The Kite Runner
In-depth summery of the best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini and related Afghan history
In the book The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, the audience follows a boy named Amir who’s growing up in the 1970s, pre-conflict Kabul, Afghanistan. We’re soon introduced to his loyal best friend/servant/half-brother, Hassan, and his authoritative widowed father, Baba. Amir is a Pashtun and cowardly boy, who often bullies Hassan, who is a Hazara and therefore, uneducated and lower in class. He is always seeking his father’s approval, and jealous of the affection that Baba shows Hassan, which he discovers much later in life was because of their blood relationship.
Baba desired a strong and capable son, while Amir was not that. Hassan, on the other, was always standing up for Amir and often threatening the bullies with his slingshot. Instead, Amir found joy in reading and writing stories, which he shared with Hassan and Rahim Khan, his father’s friend who appreciated his talent - a hobby his father did not care for. Amir and Baba, however, did share intimate moments when Baba would teach Amir of important life lessons.
In one of those times, Baba explained to him that “there is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft. When you kill a man, you steal a life... you steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness... there is no act more wretched than stealing.”
When Amir and Hassan take part in the traditional kite-flying competitions in Kabul, Amir finally believes he can win Baba’s approval after winning the tournament, but only at the cost of losing Hassan. While running after the kite that Amir cut down to win the tournament, Hassan was cornered by Assef, a German and Pashtun sociopath, and his gang, who often bullied the boys and praised Adolf Hitler’s ideology of ethnic cleansing. He offered Hassan an escape in exchange for the kite that he had just run, but having allegiance to Amir, he did not give it up.
In what would be considered the turning point in Amir’s life, he found Hassan in the alleyway, pinned down and with his pants down as Assef raped him. Having no courage to face Assef, and being determined to win Baba’s approval with the kite, Amir ran away, leaving Hassan.
This event forever changed the relationship between Amir and Hassan, who grew up together from birth, and who were seen almost like brothers, before it was even disclosed that they were. Amir began to ignore Hassan because of the guilt that he felt. He even questioned Baba if he had ever considered getting new servants, in which Baba replied that Hassan and his father, Ali were family and that Amir should never ask that question again.
Following Amir’s birthday, he planted his new watch and birthday money in Hassan’s room to frame him for theft, the greatest sin of all in Baba’s eyes. Even when Hassan accepted the blame, Baba forgave him. Instead, Ali decided that it would be better off for Hassan and himself to leave the estate, and they were never to be seen by Amir again.
Years later, in 1981 when the Soviets had taken over Kabul, Amir and Baba fled to Pakistan, leaving Rahim Khan to watch over their house. While most other Afghans are forced to stay in the city, their wealth enables them to escape and make their way to Fremont, California. In the United States, they are no longer considered high-status as they were in Afghanistan. Baba works at a gas station, while Amir finishes school, and on the weekends they sell items at a flea market with other Afghan refugees.
Despite their unfavorable situation, their relationship grows into something that was never present in Afghanistan. Through the flea market, Amir is introduced to General Taheri, an old friend of Baba’s, and quickly falls in love with his daughter, Soraya. When Baba starts to become sick, Amir asks him to request for General Taheri’s permission for Amir to marry his daughter, which the General agrees to, only once Amir has spoken to Soraya. Soraya explains over the phone to Amir a portion of her past which she deeply regrets. She discloses that years ago, she ran away with a man, only to be brought back home by the General.
An Afghan girl having premarital relations with a man was seen as disgraceful and for that, she wanted to ensure that Amir still wanted to marry her. Amir admired Soraya’s courage to share this shameful past, something that Amir could not do himself, and assured her that he still wanted to be with her. Baba grew sicker, but was well cared for by Soraya until his final day.
As the years go on, Amir publishes his first book and the two begin to try to have children, but they are not able to. More time continues to pass until the summer of 2001, when Amir receives an unexpected call from a very ill Rahim Khan, telling him to come to Pakistan and that there is a way to be good again. Amir arrives in Pakistan at Rahim Khan’s apartment, remembering the last time that he saw him, the night that he left Afghanistan. He tells Rahim Khan about his life, living in America, his wife, Soraya, and their unfortunate infertility.
Rahim Khan then describes to Amir about the growing conflict in Afghanistan, the abuse by the Taliban, and how he had continued to live in Baba’s house all those years, but was eventually joined by Hassan, his wife, and their son, Sohrab, who lived in the servants’ house. He handed Amir an envelope with a handwritten letter from the once illiterate Hassan with stories of his life and a picture of himself and Sohrab. When Amir asked if Hassan was still at Baba’s house, Rahim Khan confessed that the Taliban had come to the house and not believing that he was taking care of the house, shot him. As his wife, Farzana attempted to fight back, they shot her as well, leaving Sohrab an orphan.
Rahim Khan informs Amir that he knows of an American couple in Pakistan that is willing to care for Sohrab if Amir goes to Kabul to get the boy. Amir refuses, offering to pay for someone else to do it, but Rahim Khan explains that it is important for Amir to go and that he knows why. This is when Rahim Khan reveals to Amir that Hassan was not simply a servant to him all those years. His father, Ali, was sterile and unable to have kids, inferring that Baba was, in fact, Hassan’s true biological father. However, because of social norms and his honor in the community, Baba was never able to reveal this truth.
With this information, Amir was able to deduct that Sohrab was his nephew. With the news of Hassan’s death, Amir realized that he would never be able to apologize to Hassan for what he did, or rather what he didn’t do - apologize for not standing up for him as kids when Hassan was raped, or for lying about Hassan stealing his birthday gifts. Instead, he could make things right by going after Hassan’s only child, and bringing him to safety. Amir knows that the journey will be a difficult and dangerous one, but it would be a way to make it up to Hassan and to prove to Baba that he could be the strong son he always wished for.
Amir headed off to Afghanistan, with the help of an acquaintance of Rahim Khan, Farid, and a false beard to blend in with the Taliban forces. Upon arrival to the war-stricken and almost unrecognizable Kabul, Amir commented that he felt like a tourist, to which Farid replied, “you’ve always been a tourist here, you just didn’t know it.” Growing up in his high status, Amir never had to truly face the hardships that other Afghans, such as Hassan, had to.
They arrived at the orphanage only for the director to inform them that the Taliban had taken Sohrab not too long ago. The Taliban often came and paid for a child, typically a girl, but this time a boy, for whatever obscene work and pleasures they needed. They were told to find the man who took them at halftime of the football game at the Ghazi Stadium the next day.
During the halftime show the following day, Amir sees the man that they must speak to about Sohrab. He stood in the center of the field with other Taliban members, and a blindfolded man and woman, who we’re told are adulterers. As punishment, they are both stoned to death in the name of God. After the bodies are taken away in the back of a truck, Farid tells one of the Taliban that he has personal business with the official, who agrees to meet them after the match. Amir and Farid drive to the house where Amir will meet the Taliban and Farid waits in the car.
When they meet, the official rips off the fake beard from Amir’s face and questions him. Amir informs him that he is looking for Sohrab, who then enters the room, after being summoned, and dances for the audience. It was after further personal questioning that Amir realized who the Taliban official was, his and Hassan’s childhood bully, Assef. Assef explains why he joined the Taliban, which could be referred to as ethnic cleansing, ridding the nation of what he thought was the inferior race, the Hazaras.
The conversation quickly turns into a brawl in which Assef informs his colleagues that if Amir exits the room alive, then he deserved it and should be released. Assef easily began to beat everything out of Amir, even putting on his brass knuckles, but Amir only laughed. He finally felt that he was being rightfully punished for sins in his past life. However, if it weren’t for Sohrab pulling out a slingshot and hitting Assef in the eye, he may have been beaten to death. Amir and Sohrab were able to escape and make their way back to Rahim Khan.
When they arrived, Rahim Khan was gone, and it was unveiled that the American couple wanting to adopt Sohrab didn’t exist. Amir realized that this was what Rahim Khan meant by making things right again; he had wanted Amir to adopt Sohrab and take him back to America with him. After speaking to someone at the American embassy, they realize it may not be easy, even impossible to bring Sohrab back to America.
That night, Sohrab attempts suicide in their hotel bathroom, not being able to bear the idea of going back to an orphanage. It is then that Soraya calls Amir and informs him that they will be able to make the adoption work. After finding Sohrab and bringing him to the hospital, Amir prays for the first time in fifteen years before falling asleep. Although he had lost a lot of blood, Amir is told that Sohrab will live and he ensures the boy that they will make it to America.
The two finally arrive in America, where Sohrab is silent and the General wonders how his status will be affected by having a Hazara boy in the family. Amir defends Sohrab, explaining to everybody that the boy is his nephew, that Baba had had relations with a Hazara woman, and now they were family. Throughout Sohrab’s time in America, he doesn’t speak much and it isn’t until Amir takes the boy kite-flying in the park with the other Afghans, that he feels a connection with Sohrab and in a sense freed from the guilt that he held onto for so long.
While this book is written as fiction, Hosseini incorporated much of the crisis of Afghanistan into his story, from the Soviet invasion to the rise of the Taliban. Just as the story did, war and conflict began in Afghanistan in the late 1970s. The Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979, and remained there until 1989, causing an uprising of the pro-democratic Afghan forces called the Mujahideen (BBC, 2019). The Mujahideen fought against the Soviets, with support from the United States, China, Pakistan, Iran, and others, until the Soviet pulled out of Afghanistan. This departure set the stage for a civil war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban.
While researching the history of the conflict of Afghanistan, I ran into conflict myself when it came to the actual fighting forces. The Mujahideen came as the Soviets had taken over the country, but seem to disappear in history when the civil war began. Sources indicate that the Mujahideen split into the opposing Northern Alliance and Taliban forces, with Pakistan moving to support the Taliban and former supporters sticking to the Northern Alliance.
Following the uprising of the Taliban, who were then seen as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, the U.S. and other countries began their strikes against the group. The population of Afghanistan saw the Taliban as authentic and rightful leaders, doing what was favorable for their country. In 1998, the U.S. began an attack by striking missiles on what was suspected to be Taliban leader, Osama Bin Laden’s base (BBC, 2019). This was followed by the infamous September 11 attacks on the United States in 2001.
War has continued to rage throughout the country for the last few decades, with a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban being signed in February of this year (BBC, 2020). While this halts war between our country and theirs, there is no projection for what is to come and for how long it may continue for them.
BBC. (2019, September 9). Afghanistan profile - Timeline. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-south-asia-12024253
BBC. (2020, February 29). Afghan conflict: US and Taliban sign deal to end 18-year war. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51689443
Hosseini, K. (2003). The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books.