The book starts with a tale of an evil Div that demanded Baba Ayub’s family to give up one of their children in order to save the other four. Although Baba Ayub and his wife knew they had to obey, this was a devastating task for a parent and as such their only solution was to pick a name at random. The one drawn was Quais, Baba’s favourite son, and so with a hard heart his father sacrificed him. However, the love between the two was so strong that the old man decided to pursue the Div and avenge his boy. To his dismay, Quais was still alive, having forgotten his family and living in a place of plenty. The evil spirit was so impressed with Baba Ayub that he offered to return the boy. Knowing that this would mean taking him away from a good life, the father decided to leave without him. As a last act of kindness, the Div erased Baba’s memory so that he could endure the parting.
Abdullah and his sister Pari go to sleep listening to this story and knowing that the next day they will have to say goodbye as well. Their father found a job in Kabul and decided to take the girl with him while leaving his son to take care of Parwana, their step mother, and Iqbal, their half-brother. However, so was the bond between the two siblings that Abdullah insisted on tagging along on the journey through the desert, towards the capital city. Once they arrived in Kabul, they are introduced to the Wahdati family, the wealthy employers of their step uncle, Nabi. Naila Wahdati takes great interest in them and in the end it is revealed that Pari was to be adopted by her and her husband thus separating her from her brother.
The narrative jumps to the story of Parwana’s youth. Her twin sister, Masoona, was so beautiful and amiable that she eclipsed her in all aspects of their lives, including their relationship with Saboor, the young man they both fell in love with. One day, as they were standing on the branch of a tree Masoona confessed her hope of marrying Saboor thus triggering her twin’s jealousy. In an act of cruelty, Parwana pushed her sister off the branch causing her to paralyse. Years later, she is the one taking care of Masoona while Saboor is a widower with two young children. Sensing the burden on her sister, Masoona insists on being left alone in the desert and gives Parwana her blessing if she wishes to marry their childhood love.
Meanwhile, their brother Nabi left the small village for the city of Kabul. There he found employment as cook and driver at the Wahdati household. While closely assisting Mr Suleiman Wahdati he falls hopelessly in love with his wife, Nila. Sensing the void in her life and being determined to fill it, he comes with the idea of talking his brother-in-law into selling his daughter Pari to the wealthy couple. Unfortunately, while they are happy for a while, Suleiman’s stroke leaves him paralysed and his wife decides to move to Paris with Pari in order to escape the responsibility. Nabi is left to nurse his employer and in the process he discovers Suleiman’s infatuation with him. While he is unable to reciprocate the two develop a bong of friendship and dependence. Nabi ultimately lets Suleiman die, at his request, and inherits all his wealth. Before his own death, he writes a confession letter and leaves it with Dr Markos, asking him to look for Pari and tell her the truth about who she really is.
Again, the narrative jumps to the story of Idris and Timur, two cousins who left Afghanistan for America in their youth, before the war, and they return to Kabul in order to regain the house that was once theirs. Timur is described as an exuberant person given to theatrical moments while Idris, from whose perspective the story is told, is a more introverted, honest person. He befriends Amra, a Bosnian nurse and aid worker, and so comes to meet Roshi, a little girl with serious facial deformity following her uncle’s vicious attack with an axe. The two bond and Idris vows to find the funding needed for the surgery. However, once he returns to America he finds out this is not as simple as he though and he immediately regrets the promise he made. As his bond with Roshi fades, he stops answering Amra’s emails. Six years later, after Timur helped Roshi find the support for her intervention, she is a famous author and Idris comes to face her at a book signing. Before he is able to reveal his identity, the girl already signs his book writing only two sentences: ‘Don’t worry. You’re not in it.’
Yet another time and space jump finds us in Paris, where Pari is already a grown woman. Her mother, Naila, keeps on demanding attention, often ending up in the emergency room and calling Pari to attend on her. While the last time we left them, the child seemed to fill the gap in her life, now Naila accuses her daughter of being nothing like her and not living up to her expectations. It is revealed that Pari lives with her mother’s ex-boyfriend, Julian, and that Nila enjoys moderate success due to her poetry. However, in the end she commits suicide. Pari suspects that she is adopted and is determined to return to Afghanistan and discover the truth. Her husband, Eric, is supportive but the birth of her first child gives her the grounding needed and she no longer feels the need to find her family. Two more children follow, she becomes a professor of mathematics at the Sorbonne and they live a happy life. Unfortunately, Eric dies from a stroke and Paris is forced to retire due to severe arthritis, her only source of support being her daughter Isabell and her grandchildren.
Going back to Afghanistan, we have Adel, the son of Commander Sahib, a jihadist. He is very proud of his father but their social position means that they are in danger of assassination and as such he is condemned to have a life of isolation and loneliness. One day, while his father is away, he escapes outside his home and meets Gholman, a boy around his age. As they become friends he discovers that Gholman’s father, Iqbar, brought his family back to the village from a refugee camp in Pakistan. He hoped to claim back his land from Adel’s father but his ownership contracts were destroyed by the authorities, supposedly by accident. Adel refuses to believe all this until, during a family dinner, Iqbar attacks the house and Commander Sahib sends his son upstairs while he deals with the intruder. The boy is left to reconcile the reality with the love he bears for his father.
Now is Dr Markos’ turn to tell the story of his youth which revolves around his mother, Odelia, and her childhood friend, Madeline. One summer, Madeline came to visit them with her daughter, Thalia, who was disfigured by a dog attack years ago. At first, her appearance scares Markos, but after she helps him take his first photo with a camera they build together, they become friends and that picture becomes his most prized possession, joining him in his tour of the world later in life. Meanwhile, Madeline, embarrassed by her daughter, abandons her and elopes with a movie director. Thalia remains in Odelia’s care and can finally renounce the mask she was wearing to cover her face for the sake of her mother as, in the end, Markos, Odelia and the islanders accept her for who she is. Markos grows up to be a photographer but during his time in India he falls ill and spends some time in the hospital, on the verge of death. When he recovers he volunteers at the same hospital and ultimately becomes a plastic surgeon and an aid worker in Kabul.
Finally, we have Abdullah who married and moved to America with his daughter, Pari. The young Pari is constrained by the Afghan culture her father imposes on her and feels lonely due to a lack of siblings. As such, she often fantasizes and talks to Pari, her namesake and her father’s long lost sister. In the end, Pari Wahdati contacts her – after receiving Nabi’s letter from Markos – and she travels to the states to be reunited with her brother. Unfortunately, Abdullah’s mental health has declined and he no longer recognizes his sister. Despite this, the now older Pari came at the right time to save her niece and convince her to follow her dreams and go to art school. In the end, both Paris are in Paris, and the young woman return the feather collection that belonged to the old Pari and was left behind by her brother before the dementia set in. As the aunt slowly falls asleep, her niece wishes her good dreams, of her and Abdullah as children in the village sleeping under the shade of a tree.