In 1952 a poor Afghan family - Saboor, his second wife Parwana, his son Abdullah, 10, and daughter Pari, 3 are in dire straits in the town of Shadbagh, Afghanistan. Having recently lost a baby to the frigid Afghan winter Saboor decides to sell Pari to the Wahdatis - a wealthy childless couple in Kabul - to provide a better life for his family. This sets up the baseline for the story that reverberates down through multiple characters and generations.....which the author relates almost as series of short stories.
In one story line we learn that Parwana's brother Nabi, chauffeur and houseman to the Wahdatis, brokered the sale of Pari, a deed that haunts him for the rest of his life. His motive, apparently, is his infatuation with Nila (Mrs. Wahdati) - who is unable to have children. Soon enough Mr. Wahdati becomes ill and Nila takes off for France with Pari. Nabi, an indispensable aide to Mr. Wahdati, is left to take care of his employer and eventually friend.
In another section the author tells the story of Nila and a grown up Pari living in Paris. Nila is a poet whose writing scandalizes traditonal Afghans, and Pari is a talented student studying advanced mathematics. The relationship between Nali and Pari, as can happen with mothers and daughters, is sometimes difficult - and romance only adds to the tension. I was especially struck by this story line, musing that Pari's life was exponentially different (and better in my opinion) than it would have been with her birth family. Does this justify selling a child? Probably room for debate there.
Other chapters are equally engaging. We find out that Saboor's second wife Parwana has a terrible secret of her own; that Saboor and Parwana's grandchildren become refugees when Shadbagh is taken over by Afghani war criminals; that a grown-up Abdullah eventually emigrates to America with his wife and daughter, also named Pari. Especially poignant are two separate stories of young girls with disfigured faces, one due to a dog bite, the other caused by a horrendous family tragedy. Both girls profoundly affect the people in their lives. All these stories, and a number of others, are illuminating and engaging; they also provide a glimpse of Afghan culture that many people are not familiar with.
The book comes full circle when Pari, who has no memory of the event, learns of the circumstances of her adoption - and realizes why she has always felt that something was missing in her life.
This is a wonderfully written book, well-worth reading. Highly recommended.