The narrative switches to a series of letters written by Hasina, covering the period from May 1988 to January 2001. Hasina updates her sister on her life: she moved to a new neighborhood along with Mr. Chowdhury, and he secured a job for her at a garment factory. Although she has to work hard, Hasina enjoys the independence and also makes friends with the other female workers. Through her observations, readers learn that Chanu is having difficulty finding work he enjoys and is changing jobs frequently. Hasina suggests that Nazneen could even consider working herself. Despite criticisms and disapproval from the local community, Hasina takes pride in her work. In one letter, Hasina writes that their mother was unhappy because their father was unfaithful and wanted to take other wives. Amma even threatened to kill herself at times.
By 1990, Nazneen has given birth to a baby girl. Hasina has encountered problems because false rumors have started that she is having an affair with Mr. Chowdhury in exchange for cheap rent. As a result, she is shunned and bullied by the other women at the factory. Eventually, she is fired due to claims she is behaving inappropriately with a young man who works at the factory. Despite the injustice, Hasina remains hopeful and grateful for help from Mr. Chowdhury. However, one night Mr. Chowdhury comes to her room and rapes her. Hasina rejects her sister's offer to send money, since she knows Nazneen needs the money, especially after giving birth to a second daughter. Nonetheless, an inability to find more factory work and fears that Mr. Chowdhury will tire of her drives Hasina to prostitution.
After several years of working as a prostitute, Hasina unexpectedly receives a marriage proposal from one of her clients, an albino man named Ahmed. Although she hesitates, Hasina eventually agrees. She moves in with Ahmed and begins to live as a housewife, focused on creating a good domestic life for her husband. However, this marriage eventually also becomes abusive, and Hasina flees. After a long interval, she writes to her sister in early 2001 to explain that she has been able to secure work as a domestic maid for a wealthy family in Dhaka.
Nazneen's narrative resumes in London in February 2001. She and Chanu still live in the same flat with their two daughters, Shahana and Bibi. Shahana is rebellious and defiant, and she and Chanu often fight and argue. Concerned by his daughter's behavior, Chanu has begun to talk about returning to Bangladesh. Nazneen is interested in this idea because she worries desperately about Hasina, and would like to be reunited with her sister.
Since the family is struggling to save enough money to cover the costs of the move, Nazneen suggests she could take on work sewing clothes, as Razia has done. Razia is working very hard but takes pride in being able to support her son and daughter, who are now adolescents. Chanu finally agrees, and buys a sewing machine, which Nazneen sets up in the flat.
The financial situation becomes increasingly urgent when Nazneen realizes that Chanu has borrowed money from Mrs. Islam, and that she is becoming impatient about being paid back. Chanu has been struggling to find steady work, and has lost most of his ambition to succeed in London. Instead, he focuses his ambitions on returning to his home country so that his daughters can grow up with a sense of pride. He does become very involved in his wife's sewing work, bringing her items of clothing and managing her earnings.
However, about two months after Nazneen starts sewing, Chanu gets work driving a taxi cab. Since he is no longer available to deliver clothes to her as a "middleman," a young man named Karim starts to come to the flat.
In the aftermath of Nazneen's loss, the narrative switches to Hasina's perspective. This device allows the reader to still learn about the major events in Nazneen's life, since Hasina comments on news such as the births of her nieces and Chanu's career transitions. However, the different focus shows the unique obstacles and challenges Hasina has to face. While Bengali immigrant women like Nazneen and Razia undoubtedly face unhappiness and loss, they have a stable community structure and a base level of economic security. Hasina, on the other hand, is a woman alone and totally reliant on herself. Individuals such as Mr. Chowdhury and the women at the factory may seem like allies, but they can turn on her at any point. Hasina has to trust and hope for the best, but she is continually faced with betrayals and disappointments that put her very life at risk.
Hasina's descent into a life of prostitution damages her perception of herself as a virtuous woman of personal integrity. Even though she has no other option to keep herself alive, Hasina feels deep shame about her lifestyle. She rejects Ahmed's proposal because she does not think she deserves to have her own home and live like a respectable woman. When Hasina does marry Ahmed, she tries very hard to be an ideal wife and live up to all expectations. Yet again, a male character is shown to be disappointing and untrustworthy. Even though Hasina does everything she can to make Ahmed happy, he becomes abusive towards her and she has to flee into precarity yet again. Whether in London or in Dhaka, a pattern emerges of women ultimately being unable to rely on men as a source of support or security. Hasina's previous life equips her with a self-confidence and a self-reliance to stand up for herself, and try for a fresh start.
Meanwhile, in London, expectations around female independence and autonomy are playing out both for Nazneen and her young daughters. As second-generation immigrants, Bibi and especially Shahana don't feel the same connection to Bangladesh or to traditional Muslim values. Bibi is more docile, creating a parallel between how Nazneen and Hasina responded very differently to family expectations. Not unlike her aunt, Shahana openly challenges her father's authority, which enrages Chanu. It is worth noting, however, that while Chanu makes many dramatic threats, he never hurts Shahana and seems to feel deep tenderness towards his daughters. Similar to how Chanu aspires to be a powerful career man but lacks the intelligence and will to execute this vision, he seems to aspire to be a fierce authority figure without actually being able to follow through.
In the years after the death of their son, Chanu and Nazneen seem to have suffered in different ways. Nazneen has thrown herself into nurturing her daughters and creating a stable home life for them, but Chanu has lost his purpose and ambition. He increasingly feels like it is hopeless for him to try and find a happy life in England and fantasizes about returning to Bangladesh. For a man who once nurtured the dreams Chanu held, this resignation shows just how crushing life as a struggling immigrant can be. Moreover, Chanu is increasingly attuned to the racist and anti-immigrant sentiments around him and worries about how this culture will impact his children. As a man steeped in pride in the literature and history of his home country, Chanu cannot bear the idea of his daughters growing up and not taking pride in their cultural heritage.
Chanu's new plan gives him a momentum and project to devote himself to. It also makes him flexible about ideas he would not previously have considered. Up until this point, he has firmly rejected the idea of Nazneen working, and he has also prioritized white-collar jobs for himself. However, the financial incentive opens up new roles for both of them. Chanu is driven by the bitter realization that he doesn't seem to fit in anywhere and cannot find a community to take pride in. As Lydia Roupakia explains, "Chanu not only feels embarrassed by fellow Muslims, but he also feels misrepresented by the English and misunderstood by his daughters" (pg. 650).