The Breadwinner

The Breadwinner Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13 – 15


Chapter thirteen opens with Parvana telling Nooria the next day at noon that she has never even met the man she is engaged to marry. It is the first chance they have to talk about it. Nooria says she knows him because their families were neighbors for years. Nooria says she’ll live in Mazar-e-Sharif, in the north, where there are no Taliban. Her fiancé’s parents will send her to university there. This information came in a letter. Nooria says she hates living under the Taliban. There’s no future for her in Kabul. In Mazar, she can have some kind of life.

A few days later Mother says they’ll go to Mazar and stay with an aunt for the wedding and then they’ll return to Kabul in October. Parvana doesn’t want to leave the city, thinking about her father still in jail. Parvana glowers for three days. Mother decides to leave her there while the rest of them leave because Parvana’s appearance will be too difficult to explain. Parvana is happy to stay, but not satisfied with the decision. She tells Shauzia she is not happy with anything. Shauzia commiserates: she thought making more money would make her happier, but it hasn’t. Shauzia suggests someone should drop a big bomb on the country to start it over again. Parvana says they tried that and it only made things worse.

One of the husbands from the women’s group volunteers to be the escort for the women traveling to Mazar. They would be traveling in the back of a truck. Parvana wanders the market looking for things to give her family for the trip. She buys a beaded pen case for Nooria. The night before they leave, Mother reminds Parvana they’ll be gone all summer. Mrs. Weera says she and Parvana will be good company for each other. Nooria and Mother leave with the little ones the next morning. Parvana jokes that Nooria will be back as soon as her new husband realizes how bossy she is.

Parvana adjusts to living with Mrs. Weera. Fewer people in the apartment mean fewer chores, but Parvana misses them, even Ali’s fussing. As weeks pass, she looks forward to her family’s return. However, she does make good use of her spare time, reading her father’s secret stash of books. Mrs. Weera trusts Parvana to mostly take care of herself. Parvana and Shauzia work all day, not coming home at noon. At the end of August, there is a bad rainstorm. Parvana waits it out in a bombed-out building. She finds a dry spot, hoping not to step on a landmine. She falls asleep, waking to see that the rain has stopped but the sky is still dark. She realizes it must be late. She hears the sound of a woman crying.

Chapter fourteen opens with a description of a startling sound—the crying of a woman, soft and sad. It’s too dark to see where the woman is sitting. Parvana strikes one of her matches from her tray and makes her way to the woman in the dark. The woman won’t speak, so Parvana reveals her name and that she is pretending to be a boy, in order to gain the woman's trust. She asks her to come with her. She strikes a match and sees the woman’s face, wondering where her burqa went. Parvana says she could borrow Mrs. Weera’s burqa and bring it back. Before she can leave, the frightened woman grabs her arm and won’t let go. She gives the woman fruit and nuts.

Parvana makes a new plan: she says they can wait until it’s very dark and then leave together. The woman nods. They wait for night to fall. After twenty years under curfew, there was no need for the street lights to have been repaired after bombings and burnouts. Parvana’s parents talked about how it used to be the hot spot of central Asia; they walked down streets at midnight; it had been a city of lights, progress and excitement. When it’s time to go, Parvana tries to be brave for the woman, and murmurs to herself that she is Malali, leading troops through enemy territory. They walk as silently as they can. They hide in a doorway when a truck of soldiers passes. They run once they make it to Parvana’s street. Mrs. Weera hugs Parvana and the woman before realizing who she is. Mrs. Weera cleans the young woman up and gets her some clean clothes. The woman looks less scared and more tired afterward.

The next night after supper the woman finally speaks. Her name is Homa, and she escaped Mazar just after the Taliban captured it. Parvana says that can’t be—her family is there. Homa confirms that the Taliban are there, going house to house in search of enemies. The soldiers shot her brother and father in the street, then her mother too after she started hitting them. Homa hid in a closet until they moved on to killing people at other houses. There were bodies all over the streets when she went outside. She ran from building to building. Wild dogs began eating bodies. She saw an arm carried in a dog’s mouth. She jumped in the back of an idling truck and hid among the bundles. When she finally got out she was in Kabul. She hid in the building where Parvana found her. Homa cries, saying she left her family in the street to be eaten by dogs. Mrs. Weera holds her. Homa cries until she collapses into sleep.

Parvana can’t move. All she can do is picture her family dead in Mazar. Mrs. Weera says there’s no evidence they’re not still alive; they mustn’t give up hope. Parvana stays on the toshak for two days, as her mother had. Shauzia shows up at the door. Mrs. Weera talks to her privately. Shauzia talks to Parvana about ordinary things for a while and then asks if she’ll come back to work, as she doesn’t like to work alone. Parvana gets out of bed and resumes her life as before. She gets to know Homa, who now lives with them. Late one afternoon she arrives home to see two men helping her father up the stairs. He is alive; at least that part of the nightmare is over.

Chapter fifteen opens with Parvana reflecting on how her father is barely recognizable: his white shalwar kameez is gray and tattered, his face drawn and pale. The men say they found him outside the prison. He’d been released by the Taliban, but he was too weak to move. The men were kind enough to bring him home. Gradually Mrs. Weera and Parvana return him to health. He was badly beaten in prison and his bandages needed to be changed often. One day Parvana comes home from work to find Homa and her father conversing in English, which Homa can speak with hesitation.

With this area of her life repaired, Parvana is filled with hope. She chases after customers in the market like the real boys do. Shauzia says she is working harder too: she doesn’t want to be married, as her grandfather is planning. If she leaves, maybe she’ll have a chance. One day Mrs. Weera has a visitor who has come from Mazar. Father tells Parvana about the visit, passing on the information that people have fled the city and are staying in refugee camps. It’s possible Mother is at one of them. They decide to travel there as soon as they can arrange transport, hopefully in a couple of weeks. Parvana finally asks her father why he was released: he says he doesn’t even know why he was arrested, and so how could he know why he was freed. With confidence, Parvana says they’ll find their family and bring them home.

Mrs. Weera decides to go to Pakistan and bring Homa there, where they would link up with members of her women’s group. Parvana suggests they could take Shauzia with them. Mrs. Weera is shocked that Shauzia would desert her family just because life is rough in Kabul. Parvana is torn: both Mrs. Weera and Shauzia are right, and she can’t decide who is more right. A few days before they are scheduled to leave for Mazar, Parvana is at the market when a tiny camel made of beads lands on her head; it is from the women in the window. She wants to jump and dance, having confirmation the woman is still there. Instead, she thinks of a way to say goodbye. She digs up wildflowers from a bombed-out ruin and goes back to her spot in the market, digging up the hard soil. She wants to plant them there so the woman will know she isn’t coming back.

People crowd around to criticize the plan until a man encourages Parvana’s efforts, saying Afghans love beautiful things. He tells a tea boy to get some water for the flowers. Though the flowers wilt as if dead, he pats the earth and tells Parvana the roots are strong. Parvana waves a quick goodbye at the window. She thinks she sees someone wave back. Two days later the family is ready to leave. They plan to travel by truck. Mrs. Weera shows the copies of her mother’s magazines that have arrived from Pakistan. She says to tell Mother that they need her to work on the next beautiful issue. Parvana hugs Mrs. Weera and Homa in their burqas.

Before the truck pulls away Shauzia arrives and hands Parvana a bag of dried apricots. Shauzia says she met some nomads willing to take her to Pakistan as a shepherd. Parvana panics and asks how they’ll keep in touch. Shauzia says they’ll meet on the first day of spring in twenty years from then, at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They wave to each other as the truck rolls away. Parvana wonders what will happen in the next twenty years. Will Afghanistan have peace? The future stretches out unknown. She looks forward to it. She settles in next to her father and rolls a sweet apricot in her mouth. Through the dusty front windshield, she can see the snowy peak of a distant mountain sparkling in the sun; it's the mountain that, years earlier, her father had called Mount Parvana.


Chapter thirteen explains the context in which Nooria arranged, through letters, to marry a man who used to be their neighbor. Parvana is incensed to have been left out of the conversation, and angry that Nooria is giving up on her ambition to be a teacher, but Nooria is able to convince Parvana that marriage is her only ticket out of Kabul. Up north in Mazar, she can return to university.

As the family prepares to leave Parvana and Mrs. Weera in Kabul and travel to Mazar for the wedding, Shauzia and Parvana discuss their unhappiness. Shauzia’s drive for money has not satisfied her in the way she’d anticipated; she reveals her fatalism, suggesting someone should drop a bomb on the country to start from scratch. The dull, glum atmosphere lingers after Parvana’s family heads to Mazar, leaving Parvana and Mrs. Weera alone in the apartment. However, Parvana suddenly finds herself in a situation of having to help a traumatized woman she finds hiding in the shadows of a bombed-out building.

While Parvana is successful in bringing Homa, who doesn’t have a burqa, back to the apartment, Homa is unable to speak until the following night. Homa reveals that her family in Mazar was executed in the street by the Taliban. This news sends Parvana into a spiral of worry; she is unable to avoid picturing her family, with whom she can’t get in touch, dead in Mazar. Mrs. Weera insists there’s no reason to think this: as long as there’s no news, Parvana may as well assume her family is alive.

In the midst of her panic, Parvana receives an unexpected piece of good news: her father is back from prison. Though the experience has visibly aged and traumatized him, he has retained his dignity, symbolized by his tattered but intact white shalwar kameez. Parvana is filled with hope after being reunited with her father. Once he restores his health, Father decides they must travel to Mazar to see if the rest of the family has wound up in a refugee camp outside the city.

The last chapter sees Parvana tying up the loose ends in her life in Kabul. At the spot in the market where she once put her blanket, she replants a bunch of wildflowers in the hopes the woman behind the painted window will understand this means she has left. The flowers, which appear wilted but retain strong roots, symbolize Parvana’s and the Afghan people’s resilient spirit. The novel ends with a number of open ends for the characters: Shauzia will travel out of the city with nomads, Mrs. Weera and Homa will resettle in Pakistan, Parvana and her father will attempt to find their family. But despite the immense uncertainty in her future, Parvana looks forward to the unknown, having faith she will see her country returned to peace one day.