For boys in Kabul, winter is the best time of year. The schools close for the icy season, and boys spend this time flying kites. Baba takes Amir and Hassan to buy kites from an old blind man who makes the best in the city. The highlight of the winter is the annual kite-fighting tournament, when boys battle kites by covering the strings in broken glass. When a string is cut, the losing kite flies loose, and boys called kite runners chase the kite across the city until it falls. The last fallen kite of the tournament is a trophy of honor. Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul, and seems to know exactly where a kite will land before it comes down.
Summary: Chapter 7
In the winter of that year, 1975, the tournament is held in Amir’s neighborhood. Usually each neighborhood has its own competition, but the nearby districts will compete together this time. A few days before the tournament, Baba casually tells Amir he may win. An overwhelming desire to win seizes Amir as Amir thinks this will earn him Baba’s approval. The day of the competition comes. The tournament lasts all day, and Amir is doing well. He can see Baba sitting on a rooftop, watching. Eventually all that remain are Amir’s kite and one other, a blue kite. They battle and Amir wins, sending the blue kite flying loose. Amir and Hassan cheer and hug, but Amir sees Baba motioning for them to separate. Hassan vows to bring the kite back for Amir and sets off.
Amir reels in his kite and accepts everyone’s congratulations, then goes looking for Hassan, asking neighbors if they saw him. One old merchant asks Amir what he is doing looking for a Hazara. Amir replies that the Hazara is the son of his father’s servant. The old man looks at him distrustfully, but finally tells Amir he saw the Hazara going south. He adds that the boys chasing him have probably caught him by now. Amir searches the neighborhood until he comes to an alleyway. Hassan has the blue kite, and he is surrounded by Assef and the two other boys that are always with him, Kamal and Wali. Amir watches from around the corner. Assef tells Hassan they will let him go only if he hands over the kite. Hassan refuses. He ran the kite fairly, and it belongs to Amir. Assef says Amir would not be as loyal to him, an ugly pet Hazara. Hassan is not shaken. He says he and Amir are friends. Assef and the other boys charge Hassan. Amir almost says something, but ultimately he only watches.
Amir remembers something. He and Hassan fed from the same breast, that of a Hazara woman named Sakina. He recalls going to a fortune teller with Hassan. They each give the fortune teller money. The man looks at Hassan. After a moment he puts the money back in Hassan’s hand. Then Amir thinks of a dream: he is lost in a snowstorm until a familiar shape appears before him. Suddenly the snow is gone. The sky is blue and filled with kites. Amir looks down the alley where Assef and the others have Hassan pinned to the ground without his pants. Wali says his father believes what they are considering doing to Hassan is sinful, but Assef says he is only a Hazara. The boys refuse, but agree to hold Hassan down. Assef raises Hassan’s bare rear end into the air and takes down his own pants. Amir debates doing something, but instead runs away. Fifteen minutes later Amir sees Hassan coming toward him. He pretends he was looking for Hassan, who is crying and bleeding. He hands Amir the kite and neither boy speaks about what happened. When they arrive home, Baba hugs Amir, who presses his face into Baba’s chest and weeps.
Many of the tensions that have been building till now, such as the treatment of Hazaras by Pashtuns, Amir’s desperation to please his father, and the question of whether he can stand up for what is right, come together in the events of this section. The central event is Hassan’s rape, and it will be the catalyst that propels the rest of the novel forward. This event is the source of the guilt Amir feels as an adult, and it is why why the image of the alleyway, the place where Hassan was raped while he stood by and watched, stays with him. Hassan, we are led to infer, is the kite runner of the book’s title, and Amir tells us the story both as a confession and an act of penance. He wants to atone for his sins, and in fact atonement will become a major theme. Two other important themes also converge in the single image of Amir struggling with the decision to intervene while Assef, a rich Pashtun boy with a powerful father, rapes Hassan, a poor Hazara. This image conveys the challenge and importance of doing what is right, and the rape of Afghanistan’s powerless by those who have power.
In terms of Amir’s character growth, his desperation to please his father, which we have witnessed throughout the story, plays a significant part in the causing the events of the section. Although Amir feels paralyzed by fear when he sees what is happening, he admits that his main reason for not intervening is selfish. When Baba was a boy, he won the kite-fighting tournament. Though Amir had always done well in the competition, even making it to the final three once, he had never won. To finally please Baba, Amir feels he must show Baba he is like him by winning the tournament and bringing home the kite of his final opponent. Only then will Baba forgive Amir for killing the woman who was Baba’s wife and Amir’s mother. Amir does not stop Assef from raping Hassan first and foremost because he wants the kite to bring to Baba, and Hassan is the price he has to pay.
Amir describes Hassan, as Hassan is about to be raped, as having a look that he recognized. It is the way the lamb looks as it is about to be sacrificed for the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha, or Eid-e-Qorban, as Afghans call it (in English it is called The Feast of the Sacrifice). The sacrifice of the lamb is meant to celebrate the faith of the prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham as he is called in the West, who was willing to kill his son for God, but who was stopped at the last minute. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all, in fact, share the symbol of the sacrificial lamb. In Christianity, for instance, Jesus, whom Christians believe died as a sacrifice in order to secure humankind’s redemption, is sometimes referred to as the lamb. In this situation, Hassan becomes the lamb and Amir holds the knife.
A terrible irony exists in the fact that Amir allows his friend to be raped in exchange for a prize that he believes will earn him Baba’s love. Baba’s greatest concern regarding Amir is that he will grow up to be a man who can’t stand up for what is right, evident in what he said to Rahim Khan earlier in the novel. If Amir had stood up for Hassan but lost the kite in the process, he still could have proved that he has the courage to do the right thing even when it is frightening or dangerous to do so. Perhaps more than he could have by any other action, he would have shown Baba that he is like him. Instead, he runs away because he wants the kite to please Baba, inadvertently doing exactly the opposite of what Baba would want. As the adult Amir narrates his story, he seems to be aware of the irony of his own history, and he even hints at it earlier in the novel, when he describes Rahim Khan telling him that his understanding of irony is clear from his story about the man who cries pearls.
Summary: Chapter 8
After the rape, Amir and Hassan spend less time together. Baba and Amir take a trip to Jalalabad and stay at the house of Baba’s cousin. When they arrive they have a large traditional Afghan dinner. Baba proudly tells everyone about the kite tournament, but Amir does not enjoy it. After dinner, they all lie down to bed in the same room, but Amir cannot sleep. He says aloud that he watched Hassan get raped, but nobody is awake to hear him. He says this is the night he became an insomniac. When Amir and Baba return home, Hassan asks Amir if he wants to walk up the hill with him. They walk in silence, and when Hassan asks if Amir will read to him, Amir changes his mind and wants to go home.
Amir continues not to play with Hassan. When Hassan asks Amir what he did wrong, Amir tells Hassan to stop harassing him. After that, the boys avoid each other. One day, Amir asks Baba if he would ever get new servants. Baba becomes furious and says that he will never replace Ali and Hassan. With the start of school, Amir spends hours alone in his room. One afternoon he asks Hassan to walk up the hill with him so he can read him a story. They sit under a pomegranate tree, and Amir asks Hassan what he would do if he threw a pomegranate at him. Amir begins pelting Hassan with pomegranates and yells at Hassan to hit him back. But Hassan won’t. He crushes a pomegranate against his own forehead, asks Amir if he is satisfied, and leaves.
That summer of 1976, Amir turns thirteen. Baba invites more than 400 people to the party he plans. At the party Baba makes Amir greet each guest personally. Assef arrives and acts politely as he jokes with Baba. He tells Amir that he chose the gift himself. Amir cannot hide his discomfort, embarrassing Baba and forcing him to apologize. Once Amir is alone he opens the gift, a biography of Hitler, which he throws away. As Amir sits in the dark, Rahim Khan shows up and starts chatting with him, sharing that he was almost married once. The girl was a Hazara. They would meet secretly at night and imagine a life together. But when Rahim Khan told his father, his father became enraged and sent the girl and her family away. Rahim Khan says it was for the best. His family’s rejection of her would have been too painful in the long run. He tells Amir he is always there to listen, then gives him a leather-bound notebook for his stories. Fireworks begin, and the two rush back to the house, where Amir sees Hassan serving drinks to Assef and Wali.
Summary: Chapter 9
The next morning Amir opens his presents. He thinks to himself that either he or Hassan must leave. As he is going out later, Ali stops him and gives him his present. It is a new version of “Shahnamah,” the book of stories Amir would read to Hassan. The morning after, Amir waits for Hassan and Ali to leave. He takes his birthday money and a watch that Baba gave him and puts them under Hassan’s mattress. He tells Baba that Hassan stole them, and when Ali and Hassan return, Baba asks Hassan if he stole the money and the watch. To Amir’s surprise, Hassan says he did. Amir realizes Hassan saw him in the alley, and he knew also that Amir was setting him up now. Baba forgives Hassan, but Ali says they must leave. Baba pleads with him to stay, but Ali refuses. It rains when Ali and Hassan leave, and Amir watches from inside as they go.
Further ironies stemming from Amir’s sacrifice of Hassan come to light in this section. Most notably, Amir allowed Hassan to be raped in part because he thought bringing home the kite would win him Baba’s love, relieving him of his guilt over his mother’s death and making him happy. To some degree he is correct, at least initially. Baba spends more of his time with him, invites him out to a movie when it was always Amir who had to ask, brags about his victory in the kite tournament, and organizes a large party for his birthday. But Amir is unable to fully enjoy it. He is so consumed by a different guilt—guilt over his inaction during Hassan’s rape—that he is constantly miserable. During the trip to Jalalabad, he tries to rid himself of this weight. While everyone is sleeping, he says aloud that he saw Hassan raped, hoping someone will hear him. But no one does, and Amir recognizes that his curse is getting away with it. What’s more, when he asks Baba if he would ever consider new servants, Baba is so upset he tells Amir that he is ashamed of him. A similar event occurs at Amir’s birthday party, when Baba is embarrassed by Amir’s rudeness toward Assef. In other words, Amir’s guilt leads him to do things that result in a loss of Baba’s approval. Rather than gain everything he wants, Amir loses the happiness he had.
Amir does not know how to deal with his feelings of guilt and unhappiness after Hassan’s rape. At first he tries to keep away from Hassan, who becomes a constant reminder to Amir of his own cowardice and selfishness. He seems to think avoiding Hassan means he won’t feel these things any longer. But Hassan is a part of the household, so Amir can never escape him completely. When the two are face-to-face, Amir wishes Hassan would punish him. He pelts Hassan with the pomegranates, for instance, because he wants Hassan to hit him back. Punishment, Amir feels, would at least begin to make up for the way he wronged Hassan. Hassan, however, will not retaliate, and this becomes the greatest torment for Amir. Hassan proves his love and loyalty to Amir are unshakable, whereas Amir proves that his love and loyalty are weak. One of Amir’s constant fears is realized: Hassan emerges as the stronger, better person. Amir cannot tolerate this truth and engineers a plan to make Ali and Hassan leave. Yet his guilt is only heightened when Hassan admits to stealing the money and watch. Amir recognizes that Hassan is sacrificing himself again, despite knowing that Amir did not do the same for him when he was raped.
There are also more examples in this section of the injustices against Hazaras. When Rahim Khan’s father becomes angry because Rahim Khan wants to marry a Hazara woman, he resolves the problem not by moving his own family, but by sending away the Hazara woman and her family. Similarly, to resolve the tension between Hassan and Amir, Ali decides that they will leave. Both the Hazara family from Rahim Khan’s story and Ali and Hassan go to Hazarajat, an isolated, mountainous region in central Afghanistan that is principally inhabited by Hazaras. But perhaps the most poignant image of the injustice toward Hazaras is the moment Amir witnesses Hassan serving drinks to Assef and Wali from a silver platter. Hassan cannot do anything about the rape because of his inferior status as a poor Hazara, and Assef, whose family is rich and powerful, knows it. Hassan dutifully serves Assef, the boy who raped him, and Assef expresses no remorse or shame during the encounter. Instead, he grins at Hassan and kneads him in the chest tauntingly with his knuckle.
Summary: Chapter 10
It is March 1981. Amir and Baba are in the back of a truck with several other Afghans on the way to Pakistan. The ride makes Amir sick, and he worries he is embarrassing Baba. Because they can’t trust anyone, they left home in the middle of the night. The rafiqs, or comrades as Amir calls them, have divided society. People turn each other in for money or under threat. The truck driver, Karim, has a business arrangement with the soldiers guarding the road. But when they arrive at the checkpoint, the Russian guard eyes a woman in the truck and says the price of passing is half an hour with her. Baba won’t allow it. The Russian threatens to shoot Baba and raises his handgun, but another Russian officer stops him. After they pass the checkpoint, the husband of the woman kisses Baba’s hand. When they arrive in Jalalabad, where they are to switch trucks, Karim tells them the truck they need broke last week. Baba becomes enraged and attacks Karim for not telling them earlier.
For a week they stay in a basement with other refugees. Amir recognizes Kamal, who looks sickly and depressed, and Kamal’s father. Amir overhears Kamal’s father telling Baba what happened to Kamal that made him so weak. Four men caught Kamal out, and when he came back to his father he was bleeding “down there” (p. 120). Kamal no longer speaks, just stares. Finally Kamir finds a truck to take them to Pakistan. It’s a fuel truck, and the air inside is thick with fumes, making it difficult to breathe. They arrive in Pakistan, but once they’re out of the truck Kamal’s father begins screaming. Kamal has stopped breathing. Kamal’s father attacks Karim, wrestling Karim’s gun away. Before anyone can act, Kamal’s father puts the gun in his own mouth and shoots.
Summary: Chapter 11
The story jumps forward in time. Baba and Amir are in Fremont, California, where they have lived for nearly two years. Baba, who works at a gas station now, has had difficulty adjusting to life in the U.S. One day, in a convenience store he often shops at, he overturns a magazine rack because the manager asks for ID when Baba tries to pay with a check. Amir wants to explain that, in Afghanistan, everyone trusted each other to pay. That night Amir asks if it’s best that they return to Pakistan, where they spent six months while waiting for visas to enter the U.S. Baba says they’re in America for Amir, who is about to finish high school and go to college. On the night of Amir’s graduation, Baba takes him out for a big dinner, then to a bar where he buys drinks all night. He also gives Amir an old Ford Grand Torino as a gift. In the days after, Amir tells Baba that he wants to study writing. Baba disapproves and says the degree will be useless, but Amir has made up his mind.
Amir describes the drives he takes in his car. He passes through rundown and rich neighborhoods, and talks about the first time he saw the ocean. For Amir, America is a place to forget the past. The next summer, in 1984, Baba buys an old van. On Saturday mornings, he and Amir load the van with purchases from garage sales, then on Sundays they set up a booth at the flea market and sell everything for a profit. One morning Baba speaks with a man whom he introduces to Amir as General Taheri. Baba tells General Taheri that Amir is going to be a great writer. General Taheri’s daughter, Soraya, comes over, and she and Amir make eye contact. On the drive home Amir asks Baba about her. All Baba knows is that she was romantically involved with a man once, but it didn’t end well. Amir falls asleep that night thinking of her.
The first half of the section primarily describes Baba’s and Amir’s horrific journey, first to Jalalabad and finally into Peshawar, Pakistan. It also gives some detail about how Kabul has changed in the roughly five years that have elapsed since Chapter 9. In April 1978, the communist left in Afghanistan overthrew President Daoud Khan. The coup created a split in Afghan society that led to numerous executions and widespread paranoia. Regular Afghans were encouraged or forced to turn in anyone who might be an enemy of the ruling faction. It turned out to be the first in a series of events that led to an invasion by Russia at the end of 1979, plunging the country into even greater turmoil. Baba and Amir flee from this atmosphere and the Russian occupation at the opening of the section.
To Baba, for whom doing the right thing is so important, the loss of honor and decency in Afghanistan is perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall his country. The atrocities described, including the Russian guard’s attempted rape of the woman in the truck and the rape of Kamal that is implied, are examples of how the rule of law had essentially collapsed. Though the war has forced Baba and Amir to leave their home and nearly all their possessions behind, Baba only believes more strongly in the necessity of acting with dignity and doing what is right. As he declares to the Russian guard, decency becomes even more important during times of war. This is in large part why Baba becomes furious at Karim when he discovers that Karim has lied and there is no truck waiting to take them to Pakistan, and it is what motivates him to risk his life to preserve the dignity of a woman he doesn’t even know. To him, he is trying to preserve the honor of not just one person, but of all of Afghanistan. The episode is another instance of the overarching theme of the rape of Afghanistan’s powerless by those in power.
The move to America represents two completely different things to Amir and Baba. In California, Baba feels disconnected from everything he knows. In Kabul, he would send Amir and Hassan to the baker with a stick. The baker would make a notch in the stick for each loaf of bread he gave, and at the end of the month, Baba paid the baker according to how many notches there were. When the manager at the convenience store asks Baba for ID, Baba feels insulted because he takes it as a sign of distrust. He doesn’t recognize that it is a normal question in the U.S. Baba has also lost social status. In Kabul, he was wealthy and respected. In California, he earns low wages working at a gas station. Amir makes a particularly ironic comment, remarking that some of the homes he sees make Baba’s house in Kabul look like a servant’s hut. In the past, Ali and Hassan were the servants, and Baba was the master. Now Baba is more like a servant himself. These differences leave Baba perpetually frustrated. In small ways, he continues trying to reclaim his life in Kabul, like when he buys everyone drinks the night of Amir’s graduation.
Amir also feels disconnected from everything he knew in Kabul, but for him this disconnection has a different meaning. He sees it as an opportunity for a new beginning, and he thinks of America as a place where he can literally escape his past. Most significantly, it is a place where he doesn’t have to be reminded of Hassan and the rape. The metaphor Amir chooses to describe America is a river. Here, the metaphor has two meanings that are related but separate. First, a river always moves forward. In other words, it is always moving toward the future and never toward the past. Second, the river is a common symbol for washing away sin. In Christianity, for instance, baptism symbolizes purification and regeneration. Amir similarly wants a new birth, free of the sins he committed in letting Hassan be raped and lying to force Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house.