that Nila is unable to bear children, and thinks that there’s a way for him to find her a child. He speaks to Saboor about this idea. Nabi notes that Saboor was a proud, terse man, like many Afghanis of the time. Saboor died when he was in his late thirties, working hard in a field.
It’s important that Nabi is the one who develops the idea to sell Pari to Mrs. Wahdati. Nila doesn’t ask Nabi directly, but Nabi has grown so accustomed to his employers’ needs that he has no trouble deducing what she wants.
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After much agonizing, Saboor agrees to go along with Nabi’s idea, recognizing that he can make a great deal of money. Nabi next shares his idea with Nila, who passes it on to Mr. Wahdati. They agree that the idea is worth trying. Nabi says that there is “little point” in explaining what happened next in much detail: one day, Mr. Wahdati summons Saboor, Abdullah, and Pari to Kabul, where he keeps Pari and sends Abdullah and Saboor back to their village. Pari would be living with Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati from now on.
It’s difficult to judge Saboor’s decision to sell his child. On one hand, the notion of selling one’s family seems barbaric—a vestige of slavery. On the other, Saboor has clearly rationalized his actions: Pari will receive a wonderful education and (as far as he can tell) a set of loving, wealthy parents. We know that Saboor has been struggling with this decision because of the div story he told his children in Chapter One.
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Pari was four years old when she came to live in Kabul. Over time, she grew accustomed to her luxurious life with Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati. She came to stop thinking of Nabi as her uncle, and merely as another servant. In contrast, Pari spends more and more time with Nila. Nila loves playing games and talking with Pari, and eventually, both Nila and Pari cease paying attention to Nabi. When Nabi goes to visit Saboor, Saboor is equally oblivious to his presence. Nabi recognizes that Saboor blames him for the loss of his child. Saboor tells Nabi to never visit him again, and Nabi never does.
The theme of forgetting returns powerfully in this section, again hearkening back to the div story. Pari forgets who her true family is, even treating Nabi like a servant instead of an uncle. However, it’s worth considering why Nabi doesn’t remind Pari of his relation to her. The likely answer is that Nabi, no less than Nila, wants to forget what he’s done: he’s so ashamed that he’d prefer it if he were Pari’s servant. It also seems to become an unspoken rule to say that Pari isn’t adopted at all, but is the Wahdatis’ biological child.
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In the spring of 1955, Nabi continues, his life changed forever. One day, Nila screams for Nabi, who rushes to her room and finds her standing over Mr. Wahdati. Mr. Wahdati looks pale, and is making strange gurgling sounds. Thinking quickly, Nabi tells Nila to keep Pari away from the sight, and then shouts for Zahib, who helps him dress Mr. Wahdati and carry him to the car. He then drives his employer to a hospital. It becomes clear that Mr. Wahdati has had a stroke.
Many of the characters in this novel suffer from major medical problems, and rely extensively on the kindness and help of others to survive. Mr. Wahdati is rapidly becoming one of these people, and it remains to be seen if Nabi will continue caring for him or not. It’s worth remembering, however, that Nabi first came to work for the Wahdatis because he tired of caring for his own sister, Masooma.
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Following Mr. Wahdati’s stroke, the Wahdati house becomes chaotic and full of in-laws and family members. These people have come to pay their respects to Mr. Wahdati, but Mr. Wahdati seems utterly indifferent to their words. In the following weeks, Nila becomes the head of her household. Nabi comments that Nila was horrible in this role. She was tasked with feeding her paralyzed husband, among many other things, but Nila didn’t have the strength or the compassion to take care of Mr. Wahdati—once, Nabi walked in on Nila weeping before her husband, having thrown his food on the floor. Shortly after this episode, Nila tells Nabi that she and Pari are going to Paris, leaving Nabi to take care of Mr. Wahdati. She doesn’t say how long she’ll be away—or if she’s even planning on returning. Before she goes, Nila tells Nabi, “It was always you,” a statement that Nabi hardly understands.
In this section, it becomes even more unclear why Nila married Mr. Wahdati in the first place: clearly, she never had feelings for him. It’s also here that we begin to see Nila for what she is: a selfish person, who selectively cares about other people (like Pari), but fundamentally cares most about herself. Even if Nila doesn’t love her husband, it’s shocking that she would take her adopted daughter and leave him behind forever, especially when he’s in such a helpless state. Nila doesn’t like to commit to things—she likes to jump between many people and projects, like the hostess of a big party. Her parting words to Nabi are cryptic, increasing the suspense.
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As the months drag on, Nila and Pari remain in Paris, and Nabi stays in Kabul, taking care of Mr. Wahdati, who’s confined to a wheelchair. Mr. Wahdati seems weary and deeply sad. His mother visits him regularly, but he never enjoys seeing her—on the contrary, he seems to look forward to the moment when she leaves.
It becomes clearer than ever that family is no guarantee of love or trust. Mr. Wahdati and his mother may be related by blood and bound together by years of intimacy, but Mr. Wahdati clearly prefers Nabi’s company to his mother’s.
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One day, Nabi is cleaning Mr. Wahdati’s house when he notices an old box of Mr. Wahdati’s sketchbooks. Curious, he opens the box and flips through the books. Nabi is surprised to find pages and pages showing nothing but himself: Mr. Wahdati has been drawing him as he works, for years. This, Nabi decides, must be what Nila meant when she said, “It was always you.” Nabi isn’t sure what to make of the sketches. He’s a little disturbed that his employer has been obsessing over him for so many years, but he’s also reluctant to resign from his position, especially because Mr. Wahdati needs his help now more than ever.
It’s telling that Nabi does nothing, even after he discovers that his employer seems unhealthily obsessed with him. At this point Nabi has fewer job opportunities than ever, and it would be unwise for him to leave his comfortable position in the mansion. Though Nabi doesn’t feel anything romantically for Mr. Wahdati, his attachment to him clearly goes beyond that of a mere employee—indeed, he’s more faithful to Mr. Wahdati than Mrs. Wahdati was.
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In the late 1950s, Nabi is still working for Mr. Wahdati. They spend their spare time playing cards and other games. As a gesture of gratitude, Mr. Wahdati teaches Nabi how to read (Nabi has had some lessons before, but only under Mr. Wahdati’s tutelage does he become a confident reader). Nabi tells Mr. Markos that, in secret, he had been looking for a replacement for himself. He’d interviewed many applicants, but none of them had the necessary stamina, loyalty, and skills (cooking, cleaning, reading, driving). As a result, he continues working for Mr. Wahdati year after year.
There’s a noticeable contrast between the way that Mr. Wahdati’s mother visits him briefly, then leaves, and the way Nabi attentively cares for his employer. Strangely, in this case the bond between employer and employee seems far closer than the bond between mother and child. This is another of the irregular families that Hosseini portrays in the novel. Nabi asserts his heterosexuality by claiming that he wants to resign, but we sense that he doesn’t really want to leave Mr. Wahdati.
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One day, Nabi decides to take Mr. Wahdati for a “morning stroll” through the streets of Kabul. This is a major breakthrough for Mr. Wahdati, since he’d refused to leave his house since his stroke. Nabi wheels Mr. Wahdati through the streets, something that Mr. Wahdati greatly enjoys. They greet Wahdati’s neighbor, Mr. Bashiri, a young employee of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After a few such morning strolls, Nabi begins taking Mr. Wahdati for drives, just as he’d done before Mr. Wahdati’s stroke. As he drives, Nabi finds himself thinking of Nila.
On a symbolic level, Nabi becomes a kind of parent to Mr. Wahdati in this scene—Wahdati’s “breakthrough” in this moment is on par with a child taking its first steps. This cements the impression we’ve been getting lately: that Nabi is like family to Mr. Wahdati. He’s not an employee so much as he is a brother, a mother, a father, and a romantic partner rolled into one.
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The year is 1968, and Nabi is still working for Mr. Wahdati. Wahdati’s mother has just passed away, and Nabi is no longer a young man (he’s about forty). Mr. Bashiri, Wahdati’s neighbor, has had a child, Idris, and his brother has also had a boy, named Timur. One day, while Wahdati and Nabi are playing chess, Wahdati tells Nabi that Nabi should get married before he loses his looks. He adds, quite unexpectedly, that he only hired Nabi because “I had never seen anyone as beautiful.” Nabi can’t force himself to look at Mr. Wahdati when he hears this. Wahdati says that he’s loved Nabi for a long time. He explains that he’s telling Nabi this because he wants Nabi to leave him and start a family. Nabi says nothing, but shakes his head as if to indicate that he’ll never stop working for his employer. He notes that he had come to enjoy working for Wahdati, and had no intention of leaving. Wahdati then asks Nabi to do something for him. The section ends without Nabi revealing what this favor was.
In this crucial scene, we come to understand some of the mysteries in the chapter—while being baffled by still others. Mr. Wahdati now makes his homosexuality explicit, confirming Nabi’s suspicions based on the drawings. This also explains why Mr. Wahdati and Nila never loved one another—Nila obviously knew that Nabi was the true object of her husband’s affections, based on her parting words to Nabi. Hosseini throws in a new mystery as well, with Nabi’s unexplained favor to Mr. Wahdati. Even if Nabi doesn’t share Mr. Wahdati’s romantic feelings, the two men become even closer here in this moment of honesty and true communication. They are more like a family than ever.
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As time moves on, Afghanistan plunges into war. In the 80s, Kabul is actually less dangerous than the rest of the country (where Russian forces are invading), but in the 90s, Kabul finally succumbs to war. The quiet streets surrounding Mr. Wahdati’s house become loud and dangerous. The house sustains considerable damage from explosions. Soldiers sometimes try to loot the local houses, and Nabi isn’t always able to defend Wahdati’s property. Nevertheless, he continues to live, quite happily, as Wahdati’s servant. They bicker, almost like an old married couple.
Hosseini alludes to the Soviet-Afghan War here, one of the bloodiest and more prolonged conflicts in either country’s history (this war is frequently compared to the Vietnam War For more information, see Background Info.) We also notice that Nabi is becoming still closer with Mr. Wahdati. While it’s never clear that he shares his employer’s romantic feelings, it’s suggested that by now he’s come to respect and even love Mr. Wahdati.
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By the year 2000, the Taliban have engulfed Kabul. Nabi carries on as Mr. Wahdati’s servant. In the spring of 2000, Nabi discovers Wahdati lying in bed, gurgling just as he did when he had his stroke. Nabi whispers that he’s going to fetch a doctor and cure Wahdati. Wahdati motions for Nabi to listen to him, but Nabi can’t hear anything Wahdati is saying except, “You promised.” With these words, Wahdati falls silent, and dies. Nabi, heartbroken, kisses his old friend and employer on the lips, and then shuts his eyes.
It’s still not clear what the nature of Nabi’s promise to Mr. Wahdati was—it may have been a request for this kiss, or something to do with Pari. The kiss also may just be a pure expression of Nabi’s love for Mr. Wahdati. Hosseini suffuses the chapter with a sense of mystery, even at moments of great poignancy, like this one. Mr. Wahdati is a truly tragic figure: isolated from his wife, his community, and even (to an extent) Nabi, the person he loves most.
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After Mr. Wahdati’s death, Nabi discovers a note leaving him all of Wahdati’s property and wealth. Nabi is stunned, both by the will and by his friend’s death: he’s now been caring for Wahdati for more than half a century. For the next year and a half, Nabi lives in Wahdati’s house, cooking for himself and entertaining himself in small, silly ways. He’s dissatisfied with solitude, however.
Nabi has been so accustomed to Mr. Wahdati’s presence that he can barely stand living on his own. This tells us that, while Nabi may not have been romantically interested in his employer, he had still developed strong feelings for him, and the two were basically living as partners.
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Nabi’s fortunes change once again in 2002, when he hears the bell ring at his front door. At this point in time, Taliban have been driven out by American soldiers, and aid workers are busy repairing the city of Kabul. Nabi finds that his visitor is Mr. Markos—the man to whom the letter is addressed (and whose identity is still not clear to us). Mr. Markos requires a translator to understand Nabi, but Nabi invites both the translator and Markos into his house for tea.
The scope of the novel keeps growing and growing—and we are reminded that Nabi is only one of the millions of residents of Kabul, meaning that there are millions of other stories to tell as well. The novel also becomes more global in this section, as we realize that Nabi’s story overlaps with the stories of people from Europe and America.
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Inside the house, Markos explains that he is a surgeon, sent from Greece to help sick Afghan children. He explains that he needs a place to stay. Nabi, delighted to have company, tells Markos that he can stay at this house for free for as long as he wants. Markos is overjoyed at this news, and agrees to stay. In the coming months, Nabi comes to meet Markos’s friends and associates, including Amra Ademovic, whom he admires greatly. Amra Ademovic, who’s been researching the former occupants of the house, tells Nabi that Nila is long since dead: she killed herself in 1974.
As we get a sense for the structure of the novel (each chapter told from a different perspective), we can’t help but wonder which characters will be entrusted with a chapter of their own, and which characters will remain in the backdrop. Hosseini gives us crucial facts about important characters (like Nila’s suicide) at random points—not necessarily in chronological order, or in a chapter otherwise focused on that character.
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Nabi brings the letter to a close by saying that he doesn’t have long to live. He thanks Mr. Markos for his friendship, and for his devotion to helping the people of Afghanistan. He humbly asks Markos for two favors: 1) to bury him next to his greatest friend, Mr. Wahdati, and 2) to find his niece, Pari, tell her that he’s leaving her all his money and property, and let her know that he loves her. With this, Nabi ends his long letter.
The chapter ends on a melancholy note—both an ending and a beginning. Nabi’s life is at an end, since Markos could only read the letter when Nabi dies. Yet Pari, we sense, is still alive, and needs to hear the truth (which Nabi himself wasn’t brave enough to tell her): she has a brother.
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