The Kite Runner
The impact of a single decision can haunt a person. In the winter of 1975, a young Afghan boy must make a split-second decision. Will he defend his friend and suffer a beating, or will he watch his friend’s ordeal silently?
Amir, the main character in Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner, witnessess the racially motivated sexual assualt of his friend Hassan, perpetrated by a gang of neighborhood bullies. Hassan is Hazara, a minority ethnic group of Shiite Muslims. He is attacked by a group of Pashtun boys, lead by Assef, a young boy who heavily identifies with Hitler’s doctrine. After this attack, Amir feels deep guilt and shame, which causes him to shut Hassan out of his life.
Amir attempts to move on with his life. He tries to be the son his father always wanted, but is constantly reminded of Hassan. Even after he and his father, Baba, flee Afghanistan during the Russian occupation and find a new home in America, Amir still cannot rid himself of his memories and regret.
Amir adapts to life in America, marries an Afghan woman, and becomes a successful writer. Yet, a walk in the park after a phone call from Pakistan, reminds him of the joy he felt as a child in Afghanistan kite fighting with Hassan.
Kite fighting, in which children attempt to cut down each other's kite strings, is a popular winter pastime among Afghani children. Kite strings are coated with glue and broken glass, allowing the strings to slice through another kite’s string. A kite runner is a child who runs after and retrieves the kites after they are cut. The greatest prize a kite runner can earn is retrieving the last kite cut during a tournament.
The last happy moment Amir and Hassan share occurs when Amir wins the winter kite tournament as his father watches. He sends Hassan, his kite runner, to fetch the last kite so that Amir can present it to his father. When Hassan goes kite running, he is attacked.
As an adult, Amir is presented with the opportunity to make things right. He receives a call from Rahim Khan, his father’s friend, who requests that Amir travel to Pakistan to see him. During this meeting he tells Amir that Hassan is his half brother. He also tells Amir that Hassan has been killed by the Taliban. Hassan’s son, Sohrab, is still in Afghanistan, and Rahim Khan asks Amir to return to Kabul to save Hassan’s son.
Amir decides to travel into Taliban ruled Afghanistan in order to exorcise the demons of his past. Eventually, Amir finds Sohrab and brings him back to America, finally putting to rest his feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
Major themes explored in the novel are forgiveness, friendship, redemption, the power of racism and religious differences, and fear. The Kite Runner is a novel to be read, discussed, and enjoyed by anyone who has wanted a chance to make things right again.
- Protagonist and narrator
- Best friend of Hassan, son of Baba, husband of Soraya
- Makes a decision as a child which haunts him in adulthood
- Best friend and servant of Amir
- Thought to be the son of Ali, but it is revealed in chapter 17 he is also Baba's son
- Loyal to Amir despite any impact it may have on himself
- Father of Amir
- Wealthy citizen of Kabul who is known for his public works
- Has a strained relationship with his son
- Servant of Baba, supposed father of Hassan
- Like a brother to Baba
- Has a twisted hip
- Business associate and close friend of Baba
- Has a close relationship with Amir
- Neighborhood bully who hates Hassan because he is of Hazara descent.
- Admires Hitler
- Afghan living in California
- Wife of Amir
- Orphan son of Hassan
- Adopted by Amir
The narrator, Amir, recalls a day in the winter of 1975 that changes his life. On this day, he remembers hiding behind a crumbling mud wall, peering down an alley. He does not go into greater detail, but he notes that the memory haunts him.
He also recalls a phone call he received the summer before from his friend Rahim Khan, who requests that Amir visit him in Pakistan.
After the phone call, Amir walks through San Francisco, where he now lives. He sees two kites and remembers the words Rahim Khan said before he hung up- “There is a way to be good again.”
Hassan is another childhood friend. He has a cleft lip, but is otherwise beautiful. Hassan is always loyal to Amir and tries unfailingly to please him. Hassan’s father is Ali, who works for Amir’s father. They live in a mud shack on the property. Hassan’s mother left one week after he was born to live with traveling dancers. This is considered very shameful.
Amir’s father is well-to-do and they own an estate in an affluent neighborhood in northern Kabul. Amir calls his father Baba. Baba has many friends, but his best friend is Rahim Khan. Amir’s mother died while giving birth to him.
Ali’s lower facial muscles are paralyzed, so he cannot show much emotion. He also has a twisted right leg, which causes him to have a strange walk. He is a Hazara and a Shi’a Muslim. Amir’s family is Pastun and Sunni Muslim.
Hassan and Amir grew up together as brothers. Amir’s first word was Baba. Hassan’s was Amir. Amir believes this laid the foundation for what happened in 1975.
Baba is a formidable man, both in stature and business. Amir longs to be close to him, but always fears his father is distant because his wife died giving birth to Amir. Some of Baba’s businesses are an orphanage, a restaurant, and a carpet-exporting business. He is one of the richest merchants in Kabul.
Baba says that theft is the one true sin. All other sins (such as murder) are variants of theft. He believes that a murderer robs a wife of a husband, a child of a father. Baba’s father was murdered when Baba was a child.
Amir overhears a conversation between Baba and Rahim Khan. Baba says that he doesn’t understand Amir because he does not stand up for himself. Even when teased and pushed in the streets, Amir lets Hassan defend him. Baba does not respect this quality, and says that if he did not see Amir’s birth, he would not believe Amir is his son.
Rahim Khan says Amir just lacks a mean streak. Baba is glad Rahim Khan understands Amir and can be close to him.
The next day, Amir snaps at Hassan out of jealousy. Amir says he does have a mean streak.
Baba’s father was a judge who adopted an orphan and raised the boy along with his son. The orphan was Ali. Baba never refers to Ali as a friend, and Amir realizes he never refers to Hassan as a friend.
Hassan and Ali are servants in Baba’s home. Amir goes to school, but Hassan does not. Amir reads to Hassan. One time, Amir pretends to read, but makes up his own story. When he finishes, Hassan claps and says it is the best story he has heard.
Amir writes his first short story that night. Amir brings the story to Baba, but he is not interested. Rahim Khan reads the story and writes Amir a note, encouraging him to write because he has a God-given talent, especially his understanding of irony. Amir wishes Rahim Khan was his father. He shares the story with Hassan, who points out a problem with the plot, Amir's first introduction to the plot hole. Amir is astounded and slightly angry, because an illiterate, uneducated boy can find something he could not.
Amir and Hassan’s conversation is cut short by an explosion and gunfire. Ali hides with the boys during the attack. Baba returns and they learn the monarchy has been overturned.
Amir and Hassan are stopped by Assef, the neighborhood bully. He is relentlessly cruel to Hassan because he is Hazara. Assef says Hitler was a great leader, and the new president should follow his plan to get rid of the Hazara. Hassan pulls a slingshot on Assef, but Assef says he will get them later.
For Hassan’s twelfth birthday, Baba arranges for Hassan to have his cleft lip repaired by a plastic surgeon. After the surgery, his scar is barely noticeable.
During the icy winter months, the schools of Kabul are closed. Kites are a popular activity. It is one of the only interests that Amir shares with Baba. Kabul holds kite-fighting tournaments that are greatly anticipated. Baba takes the boys to Saifo, a shoe repairman and the city’s most famous kite maker.
The kite strings are coated with glue and glass so that you could cut the opponent’s kite string during the fight. Kite runners run after kites after their strings are cut, chasing them until they land. The runner gets to keep the kite, but the grand prize is the last cut kite.
Hassan was the greatest kite runner.
Amir wins the annual kite fight as Baba watches. Amir wonders if Baba is proud of him or proud of Hassan. Hassan runs after the last kite Amir cut, as Amir plans to present the kite to Baba as a trophy.
Amir looks for Hassan and finds him cornered in an alley by Assef and his friends. They want to take the kite and beat up Hassan. Assef tells Hassan that he is not really Amir’s friend, but his servant. They start to beat Hassan as Amir crouches behind a wall, watching because he is too afraid to step in.
Assef rapes Hassan as his friends hold him down. Amir runs away. He later meets Hassan and pretends he doesn’t know what happened. Hassan gives Amir the kite, and Amir wonders if Hassan knows Amir saw. Amir gives the kite to Baba, who is proud of Amir.
Hassan avoids Amir and spends most of his time in bed. Ali asks Amir if he knows what happened the night of the kite fight. Amir snaps and tells Ali to do his work.
Baba shows a lot of interest in Amir, even taking him to the movies. For one particular outing, Amir hopes to go with just Baba, but Baba invites three van loads of friends to go along. Amir cannot enjoy any of this because he feels guilty.
Hassan attempts to be friendly with Amir again, but Amir pushes him away.
Amir angers Baba by asking if he ever thought about getting new servants. Their relationship deteriorates.
Amir tries to start a pomegranate fight with Hassan, but Hassan will not fight back. He takes a pomegranate and smashes it into his own head instead of hitting Amir.
Baba throws a huge thirteenth birthday party for Amir. Assef presents Amir with a gift- a biography of Hitler. Rahim Khan tells Amir that he can talk to him anytime and gives a blank book for writing.
Amir realizes that he cannot live with Hassan anymore. Amir lies and tells Baba that Hassan stole his birthday money and watch, a gift from his father. Baba talks to Ali, and then confronts Hassan with Amir. Hassan admits to stealing to protect Amir. Amir realizes that Hassan knew everything- including his hiding behind the wall instead of helping him.
Baba surprises Amir by forgiving Hassan. Ali tells Baba they are leaving. Baba begs them to stay, but they leave. This is the first time Amir sees Baba cry. Baba drives Ali and Hassan to the bus station.
In March of 1981, Amir and Baba flee Kabul, taking only a few personal items. They do this in secret because spies for the Russian soldiers are everywhere. They are headed for Pakistan.
At the border, they are stopped by soldiers. They say they can cross the border after they have half an hour with the young woman traveling with them. Baba protests and the young soldier pulls a gun on Baba, who won’t back down. An older officer stops the younger soldier and allows them to pass.
The group is supposed to change vehicles, but the second truck has been broken for weeks. Baba nearly kills the man when he realizes the man only transported them for the money. They will have to wait for the truck to be repaired, along with thirty other refugees and rats.
In the basement, they meet Kamul and his father, friends from Kabul. Kamul was raped just like Hassan. Kamul does not speak anymore.
All of the refugees are transported in a fuel truck to Pakistan. Kamul dies during the trip, apparently from gas fumes. Kamul’s father kills himself.
Baba and Amir settle in Fremont, California. Baba does not fit in and is not happy working at a gas station. He says he came to America for Amir.
Amir displeases his father when he tells him he wants to major in English in college.
Amir and Baba buy a VW bus and go to frequent garage sales. They then sell the items at a profit at the flea market. Amir meets Soraya, the daughter of Baba’s old friend.
Amir begins to court Soraya. She asks to read one of his stories. Amir stops visiting when her father discourages him.
Baba is diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. Baba refuses treatment. He collapses with a seizure at the flea market. Soraya and her family visit. Days later, Baba arranges Amir’s engagement to Soraya. She worries that her past- she ran away with a man and lived with him a month- will cause Amir to not want to marry her. Amir envies her because her secret is out.
Amir and Soraya are married. She moves in with Amir and Baba because Baba is so sick. She takes responsibility for Baba’s care. She reads Amir’s stories to Baba. He dies one month later.
The couple settles into a routine. Amir finishes his first novel in 1988. The book is released the following year. Amir remembers Hassan’s belief of his writing ability.
The couple try to conceive for one year. They are unsuccessful and try in-vitro fertilization. They consider adoption, and General Taheri, her father, does not approve. They decide not to adopt.
In June of 2001, Amir receives a call from Pakistan. Rahim Khan is sick. Amir decides to go back by himself.
Amir returns to Pakistan. Amir sees an ill Rahim Khan, who tells Amir about the unbearable life of Afghans under Taliban rule. Rahim Khan was happy at first when the Taliban defeated the Russian soldiers because he thought life in Kabul would improve. Most people felt this way because they thought the fighting would stop.
Rahim Khan tells Amir that Hassan lived with him in Baba’s house in Kabul after he left. He says he wants to tell Amir about Hassan.
Rahim Khan found Hassan in 1986. Hassan was married and his wife was expecting a baby. Ali had been killed by a land mine.
Hassan asked many questions about Amir and wanted to know if Amir would read a letter from him. He wept when told about Baba’s death.
Hassan and his wife decide to move with Rahim Khan, but will only live in the hut and work as servants so as not to offend Amir.
Hassan’s daughter was stillborn.
Hassan’s mother returns to see him, disfigured from a recent knife attack. They nurse her back to health.
Hassan’s wife gave birth to a son named Sohrab.
Hassan’s mother died four years later.
Hassan taught his son to be a kite runner. The Taliban banned kite fighting shortly after taking power. Taliban fighters massacred the Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Amir asks where Hassan can be found. Rahim Khan hands him a picture of Hassan and his son and a letter.
In the letter, Hassan tells him about living under Taliban rule and his family. Hassan clearly wishes to see his friend Amir.
A month after Rahim Khan left for Pakistan, Taliban officers came to take the house. Hassan refused to leave. He and his wife were shot dead.
Rahim Khan asks Amir to go to Kabul and bring 10 year old Sohrab to him.
He also tells Amir Ali was sterile. Hassan was also Baba’s son. Hassan never knew.
Amir feels betrayed and angry. He feels his father is a thief because he stole his brother and dishonored Ali. He realizes that he, like his father, betrayed the one person who would have done anything for him. He thinks about the life Hassan could have had in America but for his actions. He decides to go to Kabul.
Amir enters Afghanistan with the help of Farid, a man who has contempt for Amir because he was born with privilege. Farid dislikes Amir at first because he believes that the only reason Amir is returning to Afghanistan is so he can sell off property, and ultimately make money. Farid takes Amir to Wahids house. There, Amir is served a dinner, which he offers to share with Wahids children. Amir notices that the children are staring at his watch. During dinner, Amir reveals to Wahid and his family that he has returned to Afghanistan in order to rescue his half brothers son. This is suprising, because Amir is very reluctant to reveal his fathers lack of pride and honor. Later on, he overhears Wahid and his wife arguing that they had to give food to Amir since he was a guest, even though they barely had any food for themselves. Farid thinks better of him when he learns why he is going to Kabul. Farid and Amir leave the house, and Amir gives his watch to one of the children. However, Amir realizes the kids weren't staring at his watch at all, they were staring at his food.
Amir enters Kabul and is shocked by the destruction and begging children. Amir and Farid locate the orphanage where Sohrab has been living. Amir convinces the director to help them find Sohrab by referring to his skills with the slingshot. When the director lets Amir and Farid in, he regretfully informs Amir that a Talib Official had come to the orphanage and bought Sohrab. Farid is furious about this, and accuses the director of selling the children to make a profit. He then begins to strangle the director until Amir intervenes. The director informs Farid and Amir that he has no choice but to sell some of the children. He says that if he refused, the Taliban would take as many children as they want instead. He adds that he had spent his life savings on the orphanage, and instead of escaping to pakistan like many others did, he chose to stay and run the orphanage. The director then instructs Amir and Farid to go to Ghazi stadium, and look for the Talib official with the black sunglasses, this man will know where Sohrab is.
Amir and Farid visit Amir's childhood home, and they find his neighborhood is now home to the rich Taliban.
The next day, they go to Ghazi Stadium to find the official who bought Sohrab. The stadium is filled with people watching soccer. During halftime, a man and a woman are stoned to death for adultery on the field by a man in white, the Taliban official.
Amir and Farid arrange for a three o’clock appointment with the official.
Amir goes in alone to see the official, who lives in a palatial home. He is verbally abused and threatened by the official, who instructs guards to bring Sohrab to the room. He looks just like Hassan. Sohrab is dressed almost like a court jester, wearing make-up, and forced to dance whenever music is played.
The official asks Amir where “babalu” is, in reference to Ali. The official is Assef. Assef says he can have Sohrab, but first he has to earn him. Assef tells his guards not to come in the room, no matter what they hear. He and Amir have unsettled business. Only one of them will come out alive. If it is Amir, then the guards will have to let Amir and Sohrab go.
Assef beats Amir badly, breaking his nose and teeth. Amir notices that not only does Assef have blue eyes, but he has blond hair as well. Amir starts laughing. He believes it is funny how just now that he is being beaten up he finally feels comfort. His laughing angers Assef more.
The fight ends when Sohrab points his slingshot at Assef, who lunges at Sohrab. Sohrab’s shot takes out Assef’s eye. Sohrab helps Amir out of the house. Farid drives them away.
Amir fades in and out of consciousness. He wakes up two days later in a hospital with a broken jaw, punctured lung, ruptured spleen, and other injuries.
Rahim Khan has left town, leaving a letter for Amir. He tells Amir that he should forgive himself for what happened to Hassan and he should also forgive Baba someday. Baba was torn between two sons and took out his frustration on Amir. Rahim Khan also leaves his money in a safe deposit box for Amir.
Amir has to be moved soon because the Taliban is looking for him. Amir bonds slowly with Sohrab over cards. The people Amir planned to leave Sohrab with were made up by Rahim Khan. Amir takes him to Islamabad.
Amir wakes up one night and Sohrab is gone. He finds him by the mosque. Sohrab says he is beginning to forget what his parents look like. Sohrab is ashamed of what Assef did to him. Amir offers to take him to live with him in America.
Amir calls his wife and tells her about Hassan, what happened in Kabul, and his desire to adopt Sohrab.
A man at the American Embassy in Islamabad says adopting Sohrab is impossible, due to the fact that Amir would need death certificates of his parents (Hassan and Farzana), when most people in Afghanistan hardly had birth certificates. Also, he would need to prove that Sohrab is really his half nephew, which was nearly impossible as well. However, he stillgives them the name of an immigration lawyer. Amir meets with the lawyer who says Sohrab may have to wait in an orphanage. He is willing to help. Soraya arranges for a humanitarian visa to get Sohrab into the U.S. Amir goes in to tell Sohrab
Sohrab tries to commit suicide rather than be put in an orphanage. He survives, but he tells Amir he wishes that he had died. Sohrab does not speak for a year after that.
Amir and Sohrab go home to America. Sohrab remains silent.
At a party thrown by the American Afghan community, Amir buys Sohrab a kite. The two of them kite fight together and win. Just as he and Hassan had done years earlier. Amir is Sohrab’s kite runner, and for the first time Sohrab smiles for Amir.
- “There is a way to be good again.” This is said by Rahim Khan to Amir to encourage him to help Hassan’s son escape Afghanistan and finally redeem himself.
- “I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.”, Said by Amir, story opener that talks about the time he betrayed his best friend Hassan in an alley in Kabul.
- “There was brotherhood between people who had fed from the same breast, a kinship that not even time could not break.”
- "For you a thousand times over!", This is said by Hassan to Amir as Hassan runs his last kite, the prized blue one that would earn Amir his Baba's praises. Years later, Amir still remembers these words when he thinks of Hassan.
Study Questions and Essay Topics
The novel begins ‘I became what I am today at the age of twelve’. To what is Amir referring? Is his assertion entirely true? What other factors have helped form his character? How would you describe Amir?
Amir had never thought of Hassan as his friend, despite the evident bond between them, just as Baba did not think of Ali as his friend (page 22). What parallels can be drawn between Amir and Hassan’s relationship, and Baba and Ali’s? How would you describe the relationship between the two boys? What makes them so different in the way they behave with each other? What is it that makes Amir inflict small cruelties on Hassan? Had you already guessed at the true relationship between them? If so, at what point and why?
It is Amir’s dearest wish to please his father. To what extent does he succeed in doing so and at what cost? What kind of man is Baba? How would you describe his relationship with Amir, and with Hassan? How does that relationship change and what prompts those changes?
Khaled Hosseini vividly describes Afghanistan, both the privileged world of Amir’s childhood and the stricken country under the Taliban. How did his descriptions differ from ideas that you may already have had about Afghanistan? What cultural differences become evident in the American passages of the novel? How easy do the Afghans find it to settle in the US?
After Soraya tells Amir about her past, she says ‘I’m so lucky to have found you. You’re so different from every Afghan guy I’ve met’ (page 157). What do you think of the reasons that Amir puts forward for this? Could there be others? How do Afghan women fare in America? Are they any better off than they were in Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power?
On the drive to Kabul Farid says to Amir ‘You’ve always been a tourist here, you just didn’t know it.’ (page 204) What is Farid implying? What do you think of his implication? Amir feels that he is 'home again' (page 210) but how well does he know or understand his country?
How does Hosseini succeed in bringing the horror of the Taliban to life? Why did he choose the role for Assef that he did?
'There is a way to be good again' (page 2) promises Rahim Khan, a phrase which resonates throughout the novel. Does this prove to be the case for Amir? How important is Rahim Khan to him?
After reading Amir's story Rahim Khan writes to him: 'the most impressive thing about your story is that it has irony.' (page 28). It is surely an irony that Hassan, whose ignorance Amir pillories, points out that there was no need for the man to kill his wife to weep tears, he could simply have smelled an onion. How important is irony in the book? Were their other instances that particularly struck you?
How significant is the tale of Rostam and Sohrab? What does it mean to Hassan, and to Amir?
How important is religion in the book? What attitudes do the main characters have to it? How do they compare to the popular Western idea of Islam?
What is the significance of kites in the book? What do you think they symbolise? Who is the eponymous kite runner?
"The past is always there"- Give three examples of how this shown in the Kite Runner
Why do you think Khaled Hosseini wrote the Kite Runner?
How did saving Sohrab allow Amir to forgive himself?