Amir walks from Rahim Khan’s house to a small teahouse, thinking about how responsible he was for Hassan’s death. He also goes over the evidence that Baba was Hassan’s father: Baba’s paying for the surgery to fix Hassan’s lip, and his weeping when Ali and Hassan left. Baba had said that theft was the only sin, and Amir thinks how Baba stole from him a brother, from Hassan his identity, from Ali his honor. Amir realizes he and Baba were more alike than he knew. They had both betrayed their truest friends. What Rahim Khan wanted was for Amir to atone for Baba’s sins and his own. On the ride back to Rahim Khan’s, Amir recognizes he is not too old to start fighting for himself, and that somewhere in Kabul, a small part of Hassan remains. He finds Rahim Khan praying and tells him he will find Sohrab.
Summary: Chapter 19
Rahim Khan arranges for an acquaintance named Farid to take Amir to Kabul. Farid and his father had fought against the Soviets. Later, after Farid had children, he lost two daughters and three fingers on his left hand to a land mine. Amir is dressed in an Afghan hat called a pakol and wears a fake beard that reaches down to his chest. Once in Afghanistan Amir says he feels like a tourist in his own country. Farid asks sarcastically if, after twenty years in America, Amir still thinks of Afghanistan as his country. He guesses that Amir grew up in a large house with servants, that his father drove an American car, and that Amir had never worn a pakol before. He points to an old man in ragged clothing and says that is the real Afghanistan. Amir has always been a tourist there.
They stop for the night at the home of Farid’s brother, Wahid. The house is small, with bare dirt walls and two lamps for light. Inside, Wahid’s wife and another woman bring tea. The three men talk for a time, and Wahid asks Amir why he has returned to Afghanistan. Farid says contemptuously that Amir is probably coming to sell his land and run with the money back to America. Wahid snaps at Farid for insulting a guest in his home, but Amir says he should have explained earlier. He is going to find a Hazara boy, his illegitimate half-brother, so that he can take him to Peshawar where people will take care of him. Wahid calls Amir a true Afghan and says he is proud to have Amir stay in his home.
Wahid’s wife serves dinner to Farid and Amir, and Wahid says he and his family ate earlier. While Amir eats, he notices Wahid’s three boys staring at his wristwatch. He gives the boys the watch as a gift, though they lose interest quickly. As Amir and Farid lie down to sleep, Farid says it was wrong of him to assume Amir’s reason for returning and says he will help Amir find the boy. That night, Amir dreams of a man shooting Hassan, and realizes he is the man in the dream. He goes outside to think and hears two voices coming from the house, Wahid’s and his wife’s. They are arguing about dinner. Because they gave Amir their food, the children did not have any dinner. Amir realizes that the boys weren’t staring at his watch, they were staring at his food. The next morning, before Amir and Farid leave, Amir stuffs a wad of money under one of their mattresses.
Another irony appears in this section: Amir realizes he is more like Baba than he thought. However, what they share is betrayal of their best friends. Baba had betrayed Ali, his closest friend since childhood, by sleeping with Sanaubar. As Amir says, having sex with a man’s wife was the worst possible way an Afghan man could be dishonored. Amir had similarly betrayed Hassan. But despite all Baba’s lies, Amir sees that Baba was correct to say that Amir always let someone else fight his battles for him. Though Amir never says so explicitly, he knows he is doing what Baba would have done in the situation when he resolves to go to Kabul to find Sohrab. The situation presents a further twist of irony in that Amir realizes he can share in Baba’s greatest virtue, the courage to do what is right, only after he has recognized that he shares Baba’s greatest failing as well. If Amir saves Sohrab, both he and Baba will be pardoned, at least to some degree, for the ways they betrayed their dearest and closest friends.
Amir’s guilt over the way he treated Hassan also plays a significant role in his decision to return to Kabul. As Amir leaves Rahim Khan’s house, Amir wonders if the chain of events that followed from his coercing Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house eventually led to Ali stepping on a landmine and to Hassan being shot. Had Amir acted differently, Ali and Hassan never would have left for Hazarajat, and both might still be alive now. Through this logic, Amir has made himself responsible for their deaths. He realizes he cannot save them, but a piece of Hassan lives on in Sohrab. By rescuing Sohrab, Amir will figuratively rescue Hassan as well. With this in mind, and the knowledge that he still has time to begin fighting for himself, Amir returns to Rahim Khan’s house to tell him he will make the trip back to Afghanistan.
As Amir returns to Kabul, he is confronted by some of the unpleasant realities he left behind in Afghanistan, many of which are embodied by Amir’s driver, Farid. While Amir was in the United States attending school, countless Afghans were fighting to free their country from the Soviets. Thousands of Afghan men died, leaving children behind. After these wars, landmines that had been planted to kill the enemy were never cleared. As a result, children were frequently killed or injured by mines hidden in land that hadn’t seen fighting in years. Farid knows all these facts firsthand. He lost his father to the fighting when he was sixteen, then later lost two daughters as well as some fingers and toes to a landmine blast. Though Amir left behind his wealthy life when he and Baba left Afghanistan, he still never had to endure the tragedies that the average Afghan faced during the 1980s and 90s. Farid recognizes that Amir did not suffer the way many Afghans did. Amir escaped when Farid and most others could not, making Farid resent Amir at first.
Farid’s other reason for treating Amir contemptuously has to do with class. While rich Afghans had the money to leave, an expensive endeavor that required paying drivers to smuggle them out or buying plane tickets, most Afghans did not. Even before the wars destroyed Afghanistan, life was different for the rich. Knowing that Amir grew up rich, Farid says Amir was always a tourist in Afghanistan. As a boy, Amir lived in a large house with servants. Most Afghans, by contrast, have very little. When Farid points to the old man walking with a sack filled with scrub grass on his back and calls him the real Afghanistan, he is right to a large degree, and Amir knows it. Even Amir’s job as a writer represents a privileged life, which is why he is slightly embarrassed to tell Wahid what he does. Amir’s most troubling confrontation with Afghanistan’s poverty occurs when he overhears Wahid and his wife arguing. He realizes they gave him their food out of courtesy, but it meant that they and their children had nothing to eat. In an act recalling the way he framed Hassan years earlier, he stuffs money under the mattress before he leaves, only this time he does it to make amends.
Summary: Chapter 20
On the way to Kabul, Amir sees signs of the wars, such as broken-down Soviet tanks and destroyed villages. When Amir and Farid reach Kabul, Amir does not recognize it. What used to be buildings are now dusty piles of rubble, and beggars are everywhere. The trees are all gone. The Soviets cut them down because snipers would hide in them, and Afghans cut them down to use for firewood. A Taliban patrol of bearded men with guns in the back of a red pickup passes by, and Amir stares at them. Farid rebukes Amir, saying the Taliban will use any excuse for violence, and an old beggar speaks up in agreement with Farid. The beggar, it turns out, was a literature professor and once knew Sofia Akram, Amir’s mother. Amir asks him several questions about her, but soon has to leave.
Amir and Farid find the orphanage where they think Sohrab is. The director, Zaman, is cautious and doesn’t admit that he has seen Sohrab until Amir says he is Sohrab’s half-uncle. The orphanage itself was once a storage warehouse for a carpet manufacturer. There are hundreds of children and not enough beds, mattresses, or blankets. That past winter, one child froze to death. Zaman says Sohrab is not there, but he knows where he may be. It might already be too late, however. Amir asks what he means, and Zaman tells him there is a Taliban official who comes every month or two. The official brings cash, and will sometimes take a child with him. Farid attacks Zaman for letting this occur, but stops when he notices children in view. Zaman says he can do nothing against the Taliban, and it is the only way to get money to feed the children. He tells Amir and Farid that the official took Sohrab a month ago. If they want to find him, he will be at Ghazi Stadium the next day.
Summary: Chapter 21
Farid drives Amir to Baba’s house. It is falling apart, but recognizable. Amir finds his bedroom window and remembers looking out of it to watch Ali and Hassan the morning they left. He goes up the hill to the pomegranate tree where he and Hassan used to play, but Farid tells him they should leave. That night they stay at a dilapidated hotel. The following day they go to the soccer game at Ghazi Stadium. The field is just dirt, and the crowd is careful not to cheer too loudly. At halftime, Taliban in red pickups drive into the stadium. They unload a blindfolded man from one truck and a blindfolded woman from the other and bury each up to the chest in a hole on the field. The woman is screaming uncontrollably.
A cleric on the field recites a prayer from the Koran and announces that they are there to carry out God’s law. When adulterers throw stones at the house of God, he shouts, they must answer by throwing stones back. Another man steps out of a pickup, and Farid and Amir see it is the official they are looking for. He is wearing black sunglasses, as Zaman said. The official throws stones at the head of the man in the hole until his head is a bloody pulp and his chin hangs to his chest. Then he does the same to the woman. They pile the bodies into the back of a truck, and the second half of the soccer game begins. Farid tells one of the Taliban nearby that he has personal business with the official, and the official agrees to see them that afternoon.
As Amir and Farid look for Sohrab, the reader sees through Amir’s eyes more of the devastation of Kabul. The city is now completely unfamiliar to Amir, and he looks at it almost as a tourist, as Farid called Amir in the previous section. His description sounds at times like science fiction. Littered with rubble, populated by beggars, the city has become a post-apocalyptic nightmare. In a scene that vividly represents Afghanistan’s desperation, Farid points out to Amir one man trying to sell his prosthetic leg to another man, who haggles with him over the price. There are few real signs of life left, made clear by the fact that not even trees remain, rendering the landscape oddly desolate. When Amir finds the pomegranate tree where he and Hassan used to play, he discovers it no longer bears fruit. The barren tree serves as a powerful symbol that the Kabul Amir knew is dead, at least figuratively if not yet literally. The city appears even stranger and more sad by the many reminders that this is, in fact, the place where Amir grew up. Amir happens upon the old beggar who knew his mother, for instance, and later finds Baba’s house, which has fallen into severe disrepair. As Amir describes his homecoming, it is like bumping into an old friend who you learn has become destitute.
Amir also has his first encounter with the Taliban, the group of Islamic radicals that now control Afghanistan. Farid calls them the “Beard Patrol” as they approach in their red pickup truck. His meaning is double: the term describes the Taliban men, who are all bearded, but it also describes what they are doing, which among other things is to literally make sure that all men have beards. In Islam’s holy texts, men are instructed to let their beards grow to distinguish them from followers of other religions. According to the Taliban, a man who shaves his beard is committing a sin, and they make it their job to punish any person caught sinning. Shaving was one of many illegal acts under the Taliban, which is why Amir bought a fake beard before entering the country. The Taliban also prohibited women from working, which the director of the orphanage, Zaman, says is part of the reason there were so many children there. When Afghan men died during the wars, their wives were left to care for their children. But since the women could not work, they had no way to feed the kids. Rather than watch them starve, they would leave them with orphanages.
The public stoning that Farid and Amir witness at the stadium is another example of Taliban law. The Taliban claim to enforce Sharia, the law that all Muslims are supposed to follow. Because Islam makes no distinction between religious and non-religious matters, Sharia governs everything from business ethics to criminal justice, which is why a cleric rather than a judge or some other secular official comes out to speak to the crowd before the stoning begins. Many Muslims, however, believe the Taliban used Sharia as a way to oppress women and justify their violent behavior. The book raises this viewpoint as the crowd prepares to watch the stoning. Farid whispers to Amir, “And they call themselves Muslims” (p. 271). In fact, most of the Muslims Amir speaks with, including Zaman and Rahim Khan, deplore the society the Taliban has created, underscoring the point that the Islamic state the Taliban established is not supported with all Muslims.
The book hints at the corruption of the Taliban by having a Taliban official taking girls and boys from the orphanage. We do not know at this point why the official is taking the children, but the unspoken implication is that the official is sexually abusing them. Whatever the case, the official is clearly misusing his position of power. As Zaman, the orphanage director, tells Farid after Farid strangles him, he has not been paid in six months and has already spent his life savings on the orphanage. Without the official’s money, he is unable to feed the children in his care. Furthermore, if he protests, the official takes ten children instead of one. Much as Hassan was powerless to do anything against Assef, Zaman is now powerless against the Taliban official, and it is Sohrab, Hassan’s orphaned son, who is the victim. Again, it is a case of the powerful in Afghanistan taking advantage of the powerless.
Summary: Chapter 22
Amir and Farid arrive at the house where Amir will meet the Taliban official. Farid waits in the car, and two guards lead Amir to the room where he is to wait. Amir thinks to himself it may have been a mistake to stop acting like a coward. The Taliban official enters with some guards. Amir and the official greet each other, then one of the guards tears off Amir’s fake beard. The official asks Amir if he enjoyed the show at the stadium. He says it wasn’t as good as when they went door-to-door shooting families in their homes. It was liberating. Amir realizes the official is talking about the massacre of Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif, which Amir had read about in newspapers.
The official asks what Amir is doing in America. Amir only answers that he is looking for Sohrab. The official motions to the guards, and Sohrab enters in a blue silk outfit, bells strapped around his ankles and mascara lining his eyes. The guards make Sohrab dance until the Taliban official orders them to leave. While the official rubs Sohrab’s stomach, he asks Amir whatever happened to old Babalu, a name Assef used to call Ali, and Amir realizes that the Taliban official is actually Assef. Stunned, Amir says he will pay him for the boy. Assef replies that money is irrelevant and not why he joined the Taliban. He tells Amir he was once imprisoned, and one evening a guard began kicking him until the blows dislodged a kidney stone that had been causing him severe pain. He felt relief and began laughing. At that moment he knew God was on his side.
Assef says he is on a mission to rid Afghanistan of garbage. Amir calls it ethnic cleansing and says he wants Sohrab. Shoving Sohrab forward, Assef says he and Amir have unfinished business. Assef tells the guards that if Amir exits the room alive, he has earned the right to leave. Then Assef puts on a pair of brass knuckles. Amir remembers little after that. There are flashes of Assef hitting him and swallowing teeth and blood. Amir remembers laughing while Assef beat him, and feeling relief. He had looked forward to that, and felt healed for the first time. Sohrab told Assef to stop and held up his slingshot, and when Assef lunged at him, Sohrab fired, hitting him in the left eye. Sohrab and Amir ran out of the house to where Farid waited with the car. As they drove away, Amir passed out.
Summary: Chapter 23
A blur of images followed: a woman named Aisha, a man with the mustache, someone he recognizes. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he imagines Baba wrestling the bear. Amir meets Baba’s eyes and realizes he is the one wrestling the bear. He wakes up and discovers he is in the hospital in Peshawar. The people he saw are doctors, and Farid was the man he recognized. Amir’s mouth is wired shut. His upper lit is split, the bone of his left eye socket broken, several of his ribs cracked, and his spleen ruptured. Farid and Sohrab are there, and Amir thanks them both. Farid tells Amir that Rahim Khan has gone, but he left a note.
In his note, Rahim Khan says he knew everything that happened with Hassan. Though what Amir did was wrong, he was too hard on himself. He knows Amir suffered because of how Baba treated him, but there was a reason. Because Baba couldn’t love Hassan openly, he felt guilty and took it out on Amir, whom Baba thought of as his socially legitimate half. But real good came from Baba’s remorse, Rahim Khan says. The orphanage Baba built, the poor that he fed, were his way of redeeming himself. Rahim Khan also leaves Amir a key to a safe-deposit box with money to cover Amir’s expenses. He has little time left, he writes, and Amir should not look for him. The next morning, Amir gives Farid the names of the American couple that runs the orphanage. Amir spends the day playing cards with Sohrab, who barely speaks. Amir decides Peshawar isn’t safe, and when Farid learns there never was an American couple to care for Sohrab, Amir leaves for Islamabad and takes Sohrab with him.
The climax of the novel, in which Amir is finally able to atone for his past, occurs in Amir’s fight against Assef. In another instance of irony, Amir discovers the Taliban official he must rescue Sohrab from is the same person that raped Hassan all those years ago. Yet the bizarre coincidence also creates a situation in which Amir is able to confront the same scenario that was the source of his guilt more than twenty years earlier. From the way Assef touches Sohrab and what he says to Amir, Amir has no doubt at this point that Assef has been sexually abusing Sohrab. Because Sohrab represents a living piece of Hassan, Assef continues a figurative rape of Hassan. But Amir is now in a position to stop this. He can do what Baba always hoped he would and stand up for what is right. As Rahim Khan put it, it is his way to be good again.
In multiple instances, foreshadowing from earlier in the novel is fulfilled in these chapters. In a confrontation with Assef years earlier, Hassan had threatened to shoot Assef’s eye out. In response, Assef said he would get his revenge on Hassan and Amir both. Now, Assef has his revenge against Amir. But Hassan’s threat is also carried out vicariously through Sohrab, who shoots out Assef’s eye as he saves Amir with his slingshot. Representing the idea of an eye for an eye, Assef gets what he deserves. For Amir, the situation means he can now intervene in Hassan’s rape, at least symbolically, by saving Sohrab from further sexual abuse. Though Assef brutally beats Amir, Amir’s goal isn’t to win the fight. The fact that he did not run is what’s important, and as Amir says, in a way he welcomes the beating. It is the punishment he deserved for his actions toward Hassan, but which he never received. It is the reason he feels relief and a sense of healing as Assef beats him, and why he begins laughing.
Amir’s laughter establishes a significant parallel between Amir and Assef. Before he challenges Amir to a fight, Assef tells a story about the time he was imprisoned. He says he began to laugh as a guard kicked him because it ended the pain he suffered from his kidney stone. Amir’s laughing, though stemming from the relief of a different pain, clearly mirrors Assef’s. Moreover, while Amir is in the hospital recovering he describes a dream in which Assef tells him, “We’re the same, you and I. You nursed with him, but you’re my twin.” (p.307). In fact, the novel establishes a few similarities between Amir and Assef. Both Amir and Assef are Pashtuns from wealthy, well-connected families, and they shared similar upbringings. They represent a particular part of Afghan society, namely the ruling powers. In his note to Amir, Rahim Khan even tells Amir that Baba thought of him as the socially legitimate part of his life, the part that inherited wealth and with it a freedom from punishment, which made Baba feel guilty.
Hassan, on the other hand, represented the poor and oppressed part of Afghanistan. He was the illegitimate boy whom Baba wanted to love but could never love publicly. In this context, Amir and Hassan act as the different sides of their country—the rich and poor, Sunni and Shia, Pashtun and Hazara, powerful and powerless—who are nonetheless still children of the same father. In allowing Assef to rape Hassan, Amir became complicit in the domination of the powerless by the powerful. Only by intervening on behalf of Sohrab, essentially sacrificing himself as Hassan once sacrificed himself for him, does Amir redeem himself. He takes a stand against this domination, and in doing so he is left with a split upper lip, recalling Hassan’s cleft lip. In Hassan’s case, his cleft lip acted as a kind of mark of his position in society. For Amir it is a symbol of his sacrifice, and it signifies the union of Afghanistan’s two halves. Through Amir, Khaled Hosseini subtly suggests that if Afghanistan is to atone for its own guilty history of violence and discrimination, it must redeem itself through a similar stand and a similar sacrifice. It is the way for Afghanistan to be good again.
Summary: Chapter 24
Amir and Sohrab arrive in Islamabad. When Amir wakes from a nap, Sohrab is gone. Amir remembers Sohrab’s fascination with a mosque they had passed and finds him in the mosque parking lot. They talk a little about their parents, and Sohrab asks if God will put him in hell for what he did to Assef. Amir says Assef deserved more than he got, and Hassan would have been proud of Sohrab for saving Amir’s life. Sohrab is glad his parents cannot see him. The sexual abuse he suffered makes him feel dirty and sinful. Amir says he is neither, and asks Sohrab if he wants to live in America with him. For a week Sohrab doesn’t give an answer, but one afternoon he asks what San Francisco is like. He says he is scared that Amir or his wife will tire of him. He never wants to go back to an orphanage. Amir promises that won’t happen, and after Sohrab agrees to go to America, Amir calls Soraya to explain everything.
The next day, Amir goes to the American embassy. The man there tells Amir the adoption will be almost impossible. Without death certificates, there is no way to prove Sohrab is an orphan. Amir should speak to Omar Faisal, an immigration attorney. Amir and Sohrab see Faisal the next day. He says it will be hard, but there are options. Amir can put Sohrab in an orphanage, file a petition, and wait up to two years for the government to approve the adoption. That night, when Amir tells Sohrab he may have to go back to an orphanage, Sohrab screams that they’ll hurt him and cries until he falls asleep in Amir’s arms. While he sleeps, Amir talks to Soraya, who tells him that Sharif, a family member who works for the U.S. immigration department, or INS, says there are ways to keep Sohrab in the country once he’s in. Amir goes to tell Sohrab and finds him bleeding and unconscious in the bathtub.
Summary: Chapter 25
Sohrab is rushed to the emergency room. In the hospital waiting area, Amir uses a sheet as a prayer rug and prays for the first time in more than fifteen years. Eventually he falls asleep in a chair and dreams of Sohrab in the bloody water and the razor blade he used to cut himself. A doctor wakes Amir and tells him that Sohrab lost a great deal of blood, but he will live. For several days, Amir stays in the hospital while Sohrab sleeps. When Sohrab awakes, Amir asks how he feels, but Sohrab doesn’t answer. Amir reads to him, but Sohrab pays no attention. Sohrab tells Amir he is tired of everything. He wants his old life back and says Amir should have left him in the water. Amir says he was coming to explain that they found a way for Sohrab to go to America. But Sohrab stops speaking entirely.
Amir and Sohrab arrive in San Francisco in August 2001. General Taheri and Jamila come over for dinner, and while Soraya and Jamila set the table, Amir tells General Taheri about the Taliban and Kabul. General Taheri tip-toes around the subject of Sohrab at first but finally asks why Amir brought back a Hazara boy. Amir says Baba slept with a servant woman. Their son, Hassan, is now dead. Sohrab is Hassan’s son and Amir’s nephew. Amir tells General Taheri never to call Sohrab a “Hazara boy” in his presence again. After September 11 and the American bombing of Afghanistan that followed, the names of places in Amir’s country are suddenly all over. Amir and Soraya take jobs helping to run and raise money for a hospital on the Afghan-Pakistani border, and General Taheri is summoned to Afghanistan for a ministry position.
One rainy day in March 2002, Amir takes Sohrab, Soraya, and Kamila to a gathering of Afghans at a park. There is a tent where people are cooking. Sohrab, who is still not speaking, stands out in the rain, but eventually the weather clears. Soraya points out kites flying in the sky. Amir finds a kite seller, and with the new kite he walks over to Sohrab. While Amir checks the string, he talks about Hassan. Then, with the kite ready, he asks Sohrab if he wants to fly it. Sohrab doesn’t answer, but as Amir runs, sending the kite into the air, Sohrab follows him. When Amir offers again, Sohrab takes the string. A green kite approaches for a battle, and while Amir prepares Sohrab he notices Sohrab looks alert. He shows Sohrab what used to be Hassan’s favorite trick, and quickly they have the other kite on the defensive. In one move, Amir and Sohrab sever the other kite’s string, cutting it loose. People cheer around them, and a brief smile appears on Sohrab’s face. Amir asks if he should run the kite for Sohrab, and Sohrab nods. “For you, a thousand times over,” Amir says (p. 371), and sets off running.
The ending of the book is not exactly a happy one, and not all loose ends are tied up neatly. It is not certain that the characters we have come to know will get what they want. It is quite the opposite, in fact, and for Sohrab in particular there are fresh wounds that will leave permanent scars. The near endless abuse he has suffered is manifest in almost everything he does. Because of the physical and sexual abuse Assef and the Taliban inflicted on him, he flinches every time Amir reaches out to touch him. He also bathes for long periods because he feels he is literally dirty as a result of his rape. Because of this abuse, as well as the abandonment he experienced when Hassan and Farzana were murdered, he is so terrified of going back to an orphanage, even temporarily, that he tries to kill himself. After he recovers, he says only that he wants his old life back. He stops speaking entirely, instead withdrawing into himself as if into a protective shell, completely unable to trust or open up to another person. In the pink scars on his wrists, he is left with a permanent mark of his trauma. Like everyone in the novel, he may move beyond the past, but he can never undo it.
Amir’s redemption is not perfect either. As his feelings of guilt return in the aftermath of Sohrab’s attempted suicide, he feels that, because he was going to break the promise he made never to send Sohrab back to an orphanage, it is his fault Sohrab tried to kill himself. As Amir prays in the hospital waiting room, he thinks the sins he committed against Hassan in the past are being revisited on him now. He is responsible now for Sohrab’s suicide, for instance, just as he was responsible for the chain of events that led to Hassan’s death. Furthermore, because he once pushed Hassan away when Hassan needed him most, God is now taking Sohrab as punishment. Even the relief from his past feelings that he does experience is not uplifting and transformative. He knows, for example, his guilt over his relationship with Baba was gone only because he feels no sting when he thinks Baba may have considered Hassan his true son. “I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded,” he writes in Chapter 25, “not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.” (p. 359)
With all this, Khaled Hosseini suggests a general lesson about life: that there are no simple solutions to such emotionally and historically complex problems as those we have seen throughout the novel. In a perfectly just world, Amir would have been able to adopt Sohrab without any difficulty and bring him home to a wonderful new life. For that matter, in a perfectly just world, few of the novel’s significant events would have occurred at all. At one point, Amir describes an experience he had at a video store in California. A man was looking at a copy of “The Magnificent Seven,” and Amir, who had seen the movie 13 times, gave away the ending. In such movies, the ending reveals the point of the journey. Does the good guy win or does the bad guy? Does the love affair end tragically or happily? Amir isn’t sure exactly how his story ends. Life, he says, is not a movie. Of course, it is Khaled Hosseini, the author, putting these thoughts in the head of his fictional creation. But in doing so, he proposes something about the goal of fiction. If fiction wants to be true to life, it cannot provide easy answers to life’s intractable problems.
Despite this dose of wary realism, Hosseini ends his often painful novel with hope. Flying the kite with Sohrab, Amir feels like a boy again, and for that time at least, he is innocent. It is also the first real connection he feels to Sohrab since Sohrab stopped speaking. Flying the kite is his link to Sohrab much as it was once his link to Baba. The lifeless, vacant look leaves Sohrab’s eyes as he gets ready to battle the other kite, and half a smile peeks out from his face, which is enough to mark the beginning of Sohrab’s recovery in Amir’s mind. A portent of what’s to come, Sohrab’s smile implies that the abuses of the past cannot dominate him or anyone forever, and that eventually Amir, Sohrab, and Afghanistan will look to the future and be healed. The novel comes full circle as it ends, with Amir going to run the kite for Sohrab. He says to Sohrab the last words Hassan said to him before Hassan was raped, but despite the fact that those were the circumstances the last time these words appeared in the book, the hopeful tone suggests Amir has paid his penance and found his redemption.
Important Quotations Explained
1. “That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”
Explanation for Quotation 1 >>
At the outset of Chapter 1, just as the book begins, Amir writes these words. With them, he hints at the central drama of the story and the reason he is telling it. To the reader, the quotation functions as a teaser. It piques the reader’s interest without revealing exactly what Amir is talking about, and from the time period Amir mentions, twenty-six years, the reader gets an idea of just how important this moment was. As the story unfolds, we realize that the deserted alley Amir refers to is where Hassan was raped, and that this event has largely defined the course of Amir’s life since. This is what Amir means when he says that the past continues to claw its way out. Try as he might to bury it, he was unable to because his feelings of guilt kept arising. As a result, he figuratively continues peeking into the alley where Assef raped Hassan, literally meaning that he keeps going over the event in his mind.
2. “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
Explanation for Quotation 2 >>
Baba says these words to Rahim Khan while he is talking about Amir at the end of Chapter 3, and the quotation reveals important traits in both Amir and Baba. With these words, Baba sums up one of Amir’s major character flaws—his cowardice—and Baba shows how much value he places in standing up for what is right. Baba is reluctant to praise Amir, largely because he feels Amir lacks the courage to even stand up for himself, leaving Amir constantly craving Baba’s approval. Amir’s desire for this approval as well as his cowardice later cause him to let Assef rape Hassan. The quotation also foreshadows the major test of Amir’s character that occurs when he must decide whether to return to Kabul to save Sohrab. As Amir searches for redemption, the question he struggles with is precisely what concerned Baba: does he have the courage and strength to stand up for what is right?
3. “Huddled together in the dining room and waiting for the sun to rise, none of us had any notion that a way of life had ended.” (p. 36)
Explanation for Quotation 3 >>
This quotation occurs at the beginning of Chapter 5, as Ali, Hassan, and Amir hide inside from the gunfire they hear in the street that signals the coup by Daoud Khan, which ended Afghanistan’s monarchy. Though the effects of this coup were not immediately apparent, the coup ushered in an era of political instability that would essentially ruin Afghanistan. The way of life Amir refers to is the lifestyle that he, Baba, Ali, and Hassan knew before the coup, when Kabul was still safe and stable. For Amir in particular this meant a relatively idyllic life spent going to school, flying kites, and playing with Hassan, made possible because Baba was wealthy. But in the years after the night Amir describes when the coup occurred, violence and murder plagued the city, forcing Baba and Amir to leave Afghanistan and with it everything they owned. As a result, almost overnight everything Amir knew growing up in Kabul changed.
4. “I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba.”
Explanation for Quotation 4 >>
When Amir says this, toward the end of Chapter 7, he has just watched Assef rape Hassan,and rather than intervene, he ran away. Amir says he aspired to cowardice because, in his estimation, what he did was worse than cowardice. If fear of being hurt by Assef were the main reason he ran, Amir suggests that at least would have been more justified. Instead, he allowed the rape to happen because he wanted the blue kite, which he thought would prove to Baba that he was a winner like him, earning him Baba’s love and approval. The price of the kite, as Amir says, was Hassan, and this is why Amir calls Hassan the lamb he had to slay. He draws a comparison between Hassan and the lamb sacrificed during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha to commemorate Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son to God. In this context, Hassan was the sacrifice Amir had to make to get the kite and ultimately to gain Baba’s affection.
5. “My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.” (p. 289)
Explanation for Quotation 5 >>
This quotation occurs during Amir’s meeting with Assef as he tries to find Sohrab in Chapter 22. Assef beats Amir with brass knuckles, snapping Amir’s ribs, splitting his lip and busting his jaw, and breaking the bone beneath his left eye, but because Amir feels he deserves this, he feels relief. He thinks he should have accepted the beating from Assef years ago, when he was given the choice of saving Hassan—and likely getting physically hurt—or letting Assef rape Hassan. Since that time, Amir has struggled with his guilt, which was only made worse by the fact that he was never punished for his actions. He had even gone looking for punishment in the past, as when he tried to get Hassan to hit him with the pomegranates, because he felt then there would at least be some justice for the way he treated Hassan. But Amir’s guilt lingered until his confrontation with Assef, which despite the physical pain, made him feel psychologically healed. Thus, while Assef beat him, he began to laugh.
full title · The Kite Runner
author · Khaled Hosseini
type of work · Novel
genre · Bildungsroman; Redemption story
language · English
time and place written · Los Angeles, CA; 2001 - 2003
date of first publication · May 2003
publisher · Riverhead Books
narrator · The Kite Runner is narrated by Amir four days after the final events of his decades-long story.
point of view · The narrator speaks in the first person, primarily describing events that occurred months and years ago. The narrator describes these events subjectively, explaining only how he experienced them. At one point, another character briefly narrates a chapter from his own point of view.
tone · The tone is confessional, expressing profound remorse throughout the story
tense · Past tense with extended flashbacks
setting (time) · 1975 through 2001
setting (place) · Kabul, Afghanistan; California, United States
protagonist · Amir
major conflict · After failing to intervene in the rape of his friend Hassan, Amir wrestles with his guilt and tries to find a way to atone for his actions.
rising action · Forced out of Afghanistan by the Soviet invasion, Amir flees to the United States, where he tries to rebuild his life until an old friend offers him a way to make amends for his past.
climax · Amir returns to Kabul, where he finds Hassan’s son, Sohrab, and encounters Assef, the man that raped Hassan twenty-six years earlier.
falling action · Amir rescues Sohrab from a life of physical and sexual abuse and struggles to learn how he and Sohrab can recover from the traumas each has endured.
themes · The search for redemption; the love and tension between fathers and sons; the intersection of political events and private lives; the persistence of the past
motifs · Rape; irony; regressing in time
symbols · The cleft lip; kites; the lamb
foreshadowing · Baba wonders if Amir will be able to stand up for what is right when the time comes; Baba worries that Islamic fundamentalists will one day control Afghanistan; Hassan threatens to shoot Assef’s eye out; Assef vows revenge on Amir.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
1. What role does religion play in the lives of Baba, Amir, and Assef, and in the novel as a whole?
Answer for Study Question 1 >>
Though it is rarely the main focus, religion is nearly always present in Amir’s narrative. It is part of the culture of Afghanistan, and it is accordingly a fixture of the everyday life Amir describes. Amir creates a complex portrait of both the positive and negative traits of religion, with the negative always stemming from fundamentalists who use their beliefs as an excuse to carry out violence against others and to limit people’s freedoms. From what we learn of Baba’s feelings toward religion, this is not surprising. The first significant episode in the book involving religion, for instance, occurs when Amir, who is still a child, tells Baba that the mullah at school called drinking alcohol a sin as Baba pours a glass of whiskey. Immediately, the scene establishes a contrast between Baba and the mullah. Baba calls the mullah and men like him bearded idiots and explains to Amir that theft, in its many variations, is the only true sin. Baba obviously does not respect the beliefs of the mullah, yet he still has his own moral code. Amir consequently grows up with a strong sense of morality, though it is entirely separate from Islam.
Yet religion also has a major role in determining the direction that Afghanistan takes in the years after Baba and Amir flee to the United States. Although Amir’s narrative does not give a clear step-by-step account of the political events in Afghanistan, the reader does know that fighting continued in the country even after the departure of the Russians, called the Shorawi. Ultimately, the Taliban emerged with control, and from Amir’s narrative we learn that many of the Afghans who left their country think the Islamist government the group has created is simply a means for them to justify their violence and authoritarian rule. The character that most represents this image of the Taliban is Assef, who tells Amir that he felt liberated while massacring Hazaras in their homes because he knew God was on his side. Ultimately, however, Assef’s violence becomes his downfall when Sohrab shoots his eye out, and later, when Sohrab has tried to kill himself, Amir has something of a religious conversion when Sohrab survives after Amir prays for God’s help. Amir becomes an observant Muslim after that, but not a fundamentalist, making the case that religion is as good as the person practicing it.
2. How does the author, Khaled Hosseini, use irony in the novel?
Answer for Study Question 2 >>
Repeatedly throughout the book, Amir must face the unintended consequences of his actions. These situations are often ironic in that they are the exact opposite of what Amir intended, much as the man in Amir’s first short story ends up unhappy because of his insatiable desire for wealth. In the most significant instances of irony, the irony stems from immorality. The most notable example of irony, for instance, centers on Amir’s decision not to stop Assef from raping Hassan. Amir wanted to prove to Baba how much he was like him by bringing him the blue kite from the kite-fighting tournament, and he thought in doing so he would finally have the love that eluded him. While Amir gains more attention from Baba temporarily, he eventually loses Hassan, his best friend, because of his actions. A further irony becomes clear when Amir learns that Baba was actually Hassan’s father. Baba had betrayed his own best friend, Ali, by conceiving Hassan with Ali’s wife, and so Amir learns that he was, in fact, just like Baba in that sense, saddening Amir rather than making him happy.
3. What is the significance of rape in the novel?
Answer for Study Question 3 >>
Rape is among the most prominent motifs repeated in the novel. It is Hassan’s rape that establishes the main drama of the story, and it is later Sohrab’s rape by the Taliban that gives Amir the chance to redeem himself. The act of rape in this context carries a great deal of significance. First, it is presented as a form of perversion. What is typically considered an act shared by two people in love to conceive a child, such as Amir and Soraya, becomes an act of violence. Second, there is a distinct emotional component to rape. The rapist dominates the victim not only physically but psychologically as well, as we see in Hassan’s rape and even more dramatically in Sohrab’s. Finally, in each instance of rape we see, the rapist takes advantage of the social order, meaning the rapist is always in a position of greater power than the victim of the rape. Assef, for instance, is rich and has a politically powerful father, while Hassan is a poor Hazara. In each instance, rape acts as a symbolic violation of the powerless by those who have power.
Suggested Essay Topics
1. How do Amir and Hassan represent the divisions in Afghan society, and how do these divisions affect the courses their lives take?
2. How does the author use time as a narrative device in the novel?
3. How do the political events that occur in Afghanistan shape the lives of Amir, Hassan, and Assef?
4. In what ways does Amir seek redemption and why?
5. How do the relationships between fathers and sons affect the events of the novel?