The year is 2000, and the national drought has gotten worse, and people become nomads looking for water. Aziza insists that the family "play Titanic" repeatedly. The movie is sweeping through Kabul through smuggled copies. Soon all kinds of products sold in Kabul are named after the movie. Laila speculates that everyone attached themselves to the movie because they wanted to be rescued from their current awful situations in Afghanistan.
Rasheed's store burns down in a fire, so they have to sell everything that they could spare to make ends meet. Rasheed is home during the day, because he got fired from working at two local restaurants. Laila harasses Rasheed about why he got fired, and Rasheed beats her, saying she would make him kill her. Food is running out, and the family is forced to skip meals often. Rasheed steals food when he can, but the family begins to realize that they might starve.
Mariam has a plan to save the family from hunger. She and Rasheed go to the Intercontinental Hotel. At the hotel, they see many men in turbans armed with guns. Rasheed says that these are the Islamists using the Taliban as puppets. During their visit to the hotel, Mariam realizes that the doorman looks familiar, but at the time she can't place him.
Rasheed and Mariam use a phone to call Jalil. Mariam reflects upon when Jalil came to see her in Kabul but she would only glance at him through a window. Mariam asks the operator in Herat for Jalil, but Mariam learns that Jalil had died in 1987.
In 2001, Ahmad Shah Massoud goes to speak with the European Parliament to get support for an opposition alliance against the Taliban. He warns Europe of the terrorists and asked for their support. Laila learns that the Taliban had destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas and the world took notice after this destruction.
Rasheed, Laila, Mariam, Aziza, and Zalmai leave Kabul for Karteh-Seh. They are dropping Aziza off at what they tells her is a "special school", but in reality it is an orphanage that is in bad shape. Laila and Mariam promise that they would visit Aziza. The orphanage is led by a kind man named Zaman. Laila tells him that she is ashamed to leave her child in an orphanage, but Zaman understands. When Laila and Mariam leave Aziza, they try to be calm, but Aziza yells and panics.
In the beginning of Aziza's stay at the orphanage, Rasheed walks Mariam, Laila, and Zalmai to the orphanage to visit for 15 minutes. Sometimes, Rasheed starts walking and forces all of them to turn around because he does not want to walk. Then Rasheed begins refusing to go at all, so Laila attempts to walk alone. She is often beaten by Taliban members. However, she feels that the pain is worth it to spend time with Aziza. Aziza tells Laila that Zaman teaches them new things in secret every day.
Rasheed takes the family to the orphanage. Aziza demonstrates what she has learned. Zalmai would always ask if Aziza is coming home at the end of every visit. Aziza tries to comfort Laila and Mariam about the conditions at the orphanage, but Aziza begins to develop a stammer, which worries Laila.
Rasheed has begun work at the hotel and at times is able to bring home food. The family picks up Aziza and goes on an outing into Kabul. Rasheed lets Aziza pick a toy, but makes her put it back because he could not afford to buy both the gift for her and the gift for Zalmai. As they leave the orphanage, Laila suspects that the stammer might be indicative of something deeper.
When they return home, they see a man leaning against the door of their house. Laila recognizes it as Tariq, and she runs toward him. Mariam watches Zalmai while Laila visits with Tariq. He cries until Laila comes home to coddle him. Mariam then recalls that the doorman at the Intercontinental Hotel had looked familiar because he is the man that posed as Abdul Sharif and told Laila that Tariq had died. Mariam wonders how much Rasheed must have paid the man to lie to Laila.
When Tariq arrives, Laila throws her arms around him and cries. He tells her stories of his time in Pakistan. Laila is ashamed of her looks and her missing tooth. Tariq has aged as well, lost a tooth, and lost some hair.
Tariq says that his parents had died, and Laila shares news that hers have died as well. Tariq had lived in the foothills of Pir Panjul in Pakistan. Before that, he spent time in a refugee camp. He speaks of hunger, disease, the death of his father, and the pneumonia caught by his mother. He describes how he had to threaten a child in order to get a blanket for his mother. Tariq had tried to find work, but had difficulty doing so because of his missing leg. Once he was hired to transport a coat to another city, despite his suspicion that he would actually be smuggling drugs. The police cut the coat open and found hashish inside. Tariq was sent to prison.
In prison, Tariq met and befriended an older man named Salim who had connections to the outside world. Tariq learned of his mother's death while in prison. Upon Tariq leaving prison, Salim gave him his brother's address for a small hotel in order that for Tariq to have a place to stay. Salim's brother Sayeed hired Tariq as a handyman and a janitor. Sayeed is kind to Tariq, put him up in a shack behind the hotel, fitted him for a new leg, and bought him a coat. When Tariq had enough money, he bought his goat, Alyona.
Laila loves when Tariq speaks, but she does not want to tell him about her life. Tariq tells Laila that in prison he had learned to speak Urdu, and that he wrote to her often in the seven years he spent incarcerated. Laila eventually divulges everything to Tariq. She tells him how she thought he had died, got scared, and married Rasheed. She tells Tariq about Aziza. Tariq does not blame Laila for marrying. Tariq says that he wants to meet Aziza, and Laila says she would arrange a meeting.
Laila wonders what Tariq thinks of her now. When Laila is with Tariq, she feels as if nothing had changed between them since they had been together. Tariq realizes that Rasheed has beaten Laila, and he tells Laila that he wished he had taken her with him. Tariq apologizes for barging into her life, and he says he would leave if she wanted. Laila begs Tariq to stay, and they set up a time to visit Aziza.
Tariq tells Laila that he is not scared of Rasheed, and though Laila does not know what the future will hold, she becomes hopeful. Throughout Tariq's and Laila's visits, Zalmai tells Rasheed about "mommy's new friend". Rasheed figures out that Tariq is visiting Laila, and she accuses him of lying. Rasheed reminds Laila that she had also lied about who Aziza's father is. Rasheed calls Laila a whore.
Zalmai tells Rasheed that Laila lets Tariq see her face. He would cry every time Tariq came to visit, out of respect for Rasheed. Rasheed would question Zalmai about Laila's talks with Tariq. After hearing about Laila's talks with Tariq, Rasheed sends Zalmai upstairs. Mariam tries to stop Rasheed, but he beats Laila. Laila tries to fight back, and Mariam is yelling at Rasheed and trying to block his blows. Then, Rasheed beats Mariam.
Laila takes glass and cuts Rasheed's cheek. They fight, and Mariam tries to help Laila. Rasheed tries to suffocate Laila, and she begins to turn blue. Mariam hits Rasheed with a shovel. She calls his name to assure that he watches her beat him. Mariam thinks he appears regretful for a second, but then he looks as if he is about to strike back. Mariam strikes him with the shovel again, as hard as she can.
The infiltration of the Titanic phenomenon into Kabul serves as a reminder to the reader that the events of the novel are not taking place in an archaic setting, but rather in a time close to the present. Additionally, the movie appears like a symbol for a nation that is sinking, and those inside it are just doing whatever they can to hold on to what they have.
Mariam's attempt to contact Jalil for money offers significant revelations about her character. First of all, she is willing to swallow her pride in order to assist the lives of Laila and the children, and has shown a selfless but loving nature. Mariam does not exhibit shame in asking for money, but she does seem shameful that she did not hear Jalil out when he came to visit her in Kabul.
The solution provided for the family’s poverty (to send Aziza away) is evidence that she is the most expendable member of her family. Aziza’s strength throughout the whole ordeal allows her to do her best to assure Mariam and Laila that her life in the orphanage is fine. Zaman becomes the first male character in the novel since Hakim to place an emphasis on the education of girls.
Aziza develops a stammer which suggests her suffering and internal pain. Though it seems as if she is well taken care of within the orphanage walls, it must be difficult to acknowledge that her parents were willing to send her out of the house. Additionally, though she may be be better off in the orphanage than she might have been in the house, all of Afghanistan is suffering and her fate is no different regardless of where she remains.
Tariq’s return to Laila suggests that their true love has not faded, despite the fact that years have passed while they were apart. Additionally, the two love each other regardless of their ragged appearances. Tariq is loyal and understanding of Laila’s marital and child-bearing situation. The amount of tolerance and patience they have for each other displays how much unconditional love they both share.
Rasheed’s final attempt to subordinate his wives comes as a result of him learning about Laila's time spent with Tariq. His rage is certainly not born out of lost love, but rather that he has been shamed. Something of his has been taken by another man. The struggle between Laila and Rasheed ends in poetic justice with his murder by Mariam. Mariam was the first woman that the reader witnesses Rasheed torture, and she endured the longest span of abuse.