The period is December 2001, and our narrator, who tells his story in the first person, recalls an event that occurred in 1975, when he was twelve years old and growing up in Afghanistan. He does not say what happened, but says the event made him who he is. He follows this recollection by telling us about a call he received last summer from a friend in Pakistan named Rahim Khan. Rahim Khan asks our narrator, whose name is Amir, to come to Pakistan to see him. When Amir gets off the phone, he takes a walk through San Francisco, where he lives now. He notices kites flying, and thinks of his past, including his friend Hassan, a boy with a cleft lip whom he calls a kite runner.
As children, Amir and Hassan would climb trees and use mirrors to reflect sunlight into a neighbor’s window, or they would shoot walnuts at the neighbor’s dog with a slingshot. These were Amir’s ideas, but Hassan never blamed Amir if they were caught. Amir lived with his father, Baba, in a lavish home in Kabul. Meanwhile, Hassan and his father, Ali, lived in a small mud hut on the grounds of Baba’s estate, and Ali worked as Baba’s servant. Neither Amir nor Hassan had a mother. Amir’s died giving birth to him, and Hassan’s ran away after having him. One day while the boys are walking, a soldier says to Hassan that he once had sex with Hassan’s mother, Sanaubar. Sanaubar and Ali were an unlikely match. Ali was a devout reader of the Koran, the bottom half of his face was paralyzed, and polio destroyed the muscle in his right leg, giving him a severe limp. Sanaubar was nineteen years younger than Ali, beautiful, and reputedly immoral. Most people thought the marriage was arranged by Sanaubar’s father as a way to restore honor to his family. Sanaubar openly detested Ali’s physical appearance. Five days after Hassan was born, she ran away with a group of traveling performers.The soldier refers to Hassan as a Hazara, which we learn is a persecuted ethnic group in Afghanistan. The Hazaras originally came from further east in Asia, and their features are more Asian than Arabic. Hassan’s parents were Hazara as well. Amir and Baba, on the other hand, are Pashtun. Once, while looking through history books, Amir discovered information on the Hazara. They had an uprising during the nineteenth century, but it was brutally suppressed by the Pashtuns. The book mentions some of the derogatory names they are called, including mice-eating and flat-nosed, and says part of the reason for the animosity is because the Hazara are Shia Muslim while the Pashtuns are Sunni Muslim.
Amir mixes his memories of Baba in with this information. Baba was a large man, six feet and five inches tall with a thick beard and wild, curly hair. According to one story, he even wrestled a bear once. Baba did all the things people said he could not do. Though he had no training as an architect, he designed and built an orphanage. Though people said he had no business sense, he became one of the most successful businessmen in the city. Though nobody thought he would marry well because he wasn’t from a prominent family, he married Amir’s mother, Sofia Akrami, a beautiful, intelligent woman who came from a royal bloodline. Baba also has his own strong moral sense. While Baba pours himself a glass of whiskey, Amir tells him that a religious teacher at his school, Mullah Fatiullah Khan, says it is sinful for Muslims to drink alcohol. Baba tells him that there is only one sin: theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. Murdering a man, for instance, is stealing his life. He calls Mullah Fatiullah Khan and men like him idiots.Amir tries to please Baba by being more like him but rarely feels he is successful. He also admits to feeling responsible for his mother’s death. Since Baba likes soccer, Amir tries to like it as well, albeit unsuccessfully. What Amir is good at is poetry and reading. But he worries his father does not see these as manly pursuits. When he and Baba went to see a match of buzkashi, a popular game in Afghanistan in which a rider must put an animal carcass in a scoring circle while other riders try to take it from him, a rider was trampled after falling from his horse. Amir cried, and Baba could barely hide his disdain for the boy. Amir later overhears Baba talking to his business associate, Rahim Khan, the man that later calls Amir from Pakistan. Baba says Amir is not like other boys, and he worries that if Amir can’t stand up for himself as a child, he will not be able to do so as an adult.
The first three chapters set out the basic facts of the story, including who the major characters are, their backgrounds, and what their relationships with each other are like. The section also establishes a context for the information: Amir, our narrator, is an adult living in the United States and looking back on his childhood years in Afghanistan. In fact, history is an important theme in the novel, and looking back on the past is a recurring motif. That’s because, for Amir, the past is not over. He believes it to be a fundamental part of who he is, and no matter how far he is in time or location from his childhood in Afghanistan, the events of that period are always with him. Though it remains unclear why, he feels a tremendous sense of guilt about those events, and he believes they shaped him into who he is. This guilt, in fact, informs the entire narrative. Appropriately, he opens the novel in the present then quickly jumps back in time. The author, Khaled Hosseini, spends much more time on characterization than action in this section. In terms of plot, little happens. Instead, Khaled Hosseini introduces us to the personalities of the characters. We learn that the boy Amir is sensitive, bookish, sometimes selfish, and a little mischievous. He is eager to please Baba, whom he views as a role model he can never live up to. Yet he feels Baba does not love him because he is not like Baba and because it was during his birth that his mother died. Baba, meanwhile, is gruff, hardworking, a little distant from Amir, and very much an independent thinker. Anytime someone said he would fail, he didn’t listen, and he always succeeded. He doesn’t always listen to religious authorities either, evidenced by the fact that he disregarded Mullah Fatiullah Khan saying it is a sin to drink alcohol. Ali, meanwhile, is dutiful, modest, and quiet. Lastly there’s Hassan, who is a loyal and courageous friend. When Amir is threatened, Hassan intervenes. He has his own vulnerabilities, however, particularly regarding his mother. Significantly, both Hassan and Amir have lost their mothers. They have only their fathers and each other. The relationship between fathers and sons, and between the older generation and the new one, is a major theme of the story. Also, in many ways Amir and Hassan act for each other as a kind of substitute parent, looking out for the other and providing companionship. They are closer than regular friends. They are more like brothers who are on occasion reminded that one is Pashtun and one Hazara. Their relationship plays a central role in the book, and it figures in another theme that is introduced in this section: standing up for what is right. The theme is introduced primarily through Baba, who worries that if Amir can’t stand up for himself as a young boy, he may not be able to stand up for what is right as an adult. He says this because he sees Hassan standing up for Amir in fights while Amir appears to back down. The section additionally introduces the reader to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan and the location of the events. Khaled Hosseini’s main audience for the book is not Afghan, and he familiarizes his readers with life in Afghanistan by explaining some basic facts. Using the characters of Baba and Amir on one side and Ali and Hassan on the other he lays out all the divisions—economic, ethnic, and religious—present in the country during the late 1970s. Baba and Amir, for instance, are rich and live in a large mansion, while Ali and Hassan are poor and live in a small hut on Baba’s property. Related is the difference in the health of the rich and the poor, who cannot afford proper medicine. Baba and Amir are both healthy, but Ali and Hassan both suffer from problems affecting their faces. Furthermore, Baba and Amir embody the Pashtun population, whereas Ali and Hassan are part of the Hazara minority, a group subjected to relentless racism in Aghanistan. A related divide in religions is also present: like most Pashtuns, Baba and Amir are Sunni Muslim, while Ali and Hassan, like most Hazaras. are Shia Muslim. (The difference between Sunni and Shia is something like the difference between Catholic and Protestant Christians. They share the fundamental beliefs of Islam, that there is only one god and that Muhammad was his prophet for instance, but some of their other beliefs and practices differ.) One additional divide hinted at in this section is that between Islamic fundamentalists, such as Amir’s teacher, Mullah Fatiullah Khan, and more liberal Afghans like Baba. Baba’s words in Chapter 3 foreshadow the eventual takeover of Afghanistan by the radical Islamic fundamentalists called the Taliban. “God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands,” he says, after calling Mullah Fatiullah Khan and those like him “self-righteous monkeys” (p. 17). It will be decades before this happens in the novel, but the political events leading up to the rise of the Taliban, beginning in the 1970s and continuing through 2001, will play a major role throughout the book.
The story jumps back in time to 1933, the year Baba is born and Zahir Shah becomes king of Afghanistan. Around the same time, two young men who are driving while drunk and high hit and kill Ali’s parents. Amir’s grandfather takes the young Ali in, and Ali and Baba grow up together. Baba, however, never calls Ali his friend. Similarly, because of their ethnic and religious differences, Amir says as a child he never thought of Hassan as a friend. Even so, Amir’s youth seems to him like a long stretch of playing games with Hassan. But while Amir would wake up in the morning and go to school, Hassan would clean the house and get groceries. Amir often read to Hassan, who was illiterate. Their favorite story was “Rostam and Sohrab,” in which Rostam fatally wounds Sohrab in battle and then finds out Sohrab is his lost son. During one reading session under their favorite pomegranate tree, Amir begins to make up his own story while he is reading to Hassan. Hassan says it is one of the best stories Amir has read. That night, Amir writes his first short story, about a man whose tears turn to pearls. The man finds new ways to make himself sad so he can cry and become richer, until the story ends with him sitting atop a mound of pearls, sobbing over the wife he has stabbed. Amir tries to show Baba the story while Baba is speaking with Rahim Khan, but Baba does not pay much attention. Rahim Khan takes the story instead. When Rahim Khan leaves later than night, he gives Amir a note. In the note, he tells Amir he has a great talent. Amir goes to where Hassan sleeps and wakes him so he can read him the story. When Amir has finished, Hassan tells him the story is terrific. He has only one question: why didn’t the man make himself cry with onions? Amir is annoyed he didn’t think of it himself and has a nasty thought about Hassan being a Hazara, though he says nothing.
One night, gunfire erupts in the street. Ali, Hassan, and Amir hide in the house until morning. Amir says that night was the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan they knew. It slipped away further in 1978 with the communist takeover, and it disappeared completely in 1979 when Russia invaded. The gunshots were part of a coup in which Daoud Khan, the king’s cousin, took over the government. Because the roads are closed that night, Baba doesn’t arrive home till dawn. That morning, Amir and Hassan hear talk of what happened on the radio, but they don’t understand what it means that Afghanistan has become a republic. They decide to go climb a tree.While they’re walking, a rock hits Hassan. Amir and Hassan discover Assef and two other boys from the neighborhood. Assef is a notorious bully. He is one of the children who mocks Ali’s limp and calls him names. He also carries a set of brass knuckles. Assef calls Hassan a flat-nose and asks if they heard about the new republic. He says his father knows Daoud Khan, and that next time Daoud Khan is over for dinner he’s going to talk to him about Hitler. Hitler had the right idea about ethnic purity. Afghanistan is the land of Pashtuns and the Hazaras just pollute the country. Assef takes out his brass knuckles. He says Amir is part of the problem for being friends with a Hazara. For a moment, Amir thinks that Hassan is his servant, not his friend, but he quickly recognizes his thought is wrong. As Assef goes to hit Amir, Assef suddenly freezes because Hassan has his slingshot aimed at him, which allows Amir and Hassan to get away.After Daoud Khan’s coup, life goes back to normal. The following winter, on Hassan’s birthday, Ali calls Hassan inside. Baba is waiting for him with a man named Dr. Kumar. Dr. Kumar is a plastic surgeon. He is Hassan’s present. Dr. Kumar explains that his job is to fix things on people, sometimes people’s faces. Hassan touches his lip in recognition. The surgery works, and though Hassan’s lip is raw and swollen while he recovers, he smiles all the while. The winter after, all that remains of his cleft lip is a faint scar.
The relationship between ordinary people, such as Hassan and Amir, and political events like Daoud Khan’s coup are a main focus of this section. At the beginning of this section, for instance, Amir says in his narration that Baba was born in 1933, the same year Zahir Shah became king. Why does Hosseini set up this parallel? Because the fates of Zahir Shah and Baba—as well as the fates of those dependent on Baba like Amir, Hassan, and Ali—are all bound together in a sense. When Daoud Khan, in a bloodless coup, takes over in Chapter 5, we know that the lives of our characters are about to change, even if we aren’t sure how. Amir’s and Hassan’s encounter with the racist boy Assef is a hint: the change is not going to be for the better. The rules that govern life in Kabul have been stirred up, and power balances have shifted. Bloodshed and violence may be in store. We witness this from the perspective of Amir, a young boy who does not know what it means that Afghanistan has become a republic. What he does know is this bully, Assef, suddenly has more power because of who his father knows. Amir feels uncertain and threatened, as many Afghans likely did. Amir also talks about how prevalent American culture was in the country during this time. The movies Amir and Hassan love most are Westerns starring American actors, notably John Wayne and Charles Bronson. The movies are dubbed into Farsi, and the boys spend their money on Coca Cola, one of America’s biggest exports, as well as Afghan snacks like rosewater ice cream and pistachios. Baba even drives a black Ford Mustang, which Amir points out is the same car that the actor Steve McQueen drove in the American movie “Bullitt.” Though Assef, the bully, never speaks of these things specifically, he does talk about Afghanistan’s purity. It is not just ethnic purity that Assef and others like him are after, but also cultural purity. The aim is a pure Pashtun people and culture, and the prevalence of American culture in Afghanistan threatens this goal. As a result, the influence of American culture in Afghanistan will be wiped out almost entirely during the years that Amir calls the end of Afghanistan as they know it. In fact, the overall theme of the section is change, in politics, in society, and in the personal lives of Amir and Hassan. In Chapter 4, for instance, Amir recognizes his gift for storytelling, first when he strays from the text he is reading to Hassan and then when he writes his own short story. Simply based on the fact that Amir is narrating the story we are reading, the reader can guess that writing this story is a significant moment in Amir’s life, and that Amir will use his talent for a purpose. Hassan also undergoes a change: his cleft lip is repaired. The deformity is something Hassan has known all his life. It is, in a way, a marker of who he is: a poor servant boy. The surgery removes that marker, and again it is as if a balance is upset. We can expect things to change between the boys, though it is unclear at this point how they will change. The adult Amir, who is telling the story, recognizes several things about his younger self that he evidently didn’t realize while he was still a boy. He sees that he was selfish, for example, that he wanted to be the best at everything, and didn’t want Hassan to be as good. The young Amir genuinely felt that Hassan was beneath him because of Hassan’s poverty, ethnicity, religion, and deformity. Whenever Hassan does something that earns Baba’s love and respect, Amir lashes out at him in his thoughts. If Hassan is better at something than Amir, like solving riddles, Amir stops doing it. If Amir knows something Hassan doesn’t, such as vocabulary words, Amir teases him for his ignorance. In each case, Amir recognizes what he is doing just after the fact and feels guilty. But the reader is led to believe that whatever the event is that changes Amir’s life is something he was not able to take back, and so the guilt has haunted him into adulthood. The reader also sees how the young Amir continues to struggle with his inability to please Baba. This inability makes Amir jealous of anyone else receiving Baba’s attention, which is why Amir becomes angry anytime Baba praises Hassan, and again when Baba pays for Hassan’s plastic surgery. Amir often finds passive-aggressive ways to take his frustration out on Hassan, such as mocking his ignorance or his inability to read. Reinforcing the theme of the love and tension between fathers and sons that recurs throughout the story is Amir’s and Hassan’s favorite story, “Rostam and Sohrab,” which is about a father that fatally stabs an opponent not knowing until too late that the opponent is his son. For Amir, the story represents his relationship with Baba. Complicating Amir’s feelings toward Baba further is his relationship with Rahim Khan. Rahim Khan read Amir’s story when Baba would not, giving Amir the attention and approval he craved, and Amir even wishes at that point that Rahim Khan were his father. The fact is, Amir desperately wants Baba’s approval, yet he has no idea how to get it.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.