“It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have” (19).
Betrayed by Jalil, Nana seeks to instill her distrust and bitterness toward men in her daughter. Nana exposes Mariam to the harsh reality of life and in the process, alienates her. Nana disguises her love for Mariam in bitter language, informing her, “This is my reward for everything I’ve endured. A heirloom-breaking clumsy little harami” (4). Mariam resents Nana’s derogatory attitude toward her father, whom she adores. Although Nana bitterly attempts to drive Mariam away from her father and convince her that Jalil’s gifts and affection are merely a form of penance, she only succeeds in driving them closer together. By forcing Mariam to choose between them, Nana loses the only person she has ever loved.
However, Nana's influence will be long-lasting as her suicide leaves Mariam with consuming guilt. Many years will pass before Mariam comes to terms with her mother’s actions: “Nana, who could have given her away, or tossed her in a ditch somewhere and ran. But she hadn’t. Instead Nana had endured the shame of bearing a harami, had shaped her life around the thankless task of raising Mariam, and in her own way, of loving her” (287). Finally recognizing Nana’s love, Mariam wishes she had been a better daughter; yet, her realization also brings forgiveness, both for Nana and herself.
“Perhaps this is just punishment for those who have been heartless, to understand only when nothing can be done” (406).
A prosperous business owner, Jalil is shamed by the birth of Mariam, his illegitimate child with his housekeeper. Instead of facing the consequences, he succumbs to the wishes of his wives and distances himself from Mariam as a guilty secret. Visiting once a week with gifts and affection, he assuages his guilt and wins the heart of his young daughter. As she grows older, Mariam continues to note the difference between how Jalil treats her and how he treats her legitimate half-siblings. After years of longing to be incoporated into his household, Mariam travels alone to Jalil’s house. However, she is quickly disillusioned by her father, who refuses her admittance and makes her sleep outside overnight before forcing her to return home. The ultimate betrayal comes when he marries her off to a middle-aged man without her consent, leading her to declare: “Don’t come. I don’t want to hear from you. Ever” (50). True to her word, Mariam never sees him again. Just as she eventually forgives her mother, she also reconciles herself to her father's actions. Meanwhile, Jalil suffers as he finally realizes the consequences of his actions. He longs for the daughter he never acknowledged and realizes that he has sacrificed his happiness for “fear of losing face” and “staining my so-called name” (405).