After nearly a year of longing for Soraya, Amir finally gets the nerve to speak to her. General Taheri is away, but while they’re talking, Soraya’s mother, Jamila—whom Amir addresses formally as Khanum Taheri at first—returns. She asks Amir to sit, but he does the proper Afghan thing and declines. For weeks he talks to Soraya only when General Taheri is away, until one day he is giving her one of his stories when General Taheri arrives. General Taheri throws the story out, and walking Amir away he tells Amir to remember that he is among other Afghans. Amir is disheartened, but he soon becomes focused on Baba, who is ill. Baba is diagnosed with lung cancer but refuses to receive treatment. Amir tells Baba he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Baba replies that he’s been trying to teach Amir precisely this all his life and forbids Amir to tell anyone about his illness.
Baba weakens as the months pass until one day he collapses. The cancer has spread to his brain. Afghans arrive in droves to see Baba in the hospital. At Baba’s bedside, Amir asks if he will go to General Taheri to ask Soraya’s hand in marriage for Amir. Baba goes happily the next day. General Taheri accepts, and after Baba tells Amir over the phone he puts Soraya on the line. Soraya is happy, but she says she must tell Amir about her past because she doesn’t want any secrets. When she was eighteen, she ran away with an Afghan man. They lived together for nearly a month before General Taheri found her and took her home. While she was gone, Jamila had a stroke. Amir admits it bothers him a little, but he still wants to marry her.
Summary: Chapter 13
The following night, Amir and Baba go to the Taheris’ home for the traditional ceremony of “giving word.” General Taheri is happy and says they are doing it the right way now. Because Baba is so sick, they plan to have the wedding quickly. Baba rents an Afghan banquet hall for the ceremony, buys the ring, Amir’s tuxedo, and other necessities, until he has spent almost all of his $35,000 in savings. Of the wedding Amir remembers sitting on a sofa with Soraya. They are covered with a veil and look at each other’s reflections in a mirror. It is the first time he tells her he loves her, and they are together for the first time that night. Shortly after, Baba dies. Many Afghans whom Baba helped come to the funeral. As he listens to them pay their respects, Amir realizes how Baba defined who he is.
Because their engagement was so brief, Amir doesn’t learn about Soraya’s family until after the wedding. General Taheri does not work. He feels it is below him and keeps the family on welfare. He also does not allow Jamila, who was once a great singer, to sing in public. Soraya tells Amir that, on the night her father brought her home after she ran away, he arrived with a gun, and once she was home he made her cut off her hair. Amir is different from every Afghan guy she has met.
In the summer of 1988, Amir finishes his first novel. He gets it published, and then he and Soraya start trying to have a baby. They are unable to conceive, however, and after numerous tests doctors cannot explain why they can’t have a child. They talk about adoption, but General Taheri says he doesn’t like the idea. Amir agrees, though he doesn’t seem certain. Amir’s writing career has gone well, in the meantime, and with the advance from his second novel, he and Soraya buy a house in San Francisco. But the inability to have a child still lingers between them.
The different events of this section all revolve around one focus: Amir becoming a man. He marries and makes love for the first time. He loses Baba and becomes fully responsible for himself. He also completes and publishes his first novel, establishing his career as a writer. In all of these events, Amir experiences a profound mix of joy and pain. Embracing independence and adulthood also requires him letting go of his childhood dependence on Baba. When Amir pleads with Baba to try chemotherapy, Amir asks what he is supposed to do without Baba. Baba replies that this is what he has been trying to teach Amir his whole life. To Amir, it is clear for the first time why Baba has always treated him the way he has. He was preparing Amir to take care of himself and to know right from wrong. In other words, he was teaching Amir to be a man. In his transition to adulthood, Amir also transitions from one family to another. At the beginning of the section he is a boy living in his father’s house. At the end, he is a man with a wife and his own home. What Baba does witness of this makes him happy, and he dies proud of Amir. Only one crucial thing remains missing for Amir. He wants to have a child.
Despite Amir’s growth into an adult, one part of his childhood he does not let go of. He still feels guilty about Hassan. This guilt, though it is not prominent as it once was, still rises to the surface on occasion. Sometimes Amir simply wonders about him, as when he wonders if Hassan has married. Other times his guilt is more pronounced. When Soraya tells Amir about the time she ran away with another man, Amir actually feels jealous that she is able to speak about the incident. For Soraya, her secret is an event in the past that is done and over with. For Amir, however, his secret is very much still present, and he still cannot talk about it. Amir feels that, until he is able to atone for his treatment of Hassan, it will continue to haunt him.
Another subject of the section is the way the Afghan refugees, Amir and Baba included, preserve their culture in California. In the U.S., no controversy results from a young man and woman speaking in public without adults present. For Afghans, however, such encounters are not entirely appropriate. Certain customs must be followed. General Taheri feels the need to remind Amir of this fact when he sees Amir speaking with Soraya. He tells Amir he is among Afghan peers. The message is clear: they may be in California, but Afghanistan is still present, and Amir should act accordingly. From that point forward Amir’s courtship of Soraya proceeds in a more traditional fashion. Amir does not propose to Soraya, for instance. Baba is the one who proposes the marriage to General Taheri. The wedding takes place in an Afghan banquet hall, and the ceremony follows Afghan customs, such as Amir and Soraya gazing at each other’s reflection in a mirror while they are covered with a veil.
Traditional Afghan culture is not always positive, however, and the section slips in some comments on the way it treats women. For instance, General Taheri, who is portrayed as the paradigm of Afghan manhood, does not allow Jamila to sing in public, despite the fact that she was once famous in Kabul for her beautiful voice. Even Jamila, who knows firsthand the limits the culture places on women, exhibits this way of thinking. She dotes on Amir compulsively just because he married Soraya. Amir says he could have gone on a killing spree and she would still approve of him, because without Amir, Soraya might have aged alone, and every woman needs a husband. Implicit here is a belief that a woman needs a man to lead a meaningful life. A double standard exists in the way Afghan society treats men and women regarding sex. Soraya complains that she lost value when she ran away because she was no longer considered virtuous. Men, meanwhile, can have sex with anyone and will be viewed as guys who are just having fun. Amir does not have these prejudices. He attributes this to the fact that Baba was a liberal Afghan, but also because he grew up without women around so he was never exposed to this double standard.
Summary: Chapter 14
The period is June 2001, and Amir has just received a call from Rahim Khan, who wants Amir to see him in Pakistan. Amir tells Soraya he has to go. Rahim Khan, the first grownup Amir ever thought of as a friend, is very ill. Amir takes a walk to Golden Gate Park, and as he sits watching a man play catch with his son and looking at the kites flying, he thinks of something Rahim Khan said to him on the phone. He told Amir there is a way for him to be good again. That night, while Amir and Soraya are in bed, Amir thinks of their relationship. They still make love, but both of them feel a kind of futility in the act. They used to lie together and talk about having a child, but now their conversations are about work or other things. Amir drifts off to sleep and dreams of Hassan running through the snow. A week later, Amir leaves for Pakistan.
Summary: Chapter 15
Amir lands in Peshawar, where Rahim Khan is. The driver of the cab he takes talks incessantly, telling Amir that what has happened to Afghanistan is awful. They reach the neighborhood known as “Afghan Town,” and Amir sees dirty children selling cigarettes, carpet shops, and kabob vendors. Amir remembers the last time he saw Rahim Khan, twenty years earlier in 1981. It was the night he and Baba left Kabul. They had gone to see Rahim Khan, and Baba had cried. Baba and Rahim Khan had kept in touch, but Amir had not spoken with Rahim Khan since just after Baba’s death.
Amir arrives at Rahim Khan’s apartment, and Rahim Khan answers the door. He looks thin and sickly. Inside they have tea and talk. Amir tells him he is married now to Soraya Taheri, General Taheri’s daughter, and he talks about Baba and his career as a novelist. Rahim Khan says he never doubted Amir would become a writer. The conversation turns to what Afghanistan has become since the Taliban took over. Rahim Khan tells Amir the story of how he got the scar over his eye. A man next to him at a soccer game cheered loudly. The guard on patrol heard the noise, walked over, and smashed Rahim Khan with the butt of his rifle. Amir learns that Rahim Khan had been living in Baba’s house in Kabul since 1981, when Amir and Baba fled. He took care of the place, as Baba expected to eventually return. Meanwhile, Kabul became dangerous as the fighting between Afghan factions vying for control of the city grew worse. Rockets fell randomly, destroying homes and killing civilians. Rahim Khan says he cheered at first when the Taliban took over and ended the fighting.
Rahim Khan coughs blood into a napkin while they’re speaking, and Amir asks how well he is. Rahim Khan replies that he is dying and does not expect to live through the summer. He asked Amir there because he wanted to see him, but also because he wanted something else. In the years he lived in Baba’s house, he was not alone. Hassan was with him. Before he asks Amir for the favor, he must tell him about Hassan.
The call Amir receives from Rahim Khan at the beginning of the section is the same one he refers to in the book’s first chapter. The narrative has almost come back to the present, though some important events need to occur before that happens completely. Amir has not spoken to Rahim Khan for twenty years, and hearing from him visibly shakes Amir. He is upset to hear that Rahim Khan is ill, but the call upsets him for another reason, which becomes clear when he takes his walk to Golden Gate Park and watches the kites flying. He realizes that Rahim Khan knows about everything that happened with Hassan, evident in Rahim Khan’s comment to Amir that he knows of a way for Amir to be good again. Amir is again reminded of his treatment of Hassan, and despite the life Amir has made for himself in California, he will not be free of this guilt until he finds a way to make up for letting Hassan be raped and then falsely accusing Hassan of stealing from him.
Though Amir does not yet know how to atone for his sins against Hassan, two hints about how he will do it occur in the section. The only things keeping Amir from being completely happy are his guilt and the fact that he and Soraya are unable to have a child. For Amir, these have become linked into one feeling of emptiness. To underscore the way Amir links the two, as he lies in bed with Soraya he thinks first of their inability to have a baby, then dreams of Hassan running in the snow. Amir’s narration implies that he goes to see Rahim Khan in Pakistan not only because Rahim Khan is sick but also because, as Rahim Khan says, he knows a way for Amir to be good again. Amir hopes there will finally be some way for him to correct the wrong that lingers in his thoughts.
Once he arrives in Pakistan, Amir begins to realize the extent of what has happened to the people of Afghanistan and the events that have destroyed Kabul in the time he has been away. When the cab driver takes him through “Afghan Town,” for instance, Amir sees children covered in dirt and selling cigarettes along the road, indicating that they are poor. Although they were forced to leave everything behind, Amir and Baba were lucky in the sense that they were able to make it to the United States and to some degree rebuild their lives. Many of the Afghans who had to flee had little to begin with, and wound up with even less as refugees. Amir sees sights familiar from Afghanistan, like the carpet shops and kabob vendors, mixed with the degradation the Afghans now endure. The smells he describes as he passes through Afghan Town, which include the familiar aroma of a food called pakora mixed with poverty-signifying stench of “rot, garbage, and feces” (p. 196), represent this combination.
Based on Rahim Khan’s description, it’s evident that the fighting destroyed everything, from the buildings Amir knew to the way of life he remembers in Kabul. Rahim Khan says the Alliance did more to ruin the city than the Shorawi did. The Alliance he refers to is the Northern Alliance, a militia made up of different non-Pashtun ethnic groups. The Northern Alliance was one of the militias that helped to push the Soviets, or Shorawi, out of Kabul and ultimately out of Afghanistan. But once the Soviets were gone, these militias began fighting each other for control of Kabul and the country, resulting in a great deal of damage and numerous civilian deaths. Rahim Khan mentions Gulbuddin, or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who led one of the factions that caused the most destruction in Kabul. It was the Taliban that ultimately emerged in control. Initially they quelled the fighting, so Afghans like Rahim Khan rejoiced. But they quickly implemented a rigid code of Islamic law and maintained order through brute force. Rather than end the nightmare the Afghans had lived with, the Taliban prolonged it.
Summary: Chapter 16
Rahim Khan tells Amir the story of how he found Hassan, and the narrative shifts so that Rahim Khan narrates in the first person. In 1986, Rahim Khan went to Hazarajat. He went primarily because he was lonely, but also because as he aged it became difficult for him to care for Baba’s house by himself. He found Hassan’s home, a small mud house, and saw Hassan in the yard. The men greeted each other, and Hassan took Rahim Khan inside to introduce him to his wife, a pregnant Hazara woman named Farzana. As they spoke, Rahim Khan learned that Ali was killed by a land mine. Rahim Khan then explained to Hassan that he wanted Hassan and Farzana to come to Baba’s house with him and help him care for it. Hassan declined, saying that Hazarajat was their home now. Hassan asked several questions about Amir. When he learned Baba was dead, he cried. Rahim Khan stayed the night, and in the morning, Hassan told him that he and Farzana would go back to Kabul.
Out of respect, Hassan and Farzana live in the small servants’ hut on Baba’s property, and Hassan works diligently cleaning and repairing the house. That fall, Farzana gives birth to a stillborn girl, whom they bury in the yard. Farzana becomes pregnant again in 1990, and that same year Sanaubar, Hassan’s mother, appears at the front gate, weak and with her face severely cut up. Hassan and Farzana nurse her back to health, and she and Hassan become close. That winter it is Sanaubar who delivers Hassan’s and Farzana’s son. Sanaubar loves and cares for the boy, who is named Sohrab, after the character from Hassan’s and Amir’s favorite story when they were children. She lives until he is four. By then it is 1995. The Soviets had been pushed out of Kabul, but fighting continues between rival Afghan groups. Hassan, meanwhile, is teaching Sohrab to read and to run kites. In 1996, the Taliban take control of Kabul. Two weeks later they ban kite fighting.
Summary: Chapter 17
The story shifts back to Amir’s perspective. Amir sits with Rahim Khan thinking of everything that happened between him and Hassan. Amir asks if Hassan is still in Baba’s house, and Rahim Khan hands him an envelope. It contains a photograph of Hassan and a letter for Amir. In it, Hassan says the Kabul they used to know is gone. One day a man at the market hit Farzana simply because she raised her voice so another man who was half-deaf could hear her. He talks about his love for his son, and says Rahim Khan is very ill. If Amir ever returns, he will find his faithful friend Hassan waiting for him. Rahim Khan says a month after arriving in Pakistan, he received a call from a neighbor in Kabul. The Taliban had gone to Baba’s house and found Hassan and his family there. Hassan said he was taking care of the house for a friend, and they called him a liar like all Hazaras. They made him kneel in the street and shot him in the head. When Farzana ran out of the house, they shot her, too.
The Taliban moved into Baba’s house, and Sohrab was sent to an orphanage. Rahim Khan knows an American couple in Pakistan that care for Afghan orphans, and they have already agreed to take in Sohrab. Amir says he can’t go to Kabul. He can pay someone else to get Sohrab. Rahim Khan says it is not about the money, and that Amir knows why he must go. Rahim Khan says one day Baba told him he was worried that a boy who can’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything. He tells Amir one more thing. Ali was unable to have children. Amir asks who Hassan’s father was then, and Rahim Khan says Amir knows who it was. Hassan never knew. They couldn’t tell anyone because it was a shameful situation. Amir shouts at Rahim Khan and storms out of the apartment.
The events of this section, which largely recount what happened to Hassan in the time since Baba and Amir left for Pakistan, deftly tie together several of the book’s thematic elements: the pain of guilt, the hatefulness of racial prejudice, the challenge of acting against injustice, the value of loyalty, the love as well as the discord between fathers and sons, and the role history plays in private lives. We do not learn all the details of Hassan’s life, but we learn the basics. Most importantly, we now know that he had a son, Sohrab. In many ways, Hassan’s relationship with Sohrab acts as indirect proof that Hassan never forgot Amir. Naming the boy after a character in his and Amir’s favorite story is one example. Hassan also did with Sohrab all the things he and Amir used to enjoy, such as going to the movies and flying kites. The relationship between Hassan and Sohrab also adds a new dimension to the theme of fathers and sons that runs through the novel. It is perhaps the most loving father-son relationship we see in the book, making it all the more painful when we learn that Hassan is dead.
Hassan’s murder is important for many reasons. It plays multiple roles in the section, and in the novel as a whole. For instance, it brings together two of the story’s major themes. His death is presented as a combination of the political strife ravaging Kabul and the entrenched prejudice against Hazaras that has turned up repeatedly in the novel. Two members of the Taliban, who at this point control Kabul without competition, shoot Hassan. Rahim Khan’s telling of the story implies that these Taliban officials want Baba’s house, and since Hassan is a Hazara, he essentially has no rights. Conspicuously, the men are not punished for killing Hassan and Farzana. The suggestion is that, to these men, the lives of Hazaras have no value, or at least not enough value to punish anyone for ending them. Foreshadowing of Hassan’s death occurs when the Taliban first take over Kabul. Though most of the city’s residents celebrate the event, Hassan does not cheer. “God help the Hazaras now,” he says to Rahim Khan at the end of Chapter 16 (p. 213).
Hassan’s death also marks a turning point in Amir’s quest for redemption. To Amir, the news of Hassan’s murder means not only that he has lost his friend forever, but also that he can never apologize to Hassan for allowing his rape and then lying about him stealing Amir’s birthday money. Making up for these actions was part of the reason he traveled to Pakistan in the first place. Initially, the story suggests that Amir will have to live with his guilt permanently, but Rahim Khan says one way remains for him to make amends. Amir can go to Kabul, find Sohrab, and bring him back to Pakistan where he can be taken care of. The request is not Rahim Khan’s alone. Hassan said in his letter to Amir that the most important thing for him was to survive so that Sohrab would not become an orphan. With Hassan and Farzana dead and Rahim Khan ill, Amir is perhaps the only person who can make sure Sohrab is not abandoned.
Going to Kabul becomes a test of Amir’s honor, loyalty, and manhood. Amir is clearly afraid to go. He knows the city is extremely dangerous, and in returning there he would risk everything he has, including his life and the welfare of his family. Kabul will also undoubtedly recall memories of Hassan and his past that Amir would rather not confront. Rahim Khan recognizes that the decision is a difficult one for Amir. To convince him, he brings up the conversation he once had with Baba, when Baba said he feared that Amir would not be able to stand up to anything as a man if he could not stand up for himself as a boy. Amir concedes that Baba may have been right. Then Rahim Khan reveals that Ali was not Hassan’s father, and implies that Hassan was, in fact, Baba’s child. Hassan and Amir, then, would be half-brothers, and Sohrab would be Amir’s nephew, obligating Amir further to find the boy. The dilemma brings together the tensions Amir has struggled with in the novel. By rescuing Sohrab, Amir can become the man that Baba always wanted him to be, and he can finally atone for the ways he failed Hassan as a friend.