Study Guide

The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Summary

The story begins in the Kabul marketplace where Parvana is helping her crippled father. He reads letters for money and sells anything Parvana's family doesn't absolutely need in order to put food on the table.

For about a year and half, the country has been under Taliban control, and living conditions are dismal to say the least—bombs have destroyed buildings and homes, and land mines abound (one of which killed Parvana's brother). Women are forbidden from attending school, and they have to wear burqas to cover their bodies and faces, in addition to not being allowed outside without a man. Parvana is lucky because she gets to go to the marketplace with Father, but her mother, sister, and two younger siblings have been stuck in their tiny apartment.

And, as if things aren't bad enough, soldiers kidnap Father and take him away to prison.

Now what? Mother falls into a deep depression, and food and water become slim without Father around to provide for them. Luckily Parvana runs into Mrs. Weera though, an old friend of Mother's, and she offers to help—Mrs. Weera and Mother are both part of a woman's group and once they get together the brain juices start flowing.

Someone has to go leave the apartment in order to buy food for the family, and since Parvana is the only one that can pass for a boy, her family disguises her as one, cutting her hair and dressing her in her dead brother's clothes. Parvana puts her blanket in the same spot in the marketplace, and does what Father did—reads letters for money—and by doing so, earns enough to buy tea and rice. She feels pretty proud of herself, and rightly so—and she even finds a way to bring her siblings out for an hour or two. Yay for getting out of the house and into the fresh air.

Meanwhile, Parvana learns a lot about the Taliban soldiers by reading their letters. And as she does, she comes to see them as human beings with feelings and emotions—which is a pretty generous response given how generally crappy they make life for her and her family.

Parvana becomes aware of the presence of a woman looking down on her blanket from the window above. Though she never sees the Window Woman, Parvana knows she is there, and also knows that this Window Woman is the person leaving presents on her blanket—beads, an embroidered handkerchief, that sort of thing. It's quite exciting, and helps keeps Parvana's spirits up too—everybody looks forward to getting presents, after all.

In the marketplace, Parvana runs into a girl from school who is also dressing up like a boy to make money for her own family; Shauzia and Parvana quickly become good friends.

Neither Parvana nor Shauzia are making enough money to support their family—mayday—but Shauzia hears about a great gig at the graveyard, digging up bones and selling them. Seems easy enough, right? And it is—the girls go digging, and wind up with enough money to buy tables.

One day Parvana and Shauzia go to watch a soccer game. Except it turns out not to be a soccer game, and the two girls are horribly surprised when instead they find the Taliban chopping off prisoners' hands for sport. This sickens poor Parvana, and she decides to stay home for a few days. The whole war and violence thing really gets to a person after a while, you know?

After a few days off, Parvana's back in action, ready to hit the streets again. When she returns to the marketplace, she is happy to see that the Window Woman is still watching over her, though one day she is certain her mysterious friend is being slapped around.

Upon returning home one day, Parvana is shocked to hear some big family news: her older sister, Nooria, has agreed to marry a man from Pakistan—something she's doing just to get the heck out of Kabul. Nooria wants to go school, become a teacher, and—frankly—burn her burqa, but she's got zero chance of doing any of these things where she currently lives. So Mother and the children will go with Nooria to Pakistan to get her ready for the wedding, but Parvana opts to stay behind in case Father is released from prison.

One rainy night, Parvana hears a women crying in an abandoned building—this stranger is running from the Taliban and isn't wearing a burqa. Parvana bravely brings the woman back to her house, where Mrs. Weera takes care of Homa—a.k.a. the crying woman—and she stays with them.

And guess what? Father comes back. Hip hip hooray, right? Unfortunately, though, when he shows up on the apartment doorstep he's in pretty rough shape—he was barely fed and badly beaten in prison. Mrs. Weera comes to the rescue (again), though, and she nurses him back to health while he enjoys Homa's company (they both can speak English). Sadly, though, Homa tells them that the Taliban have taken over the city where Nooria and Mother are. Not good.

Parvana and Father head to Pakistan to find their family, and Shauzia bolts with some shepherds, ultimately hoping to land in Paris where she and Parvana plan to meet again in twenty years. Meanwhile Mrs. Weera, her granddaughter, and Homa make plans to travel to Pakistan and help out with women in exile. Everyone is on the move.

As Parvana sits in the back of a truck next to Father, leaving Afghanistan, she takes one last look at Mount Parvana and "the snow on its peak sparkling in the sun" (15.80)—and as she does, though their futures are unsure, Parvana feels a sense of hope.

  • Chapter 1

    • Parvana sits on a blanket in the Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan) marketplace using a chador to cover her face.
    • She is listening to her father read a letter, thinking she could read almost as well… except for the fact that the Taliban—who completely run the show around here—have no tolerance for women out and about, let alone reading in public.
    • As far as the Taliban is concerned, women aren't allowed to do much of anything, and because of this, Parvana, who is in sixth grade, and her sister Nooria, who is in high school, were sent home from school when the Taliban came to power. Girls are officially forbidden from getting an education.
    • The Taliban didn't just screw up Parvana's and Nooria's educations, though—they also outlawed women working, so their mother lost her job as a writer for a radio station, and their family lost a whole income. In short, the Taliban has majorly screwed things up for Parvana and her family.
    • For a year now, Parvana's family of five has been stuck in a one-room apartment. This includes Parvana's five-year-old sister named Maryam and her little brother, Ali, who is two.
    • While Mother and the little kids and Nooria are stuck inside all day, Parvana is the lucky one and she gets out at least for a few hours each day to help her father walk to the marketplace since he's got a bum leg.
    • No one bothers her when she's out and about, which is good since she's a pretty small eleven-year-old and doesn't pose much of a threat.
    • Father tells the Taliban that Parvana's the only one that can help him walk since he lost part of his leg when the school he used to teach in was bombed. (Ugh.)
    • Parvana knows how to follow the rules outside of the house, and she dutifully keeps her head down and never makes eye contacts with the Tallies. It's best to be "invisible" (1.8) because the Taliban like to beat and whip women.
    • People pay Parvana's father to read their letters for them now; most people in Afghanistan can't read.
    • Parvana can read, though, because her parents both attended university and believe strongly that everyone—even girls—has the right to learn (1.12). (As you might've guessed, Shmoop agrees completely.)
    • Most of Father's customers speak Dari, which is good because that Parvana's most fluent language, though she can understand a little of Pashtu as well. Her parents can speak both languages, in addition to English. (Mother and Father seem super smart, don't you think?)
    • The market is the place to be. Men buy and sell, while tea boys run tea between stalls. Parvana thinks running around the market would be great fun—way better than being stuck in the apartment—but what she really thinks would be great is to be back in school.
    • It seems our girl majorly misses history class, especially learning about conquerors from the past kicking the bad guys out of Afghanistan.
    • Now the Afghan Taliban militia rules the country, and these guys are serious control freaks.
    • When the Taliban first kicked girls out of schools, Parvana was pretty psyched—no more math tests—but Nooria promptly let her know that she was being stupid.
    • Education has always been a big part of Parvana's family, helping them land high-paying jobs and buy a big house with lots of rooms—that is, until bombs leveled the house.
    • Since then, the family's kept moving, and each time their living environment got smaller, until finally they found themselves in the one-room (that's one room, not one bedroom) apartment they currently reside in.
    • War has been raging in Afghanistan for twenty years, and Parvana has never known any differently.
    • Time for a little history lesson: first, Afghans were at war with the Soviets, and when the Soviets left, they turned on each other. (See? We told you it was little.)
    • Parvana has run from bombs her whole life, though lately it seems like Kabul is being spared and most of the war is taking place to the north.
    • But the country is still under Taliban control. Taliban means "seeker of knowledge"; Parvana's father thinks religion should be about kindness not killing.
    • The time comes for Parvana and Father to head home, so Parvana packs up the items they are trying to sell, which are mostly things from home that they can do without.
    • With the help of a walking stick and Parvana's arm, Father hobbles along; he used to have a false leg but he sold it.
    • This seems to be the latest trend, though it is often husbands selling their wives' false legs. What do they need them for anyway? It's not like they can go anywhere. (That's some seriously depressing logic…)
    • Kabul used to be beautiful, but Parvana has only known it as "bricks and dust" (1.44); it makes her angry and sad to think of what has been taken away from their country and her family.
    • Parvana tries to maneuver her father through the broken roads—she has no idea how women wearing burqas manage.
    • When she mentions this to Father, he says, "They fall down a lot" (1.49)—and when he does, we understand that the very infrastructure of Kabul is unfriendly to women.
    • Parvana sees her favorite mountain and remembers a funny story.
    • When they first arrived, she asked her father what its name was and he answered: "Mount Parvana" (1.52).
    • Good joke, Pops—but really—what's it's name?
    • Father told her that people name mountains, so that's what he named this one; the whole family laughed.
    • No one is laughing now though, as they approach their apartment—only half of it still stands after it was hit by a "rocket attack" (1.57).
    • The outside stairs that lead to the third floor aren't very sturdy, but Parvana's father refuses to rely on a railing.
    • Finally home, they go inside and join the family.
  • Chapter 2

    • Nooria and Mother are cleaning, which they do a lot since there isn't much else for them to fill their time with.
    • They need Parvana to fetch some water because the tank is empty, which is pretty bad news as far as Parvana is concerned since it means six trips with the water bucket to the water tap.
    • Nooria, in classic big sister fashion, tells Parvana she should have done it yesterday when she was first asked to.
    • Though Nooria annoys Parvana sometimes, Parvana doesn't think she's all bad, and she envies her sister's long, thick hair. Parvana's is "thin and stringy" (2.8).
    • Parvana resents that she is the only one that gets water for the family—or she resents it today, anyway; other times she feels proud. It is dangerous to go anywhere without a man.
    • When Parvana finally sits down, she compliments Maryam on her drawing, but before she gets too comfortable, Nooria and Mother say they need help cleaning.
    • Parvana looks around the tiny room (2.22) her family lives in—most of their stuff has been destroyed by bombs or stolen.
    • The floors used to be covered by lovely Afghan carpets, but now the floors are just cement.
    • It isn't just their home and belongings that have been destroyed by the Taliban, though—their social lives have been crushed too, and they can't even talk to other people in the building because, according to Father, the Taliban encourages people to spy on each other.
    • Parvana feels so lonely. Father has his books, while Nooria and Mother keep each other company, but she feels like she has no one.
    • And to make matters worse, Mother wants to sell her "good shalwar kameez" (2.29); Parvana begs her mother not to.
    • Mother tells her she has no say in the matter though, plus it's not like she can go anywhere worthy of the outfit.
    • Parvana asks why they can't sell some of Nooria's clothes instead (just because these are desperate times doesn't mean Parvana's not still a pesky kid sister), but the answer is simple: Nooria will need them when she is married.
    • Parvana, like Mr. T, pities the fool who will marry Nooria.
    • Mother places Hossain's clothes in the cupboard, and as she does, she looks sad—Hossain, the eldest child and son, was killed by a land mine when he was fourteen. No one in the family talks about him though, because the memory is too painful.
    • Nooria has filled Parvana on some details about Hossain's life, though, and apparently he liked to play games and really liked to play with his little sister, Parvana. Aw… but also super sad, right?
    • Pitying Mother, Parvana helps her with dinner.
    • The meal is served Afghan-style, meaning the family gathers around a plastic cloth spread on the floor.
    • At the end of the meal, Nooria and Mother simultaneously start to clean up—it's like they share a "secret signal" (2.26), but Parvana has no idea what it is.
    • Ali rests on Mother's lap; Father rests too.
    • After his rest, Father changes into his "white shalwar kameez" (2.48), and Parvana thinks he looks handsome with his beard combed. (The Taliban says all men must grow beards.)
    • Now it's story time. Yay.
    • Father tells a tale about the British invading Afghanistan in 1880; the Afghans fought, but the British wouldn't leave.
    • Then, a very young girl named Malali ran out in the street, took off her veil, and waved it as a flag. She encouraged her countrymen to keep fighting, and keep fighting they did, all the way to victory.
    • The moral of the story? The women of Afghanistan are brave, and they've inherited "the courage of Malali" (2.61).
    • Nooria wonders how they can be brave though, when they can't even leave their apartments.
    • Father explains there are different types of battles, and Mother chimes in, "Including the battle with the supper dishes" (2.64), which everyone chuckles about…
    • … until Taliban soldiers barge through their door.
    • They soldiers grab Father and search the apartment; Nooria is hiding, and the little ones are screaming.
    • The Talibs don't like foreign ideas, and they aren't happy that Father was educated in England—as they try to take him away, Mother tries to stop the soldiers, but one of them hits her on the head with a rifle.
    • In desperation, Parvana grab Father by his waist as he yells, "Take care of the others, my Malali" (2.78)—and then Parvana watches as soldiers drag her father down the steps, ripping his shalwar kameez.
    • Inside their apartment, soldiers search the cupboards, throwing the few belongings they have left onto the floor.
    • Remembering Father's secret stash of books, Parvana attacks the soldiers and they hit her on the back with their sticks.
    • Finally the soldiers leave.
    • Maryam strokes Parvana's hair and the family sits, shocked by what's just happened.
  • Chapter 3

    • After the two little ones fall asleep, Mother, Nooria, and Parvana clean the ransacked apartment; then they spread quilts on the floor and go to sleep too.
    • But who can sleep? Parvana misses the sound of Father snoring; his presence has always helped her feel safe.
    • She worries about him in prison—he's joining lots of other people they know in there.
    • Parvana tells her mother to put a lamp in the window so he can find his way home if they let him go—but walking may be a problem for him.
    • Parvana stares at the one, small window in their apartment.
    • The Taliban ordered all windows to be painted black so no one could see the women inside, but Father refused; it was the only source of sunlight for crying out loud.
    • Finally the long, sleepless night is over and it's time for a breakfast of nan and last night's boiled water. Yum?
    • No time to wait for tea, says Mother—she and Parvana are going to get Father out of jail.
    • Sounds good to Parvana—she's always wondered what the inside of jail looked like—but there's one minor problem: women can't walk outside without a man.
    • So Nooria forges a note from Father giving Mother permission to be outside the home, and Parvana sticks the note up her sleeve.
    • Then Nooria gives her little sister a big hug. Yup—this is definitely a risky mission.
    • Off Mother and Parvana go to rescue Father, with Mother clad in the "regulation burqa" (3.38), which is a total pain in the butt to move around in.
    • Even wearing that tent though, she still moves faster than Parvana. This woman is on a mission.
    • Mother stops to show peddlers Father's photo. Parvana's not thrilled about this plan, since photographs are illegal and she really doesn't want to meet anymore Taliban soldiers.
    • The prison is "dark and ugly" (3.43) when they arrive, and Parvana's knees are shaking.
    • Mother, on the other hand, marches right up to the guards and demands Father's release. Go Mother, go.
    • Thoughts of Malali inspire Parvana to do the same, as she shouts: "I'm here for my father" (3.51).
    • The soldiers have had enough from Mother and Parvana, so they tear Father's photograph and start hitting Mother with a stick; shortly after, they beat Parvana as well.
    • Mother is beaten to the ground and Parvana tells the soldiers to back off, that they will leave.
    • The soldier spits at Parvana and Mother, then Parvana scoops up her mom and they limp away.
  • Chapter 4

    • It's pretty late by the time Parvana and Mother get home from prison, and Parvana's body is killing her—her feet are covered with broken blisters, and are "bloody and raw" (4.2). Ouch.
    • Mother's feet, though, are worse since she hasn't been out for a year and a half.
    • (We're just gonna pause for a second to let that sink in: Mother hasn't been out in a year and a half.)
    • And it's not like Father didn't encourage her to leave the house; he wanted her to go out into the city.
    • She's a writer, after all, and how would she know what to write about stuck inside the house?
    • Mother thought that was pointless to write though, since the Taliban wouldn't allow her to be published; besides, if they had left Afghanistan like she wanted to when this whole mess started, they wouldn't be in this position in the first place.
    • When Mother asked Father if they could leave though, he said no way. As far as he saw things, if educated Afghans didn't stick around to rebuild, then who would?
    • Mother collapses on the toshak and cries; and then she cries some more.
    • Nooria takes care of Mother, while Maryam carries water to Parvana for her to clean her face and soak her feet.
    • Parvana tries to talk to Nooria, but falls asleep.
    • She dreams about the soldiers hitting her and Mother—she can't help Mother, even if she screams "I am Malali" (4.21).
    • Parvana leans on Nooria as she walks to the washroom. She notices her family leans on each other a lot.
    • Nooria feels that she has no one to lean on, though, and she's snappish again, which means life is getting back to normal.
    • Mother just lies on the toshak staring at the wall.
    • The next day, Maryam and Ali are asking for Mother and Father—this goes on for days.
    • Parvana wishes she could read Father's books for a distraction, but she doesn't dare take them out.
    • Ali is starting to act weird—he's not crying, and he just sucks on his thumb rolled up in a ball—and the house has started to smell. To preserve water, they haven't been cleaning or rinsing out Ali's dirty diapers; plus the food is gone.
    • Enough already—Parvana shakes her mother, telling her they have no food and they need her help, but Nooria pulls her away, explaining that Mother is depressed.
    • The day after, Nooria tells Parvana she has to find help.
    • Looking at Ali's sunken cheeks and Nooria's terrified face, Parvana takes the money and asks, "What should I buy?" (4.67).
  • Chapter 5

    • Parvana is in the marketplace, and it feels strange to be there without Father.
    • Women are not allowed inside shops, so they stand outside and call in their orders—this would work out just fine for Parvana, except that she may get in trouble for not wearing a burqa.
    • If she goes in the shop though, she'll definitely get in trouble for not knowing her place as a woman.
    • So she plays it safe, and makes her first purchase—nan—from a street vendor. It smells amazing, and the Parvana is starving.
    • Heading for the vegetable stand, she's stopped by a Talib, who yells at her for not wearing a burqa and hits her shoulder with a stick.
    • Parvana wonders what her father would do, and then tells the solider to stop hitting her.
    • The soldier is shocked by her defiance, giving Parvana just enough time to bolt, knocking over turnips in the process.
    • As she runs through the streets, Parvana accidentally careens into a woman with a baby—but as luck would have it, it's Mrs. Weera, a friend of Mother's from the Afghan Women's League.
    • Parvana explains that she is running from the Taliban, and Mrs. Weera says that's all fine and good, by why is she manhandling the bread?
    • Parvana heads home, and Mrs. Weera comes with her—she wants to talk to Mother about writing a magazine.
    • Before entering the apartment, Parvana warns Mrs. Weera that Mother is in rough shape.
    • Nooria is disappointment that Parvana just brought home nan. No tea? No rice?
    • But no matter—thank goodness Mrs. Weera is here. At least some help has arrived.
    • A former physical education teacher, Mrs. Weera has a tall, strong body.
    • Encouraging Parvana to work for the team (once a gym teacher, always a gym teacher), she tells her to get some water to clean up the place, and asks how long Fatana (a.k.a. Mother) has been in bed.
    • Parvana's arms are sore and her feet are bleeding, but she keeps hauling water until there is enough to clean Mother and fill the tank.
    • Famished and thirsty, Parvana take a swig. Nooria tells her she is stupid for drinking unboiled water—but Mrs. Weera is here to coach the whole squad, so she tells Nooria, "that's no way to keep up team spirit" (5.59).
    • Mother, still tired, looks much better. She is sitting up, her hair is combed, and her clothes are clean.
    • Mrs. Weera offers Parvana plain boiled water. Finally.
    • It's sleepover time, and Mrs. Weera and her granddaughter spend the night. Parvana hears her tell Mother about her run-in with the Taliban and Mrs. Weera says they will have to come up with a new plan.
  • Chapter 6

    • Great idea: let's turn Parvana into a boy.
    • She'll be their cousin who is staying with the family while Father is gone, and as a boy, she'll be able to freely buy what the family needs at the market.
    • Parvana isn't immediately on board, but Mrs. Weera, Mother, and Nooria think it's a great plan—and to help convince Parvana of its merits, Nooria reminds her little sis that no one will realize she's gone anyway. Siblings, man—not even war can break their pesky stride.
    • Mother perks up thinking about the plan. Parvana can wear Hossain's clothes. Might as well put them to use, right?
    • Parvana points out that the plan can't possibly work because she has long hair, but Nooria is happy to fix that. Where are the scissors?
    • Parvana tries to argue that Nooria should take this on since she's the oldest and all, but Nooria promptly points out that she has a couple of body parts that would blow her cover.
    • Mrs. Weera tells Parvana that the decision is hers to make, but also points out that she is the only one that can pull it off.
    • Fine. Parvana concedes, and she and Mother go into the washroom so Mother can cut her hair.
    • Mother offers to tie the hair in a bow for her Parvana to keep, but Parvana's all no thanks.
    • As her hair falls to the floor, Parvana feels like a different person, and everything seems bigger—her forehead, her ears, her eyes—but she's okay with it.
    • In fact, she notices, "I have a nice face" (6.39).
    • After that, Parvana puts on Hossain's pale green shalwar kameez. Ooh, look—a pocket. Girls' clothes don't have those.
    • She reveals her boy self to her family. Maryam is confused for a minute and mother instantly remembers Hossain; Nooria cracks a joke so Mother doesn't cry.
    • Mother gives Parvana a white cap for her head, some money, and places her father's "pattu" around her shoulder.
    • Not thinking, Parvana reaches for her chador—and when she realizes she doesn't need it, she worries that when people see her face they will see that she is a girl.
    • She's afraid, and begs her mother to change her mind.
    • Nooria, ever the helpful older sister, pipes in—she knew Parvana wasn't brave enough.
    • It's a pretty low blow from someone who literally never leaves the house, but it gives Parvana just the kick she needs to get going, and she storms out of the house.
    • She quickly realizes that her family was right: nobody notices her.
    • Parvana moves through the market undetected and easily buys groceries.
    • Proud and eager to show her family, Parvana enters the apartment only to find Mother staring at the wall again; Nooria shoves the water bucket into her hands.
    • Mrs. Weera left, and apparently Mother is depressed—Nooria tells Parvana that, for safety purposes, she should keep Hossain's clothes on.
    • Parvana notices Nooria's tired face and offers to help with supper.
    • But Nooria doesn't want any help from Parvana, who will only get in her way.
    • Mother joins them for supper and tries to be pleasant but she can't look at Parvana.
    • At bedtime, Parvana hears Mother whisper, "Go to sleep, Hossain" (6.93).
  • Chapter 7

    • Right after breakfast, Parvana heads back to the marketplace—this time, she takes her father's things with her and Mother encourages her to "just do what he did" (7.2) for money.
    • Mother reminds Parvana that she is Kaseem now, her father's nephew who is visiting while Father is ill—let's keep the arrest on the down-low.
    • Sounds good. Parvana enjoys the feeling of the sun on her face and the fresh air.
    • She sets up camp where her father always did because it's good business to do so; the spot is right next to a wall and there is window overhead—covered in black of course.
    • So Parvana arranges the blanket, the paper, and pens and waits for someone to ask her to read for them.
    • Although she wonders if anyone will ask an eleven-year-old to read, Mother reminds her she has more education that most.
    • Parvana sits waiting for about an hour, and is scared silly that someone will notice that she's a girl.
    • Finally she gets a customer. Yikes, though—it's a member of the Taliban and he's carrying a rifle.
    • Speaking Pashtu, he asks Parvana if she's a letter-reader.
    • Responding in the same language, she says she is, and is terrified when he reaches in his vest pocket. Luckily, though, he pulls out a letter instead of a gun. Phew.
    • The Talib sits on the blanket while Parvana reads him the letter, which is addressed to his wife, Fatima Azima, and written to her by her aunt, Sohila.
    • In the letter, the aunt apologizes for not attending their wedding, but she's still in Germany, staying away from the fighting.
    • She is sure Azima's father has arranged for a nice man to marry her, and though this whole arranged-marriage thing might seem weird at first, she should hang in there.
    • Sohila is quite sure they will never see each other again, so she wants Azima to keep this letter as a reminder—and then Parvana notices a tear fall from the Talib's eye as he explains his wife died. She offers to read the letter again or write a reply, but he says no.
    • When he asks Parvana what he owes her, she replies the same way Father always did: "Pay whatever you like" (7.36).
    • The Talib gives her money and then walks away; Parvana feels relieved.
    • Interestingly, she now sees the Taliban soldiers in a different light—while they may be women-beaters and kidnappers, they still have feelings like other human beings.
    • She reads for someone else, but keeps thinking about the man and his dead wife.
    • Then a man stops and asks her how much she wants for her shalwar kameez.
    • She remembers Mother telling her how to bargain: start out high. This shouldn't be too hard since Parvana really doesn't want to sell it anyway.
    • After dickering over the price, Parvana makes the sale; stuffing money into her pockets lessons the regret of giving up her favorite outfit.
    • It's time for a potty break, but with nowhere safe to go in the marketplace, Parvana decides to head home.
    • She methodically packs up, just like Father taught her. She really misses him.
    • Looking up at the sky, she whispers, "Father, come back to us" (7.47)—it's just not fair that the sun is shining with Father in jail.
    • But wait… What is that? Parvana thinks she sees something in the blacked out window overhead, thought that seems impossible and doesn't make any sense. The whole point of blacking the windows out, after all, is to make sure no one can see inside.
    • Oh well. Feeling pretty good about herself, Parvana heads home.
  • Chapter 8

    • Mrs. Weera is moving in, which makes Parvana happy because when she is around Mother feels like "her old self" (8.2).
    • She says she and Mother will be creating a magazine.
    • Parvana shows them the money she made at the market, but Nooria says Father could have made more—her older sister's attitude can't spoil Parvana's good mood today, though.
    • Parvana goes out with Mrs. Weera to get her belongings; she isn't at all worried about seeing a Talib, but Parvana stays close by just in case.
    • Mrs. Weera is borrowing a karachi (cart with wheels) to make the move easier, though there isn't much to bring anyway—what the bombs didn't destroy, the bandits stole.
    • Remember how Mrs. Weera used to be a gym teacher? Apparently she also won a gold medal for being the "fastest runner in all of Afghanistan" (8.18) back in the day. Color us impressed.
    • With Mrs. Weera all moved in, Parvana offers to fetch some water, and Nooria—shocked that Parvana offers to help—asks if she is feeling okay.
    • Parvana asks if Maryam can tag along since she hasn't been outside in a year in a half (poor kid), but there's a small problem: Maryam's feet have outgrown her sandals.
    • Yet again Mrs. Weera comes to the rescue though, this time wrapping Maryam's feet up in cloth for the time being.
    • Maryam's muscles are not used to movement, so they walk cautiously to the tap; when they arrive, and water flows through Maryam's hands, the young girl is delighted.
    • The next day, Parvana buys Maryam a new pair of shoes.
    • Each day follows a pattern for Parvana: to the market, home for lunch, then back to the market.
    • Parvana would like to stay at the market longer, but only "if there was a latrine" she could use (8.42).
    • Here's an idea: since Parvana is Kaseem in the marketplace he / she can escort Mother and Nooria while they shop. Won't it be nice to leave the house?
    • Of course Nooria doesn't like the idea of Parvana escorting her outside, but she bites the bullet when Mother reminds her how important it is for Ali to leave the apartment.
    • Nooria and Ali haven't been out since the Taliban's arrival, and all that little Ali knows is the apartment. How sad is that?
    • So Parvana, Maryam, Nooria, and Ali walk around the neighborhood, taking breaks to sit in the sunshine—Nooria even flips up her burqa to feel the sunshine on her face.
    • The little ones play and wash under the running tap water. Life is looking up.
    • Parvana is making enough money these days to keep the family fed on nan and tea, and the fresh air is great for the kids. They have more energy now, though when they're stuck in the little apartment that's not always such a great thing.
    • On special days, Mother goes to the market with Parvana, who loves their time alone.
    • Parvana is generally happy with her market gig—the people are fascinating—but she really misses Father, and it's hard listening to Mother and Nooria crying or Maryam upset from a nightmare.
    • Then one day she swears she sees Father at the market. She throws her arms around a stranger, thinking he is her dad, but no such luck. The man is nice enough about it, and he tells her to keep hope alive because soldiers release men from prison often.
    • On a different day, another strange thing happens: while packing up the blanket, Parvana notices a small piece of embroidered cloth lying there. Huh.
    • Her eyes are drawn to the blacked-out window above her, but again she sees nothing there.
    • A few days later, Parvana finds a beaded bracelet on the blanket—and again she looks up at the window.
    • This time, however, it is open—and a woman stands there, smiling at Parvana.
    • A few days after that, Parvana helps a tea boy picks up cups that he drops… but wait a second… the tea boy is actually a tea girl. It's her friend, Shauzia, from her old school. Yay.
  • Chapter 9

    • Parvana is shocked to see Shauzia dressed up as Shafiq—a.k.a. a boy—doing the same exact thing she's been doing.
    • While they weren't super friendly when they went to school together, Parvana is thrilled to meet another girl like her in Kabul.
    • Enjoying Shauzia's dried apricots, Parvana chats with her new friend.
    • Shauzia has been working in the market for six months, since her father died and her brother went to Iran to look for work.
    • Parvana tells Shauzia about her father's arrest, though she's pretty bummed when Shauzia tells her she probably will never see him again.
    • "My father's coming back" (9.17) she tells Shauzia in no uncertain terms.
    • Given that neither girl is making much money, Shauzia suggests they work together and find a better hustle.
    • Parvana likes reading letters and the little gifts that are left on the blanket though, so she asks if they can work together for half the day.
    • According to Shauzia, they need to get themselves some trays so they can move around when they sell stuff. But how can they possibly get money to buy trays?
    • Parvana has absolutely no money to spare; her family doesn't even have money to light the kerosene lamps at night. It's chilly.
    • For a brief moment though, it feels like the good old days, as the girls walk home talking about school and their friends.
    • Parvana invites Shauzia to stop in and say hello to her family, and when they enter the apartment, everyone is so happy to see Shauzia, and Mother wants her to bring her family over for a bite to eat.
    • Sadly though, Shauzia explains that she's the only one that leaves the house. Her mother is sick, and her two sisters live with her father's sister.
    • Mrs. Weera tells Shauzia that she is going to start a secret school if she would like to attend, and Parvana makes the excellent joke that Mrs. W will be teaching field hockey.
    • Later Mother says she wants to meet Shauzia's mother and interview her for her magazine.
    • They already have plans to smuggle the magazine into Pakistan.
    • Even negative Nooria thinks the school is a good idea. She will teach math and history, Mrs. Weera will teach health and science, and Mother will teach reading and writing.
    • During the days that follow, Parvana and Shauzia hang out at the market, and Parvana continues getting gifts from the mystery lady in the window. This next one she gets is a white handkerchief with red embroidery that lands right on top of her head. Nice shot, window woman.
    • Before Parvana can smile a thank you in return though, Shauzia storms on the scene—she's heard of a great way to make money, but Parvana is not going to like it. Uh-oh…
  • Chapter 10

    • Here's the plan: "They are going to dig up bones" (10.1).
    • Parvana isn't thrilled with the idea and has kept it a secret from Mother.
    • Heading to the cemetery, which has been destroyed by bombs, the girls can smell the stench. (That would be dead body stench, in case you were wondering.)
    • The girls see boys already digging to give the "bone broker"—the person who weighs the bones and buys them—the goods (10.7).
    • Parvana has a really good question: what if they dig up a body that hasn't fully decayed?
    • And Shauzia has a really good answer: "We'll find one with a bone sticking out of it" (10.13). She's got a real can-do attitude, this Shauzia does.
    • Parvana pulls out her trusty blanket for them to use to gather bones, though Parvana wishes the blanket were back at the marketplace with her secret friend.
    • Shauzia bravely pulls the first bone from the soil. It isn't so bad really, and kind of like pulling a carrot out of a garden… Except, you know, way grosser.
    • Parvana cleans the soil off of the bone, wondering if its owner will mind.
    • Parvana finds a skull that's grinning, so they prop him up, name him Mr. Skull, and use him as their mascot. Is anyone else totally grossed out right now?
    • Mr. Skull watches as they move between the graves and gather a blanket full of bones.
    • And great news, Shmoopsters: Mr. Skull gets some friends. Phew, right? We know you were worried he might get lonely. But the girls find four more skulls to add to their collection and keep Mr. Skull company.
    • Nature calls and Parvana has to find a place to go to the bathroom, but Shauzia reminds her to watch out for the land mines. Shoot, that's right—Parvana remembers her father saying that Kabul is filled with land mines, just like the one that killed her brother.
    • Father knows just what to say, doesn't he?
    • Parvana remembers when a United Nations representative talked to her class about land mines; apparently some target children and are disguised as toys.
    • Now Parvana worries that there is a bomb in the building where the bathroom is located.
    • She decides to chance it, though, since she can't hold it in any longer and she doesn't want to go outside at the risk of revealing her identity.
    • Phew. No bomb.
    • Afterward, the girls collect more bones and the bone collector weighs them.
    • They earn a lot of money, which inspires them to keep digging. No lunch with Mother today for Parvana.
    • Later on, sunshine breaks out from behind the clouds and Parvana says, "We have to remember this" (10.56); she also says that later in life they should remember what they had to do to feed their families.
    • Shauzia jokes that perhaps they'll talk about their grave-digging exploits over tea when they are rich and old.
    • At the end of the day, the girls decide to hold back most of the money from their families—they'll just spend it, and the girls need money to buy their trays.
    • So Parvana tucks the money safely in her bag, next to her Father's writing papers; then she rinses herself off under the running tap water.
    • When she closes her eyes that night, all she sees is Mr. Skull and his four friends staring at her.
  • Chapter 11

    • Mother worries because Parvana comes home wet and having missed lunch.
    • Parvana says she was working, but Mother says that they were "terrified" that she had been arrested (11.4), which, in Mother's defense, is a totally legit concern.
    • Parvana breaks down in tears, clutching her Mother's neck, and then she lets the cat out of the bag and tells her they were digging up graves.
    • Mother is disgusted. The family has sunk to a new level, and now they're digging up their ancestors.
    • Always the voice of reason, Mrs. Weera chimes in to explain the use of bones—chicken food, oil, buttons—so though it's kind of nasty work, it leads toward useful things.
    • Parvana shows everyone how much money she made, but Mother still thinks digging up bones is a bad idea, and tells Parvana to go back to reading letters.
    • But Parvana tells her mother no, and—for once—Nooria has her back.
    • The girls explain that they aren't making enough money, and that while it's great they have nan and tea these days, they still need money for rent and propane.
    • Parvana is shocked and happy to see her sister taking her side for once.
    • Mother says she is glad Father isn't here to see his disrespectful daughters in action, but Mrs. Weera points out that it's for exactly this reason—Father isn't here—that they may need to try "unusual" (11.26) ways to make ends meet.
    • Yup—digging up dead bodies is definitely unusual.
    • Mother gives in, so long as Parvana tells her everything; she will write about it in the magazine.
    • So Parvana continues bone-digging, and though Mother packs her nan for lunch, her new line of work doesn't exactly leave Parvana with a thriving appetite, so she gives her food to some beggars instead.
    • After two weeks, the girls earn enough money to buy the trays with neck straps; they decide to keep their load light by selling just cigarettes and gum.
    • One day after letter-reading, Parvana gets hit on the head again with a gift. The lady in the window is a great shot.
    • This time she throws down a single red wooden bead.
    • Nooria and the kids join Parvana in the market again, and Nooria is noticeably more pleasant. That's interesting…
    • Or maybe it's Parvana who has changed—fighting with her sister just doesn't "make sense anymore" (11.37).
    • In the afternoon, Parvana meets up with Shauzia to try to sell their stuff.
    • Noticing a soccer game, and thinking the fans will make great customers, the girls dodge Taliban soldiers to sneak their way into the stadium and head to the bleachers.
    • Something is off, though—the crowd is really quiet and no one is smiling. Then the girls sees Taliban soldiers take the field, dragging men with them who have their hands tied behind their backs.
    • Yikes. Shauzia and Parvana are really frightened.
    • Shauzia realizes the men are prisoners and they are stretched on a table; clueless though, Parvana is still looking for the soccer players.
    • Suddenly a soldier cuts off a man's arm, and blood flies everywhere as he screams in pain. Parvana has officially stopped looking for soccer players.
    • Shauzia screams and Parvana covers her mouth; the girls leave the stands and head to the stadium floor.
    • The gum and cigarettes fall off their trays, but men pick them up and return them to the girls.
    • The soldiers yell that they are punishing thieves as the girls hear "the sword thwack down on six more arms" (11.60).
    • Finally the blood bath is over and a nice man shows the girls the way out. (What is up with so many people being nice to them in the midst of such a horrible scene?)
    • Parvana take one last look and sees a very young man holding up the four severed hands on a rope.
    • The nice man tells the girls to "Go home and remember better things" (11.65). Yeah, dude—that's definitely going to be the goal.
  • Chapter 12

    • Parvana needs a break—not so much from work as from the terrors that lurk outside her front door—so she stays home for awhile so she won't see anything "ugly" (12.2) for a bit.
    • The women's group heard about the hand chopping at the stadium, and apparently it occurs every Friday. (Whatever happened to TGIF?)
    • Mother wonders what century they are living in, while Parvana wonders if Father is next on the chopping block.
    • The days at home are nice for Parvana. She teaches Maryam to count, learns mending from Nooria, and listens to Mrs. Weera's hockey stories (12. 5).
    • But then money runs out, as it's wont to do, so Parvana goes back to work.
    • Shauzia is glad Parvana is back; she missed her.
    • Parvana explains she just needed some quiet time, but Shauzia prefers to get out of her house because "they sit and glare at each other" (12.11) inside hers.
    • Want to hear a secret? Shauzia is saving her money to go to France, to a place where the sun is shining and people are happy.
    • Parvana questions whether Shauzia can pull this off by herself.
    • Not to worry—she's got the whole thing planned. First she'll pretend she's an orphan and use the nomads to get her to Pakistan, and then she'll hop a boat in the Arabian Sea and head to France.
    • Total piece of cake, right? But Parvana can't believe Shauzia even considers escaping by herself.
    • But Shauzia sees this as a plus, figuring no one will bother with an orphan boy who is by himself (Shmoop's not sure her logic's super sound on this one). She needs to leave soon, though, while she can still pass for a boy—as she tells Parvana, "I'm starting to grow" (12.30).
    • Who will take care of Shauzia's family, Parvana wonders?
    • Pause for a flashback. Parvana remembers her parents arguing over leaving Afghanistan. Mother wanted to leave and Father wanted to stay, and Parvana always wondered why Mother didn't just go.
    • Now she understands, though—her mother couldn't leave because she couldn't take care of her four children.
    • Parvana tells Shauzia she just wants to be a normal school girl again, but Shauzia hopes she never has to sit in a classroom again.
    • Shauzia tells Parvana she is welcome to tag along with her, but Parvana can't leave her family.
    • Shauzia asks her to keep her secret, but Parvana says she can do even better than that—she can share her own secret.
    • Parvana shows Shauzia her gifts from the Window Woman.
    • The girls pretend she is a princess and imagine themselves heroically saving her.
    • No more time for fun, though—it's time to get back to work.
    • The girls have a hard time competing with the other boys hawking wares, though—they are pushy, and go around saying, "Buy my gum! Buy my fruit!" (12.48).
    • Tired, Parvana just doesn't have the energy or will to sell at the marketplace anymore. Been there; done that; she's over it—and she longs for the days of boredom in geometry class.
    • Now it's time to talk about what summer is like in Kabul. Ever wonder?
    • The flowers are nice but the heat is not—the little ones get quick cranky, but fresh peaches and plums are a nice treat.
    • New traders are starting to come into Kabul, and they bring stories with them that Parvana shares with her family at home.
    • Meanwhile, Mother and Mrs. Weera start a "secret little school" (12.57) and Nooria teaches the five students; they don't have supplies, but they do what they can.
    • And Parvana continues to receive little gifts on her blanket.
    • One day, Parvana hears fighting coming from the Window Woman's direction—a man is yelling, and a woman is crying and screaming.
    • A man holding an envelope startles Parvana, though, and tells her to mind her own business and read his letter.
    • When she gets home, Parvana can't wait to tell her family about the fight, but they have something to tell her first: Nooria is getting married.
  • Chapter 13

    • Parvana doesn't understand why Nooria wants to marry someone she's never met.
    • Oh Parvana, you are such a worrywart—of course Nooria's met her fiancé; he was their neighbor years ago.
    • Plus Nooria is pretty psyched for her new life. She will live in Mazar-e-Sharif, a place where there is no Taliban and schools for girls—she can even go to the university.
    • The plan is outlined in a letter from the groom's family.
    • Parvana asks her sister if she is positively sure she wants to go through with this arranged marriage, and Nooria has no doubts. There is no life for her in Kabul, but in Mazar she will be free from burqas and babysitting. For Nooria, it's a no-brainer.
    • While Parvana is out at the market bringing home the bacon, the family makes plans.
    • They will travel to Mazur and stay with an aunt, then after the wedding in October, they will return to Kabul.
    • Parvana worries that her father will be released from prison and find an empty house, but she doesn't need to worry about this since Mrs. Weera will stay at the apartment.
    • With a stamp of her foot though, Parvana announces that she isn't going.
    • Mother is taken aback by Parvana's attitude. Who does she think she's talking to?
    • Mother wonders if Parvana's job has made her think she is all that and a bag of chips, but Parvana just stamps her feet and shouts again that she's not going.
    • Mother says if she has so much energy she'd better go fetch some water, which Parvana does, though she also slams the door on her way out in order to get the final word.
    • After moping around for three days, Parvana gets her way—Mother decides to leave Parvana in Kabul—but once she does, Parvana pouts because the family isn't bringing her with them. Nothing makes her happy anymore.
    • Shauzia knows how she feels. She once thought that selling off of trays would be the answer to all of their problems, but her family still fights.
    • While Nooria packs her things, Parvana asks her if she is scared, saying, "It's a long journey" (13.26).
    • Of course Nooria is worried, and she keeps thinking of everything that can wrong, but Mother reassures her that they will be safe together in the back of a truck.
    • The next day, Parvana shops for their trip, and buys Nooria a going away present—a pen in a beaded case for her to use as a student and later as a teacher.
    • Mother reminds Parvana to mind her manners for Mrs. Weera, and Mrs. Weera tells Mother that their magazine will be ready to distribute by the time they return at the end of the summer.
    • When it comes time to say good-bye, Mother tells Parvana "make me proud of you" (13.34), and Nooria admits that she doesn't know when she'll see Parvana again.
    • Parvana fights back tears, but manages to slam her sister one last time—she tells Nooria she will be back soon because her husband will send her back when he realizes she is bossy. Ah, sisters.
    • After the family leaves, it is weird being home with just Mrs. Weera and her grandchild.
    • Parvana decides to take a look at Father's hidden books, and they read and listen to Mrs. Weera's stories at night.
    • Mrs. Weera tells Parvana that she knows she's old enough to take care of herself—heck, some kids Parvana's age are having babies—but if she ever needs anything she should just ask.
    • Mrs. Weera also thinks that Parvana should keep some of her own money, so now Parvana treats Shauzia to lunch at the market sometimes.
    • One day later in the summer, Kabul gets hit with a strong rainstorm; Shauzia dodges it just in time, but Parvana gets stuck in the thick of it.
    • Then something weird happens: while hiding from the rain, she finds shelter in a building and she falls asleep; it's late when she wakes up… and she hears the "sound of a woman crying" (13.49).
  • Chapter 14

    • The woman's sounds are "too soft and too sad" (14.1) to scare Parvana, so instead she tries to find her in the dark building, using matches on her tray to light a path to where the woman is huddled and crying.
    • Parvana tells the woman her secret—that her name is Kaseem, but really it's Parvana—and then, since it's getting late, she asks the woman to come home with her. And then she notices that the woman's face isn't covered by a burqa.
    • Parvana offers to run home to borrow one of Mrs. Weera's burqas, but the woman grabs her arm, and suggests that she just eat some dried fruit and nuts instead.
    • Parvana convinces the woman to sneak to her apartment once it is dark out.
    • When it is dark in Kabul, it is truly dark. The city has been "under curfew"(14.23) for more than twenty years, and the street lights have been knocked out by bombs.
    • Time for another flashback: Father and Mother used to tell stories about Kabul being the "city of lights" at night, where they would shop and eat ice cream (14.24). Not anymore, though—not in the slightest.
    • Parvana pretends to be Malali leading troops through enemy territory as she leads the woman through Kabul's streets.
    • Remembering the hand-chopping incident, she wonders what the Taliban would do if they caught her out after curfew and with a woman who isn't wearing a burqa. Now seems like a good time to cross our fingers in hopes that Parvana never finds out…
    • It isn't easy, but Parvana gets the woman to her house safely. Phew.
    • Mrs. Weera, relieved, greets them at the door—instantly, she notices the woman isn't wearing a burqa.
    • Parvana explains, "I think she's in trouble" (14.31).
    • Mrs. Weera to the rescue (it's kind of her thing, in case you hadn't noticed); she gives the woman a bath, clean clothes, and a cup of tea.
    • The girl tells them her story.
    • Her name is Homa and she escaped the Taliban that took over her city of Mazar.
    • Hold up… Mazar? That's exactly where Nooria and the rest of Parvana's family are headed. Uh-oh.
    • The Taliban are in Mazar all right, explains Homa—she knows because they killed her parents and brother while she hid in a closet.
    • Dead bodies were all over the place, but she managed to find safety by hiding in a truck, which took her to Kabul.
    • She feels awful for leaving her family's bodies in the street "for the dogs to eat" (14.46), which sounds like a totally awful thing to have to do.
    • All that Parvana can think about now is her own family running into the Taliban.
    • Mrs. Weera says not to give up hope because Mother and Nooria can handle themselves, but this is all too much for Parvana to handle and she curls up on the toshak for two days.
    • Shauzia surprises them with a visit, and just in time too, since Parvana isn't falling for one of Mrs. Weera's motivational half-time speeches—but when Shauzia tells Parvana she misses her and asks her to come back to the market, Parvana can't refuse.
    • So back to work she goes, trudging through the days that seem like a "nightmare" (14.59).
    • But one day after work, there is a glimmer of hope—she sees her father, escorted by two men, walking up the steps to their apartment.
  • Chapter 15

    • Parvana is thrilled to have Father home, even though he looks a wreck.
    • The men found him outside of the prison apparently—Father had been released, but couldn't get around—so the men brought him home. Parvana thanks them.
    • She just wants to lie down and cling to Father, but Mrs. Weera tells her to give him some space.
    • It takes a few days before he feels better, but when Father finally sits up he notices Parvana's appearance and says she is his daughter and his son.
    • Poor Father is in bad shape still, though, and it looks like he was beaten pretty badly.
    • Parvana keeps working while Mrs. Weera nurses Father back to health; sometimes she reads him his books.
    • One day Parvana comes home and hears Father and Homa speaking English back and forth.
    • Father asks, "Did you bring us home another educated woman today?" (15.13).
    • Parvana says nope, just onions—and with that, laughter has finally returned to the home. Finally.
    • Father is home, and this is great, but Parvana wants the rest of her family to come home too.
    • Feeling hopeful, Parvana goes back to work so they can buy Father medicine; it feels good to be working to get her family back.
    • Shauzia says she also has a goal: to get the heck out of Afghanistan. Her grandfather is trying to find her a husband.
    • Parvana asks Shauzia how her mother will live without her, but Shauzia says this is her only chance for her to live a happy life. True that.
    • A few days later, a member of the women's group visits Mrs. Weera and brings news from Mazar—most people have left the city and are living in refugee camps.
    • Father makes plans to find Mother and the rest of the family.
    • No one knows why the Taliban released Father, but as Father points out, they never knew why they even took him in the first place, so their reasoning doesn't really matter.
    • Mrs. Weera has her own plans: she and Homa will go to Pakistan, and maybe start a school.
    • Parvana asks her to take Shauzia with them, but Mrs. Weera thinks Shauzia should stay with her family.
    • Some time after, Parvana is back at the marketplace and is happy to realize that the Window Woman is still alive when she is smacked on the head with another present, this time a camel made from beads. (For the record, if you want to drop presents on our heads, we really like chocolate.)
    • Parvana wants to say good-bye to her friend, so she plants flowers in the spot where she usually sits.
    • An older man comes to help her even though others say the flowers will never grow without fertile soil and protection.
    • Not so, explains the man—sure they are wilted now, but with time the roots will support the plants. A metaphor perhaps?
    • Parvana waves good-bye to the Window Woman, and she is pretty sure she sees her wave back.
    • It's time to hit the road with Father now, to try to find the rest of their family, and when Parvana asks whether she should travel as a boy or a girl, Father says it doesn't matter because she is his "little Malali" (15.63).
    • Mrs. Weera wants to show them one more thing before they leave: Mother's magazine.
    • She tells Parvana to tell Mother she did a great job, that she has told the world about Afghanistan's problems.
    • Right before they leave, Shauzia appears—she is leaving as well with a group of nomads heading to Pakistan.
    • The two friends don't say good-bye—instead they say "until next time" (15.76)—and they plan to meet again twenty years from now, on the first day of spring in front of the Eiffel Tower.
    • Parvana can't imagine what will happen in the next twenty years.
    • She thinks of her family and not knowing where they are and her uncertain future, but finds "herself looking forward to it" (15.79) anyway.
    • In the back of truck next to Father, Parvana enjoys a dried apricot that Shauzia gave to her as she watches Mount Parvana, covered in snow and "sparkling in the sun" (15.80).