91 pages 3 hours read

Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2003

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner, was published in 2003, two years after the events of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the US invasion of Afghanistan. Hosseini, the son of a diplomat for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and relocated to France as a child. When Afghanistan was thrown into turmoil by the Soviet occupation at the height of the Cold War, Hosseini’s family was granted asylum in the United States and settled in San Jose, California. Decades later, upon reading that the Taliban had outlawed kite fighting in Afghanistan, Hosseini penned a short story he later expanded into the novel The Kite Runner. This study guide is based on the 2020 Kindle edition of the book.

In The Kite Runner, Hosseini uses his intimate knowledge of the culture, its customs, and its people to break down stereotypical depictions of Afghanistan in Western media. Framed as a story of fathers and sons, the novel explores the region’s turbulent history of ground wars following the fall of the monarchy through to the Taliban control, illustrating and defining the lives of Afghani people interrupted by war.

Plot Summary

The narrative follows two friends, Amir—who narrates in the first person—and Hassan. Although they do not know it when the narrative begins, Amir and Hassan are half-brothers by the same father, Baba, who lied to hide a secret affair he had with his servant’s wife. Hassan is an ethnic Hazara and a Shi’a Muslim, while Amir, the protagonist, is Pashtun. Although they exist in separate strata of society, the two are inseparable. When Amir runs afoul of Assef, a blond, blue-eyed Pashtun, Hassan appears from behind Amir with his slingshot and threatens to take Assef’s left eye if he does not leave them alone. This encounter begins a cycle of violence that cascades through the novel, spanning out into their adult lives.

In the wintertime in Kabul, neighborhood children compete in a kite fighting tournament wherein kite fighters position their glass string to cut rival kites out of the sky. Kite runners chase the last kite of a tournament, a coveted trophy. When Amir wins the kite fighting tournament in the winter of 1975, Amir and Hassan are briefly separated in the frenzy of celebration. Amir finds Hassan cornered in a blind alley by Assef, having run the last kite. Assef pins and rapes Hassan, but Amir never intervenes and never tells anyone, consumed by his want of the kite—in his eyes, a token through which he can gain Baba’s affection.

Unable to cope with his secret guilt, Amir distances himself from Hassan. However, Hassan and his father, Ali, are a constant presence as they tend the grounds of Baba’s home. As Amir’s guilt intensifies, he frames Hassan for theft—a sin Baba has told him is the worst of all sins. When Baba confronts Ali and Hassan about the stolen contraband, Amir is shocked to hear Hassan confess to the theft. Hassan’s false confession is his final act of loyalty to Amir. Despite Baba’s immediate forgiveness, Ali says that living in Baba’s home has become impossible. Although Baba begs them to stay, Baba and Amir never see Ali or Hassan alive again. 

Amir and Baba flee Afghanistan following a destructive Russian invasion in the 1980s, relocating in California. In 2001, Amir learns from Baba’s friend and business partner that Hassan returned to Baba’s house in the late 1980s but was executed by the Taliban, orphaning his young son, Sohrab. When Rahim Khan tells Amir that Hassan was his half-brother, Amir decides he has no other recourse but to journey back to Kabul to retrieve his nephew. 

Amir returns to Kabul and finds that the Afghanistan of his childhood has been battered into a dangerous war zone patrolled by vicious Taliban extremists. He learns Sohrab has been sold into sexual slavery, purchased by a brutal Taliban official who regularly preys on children at a dilapidated warehouse converted into an orphanage. Amir’s guide arranges a meeting with the Taliban official, bringing Amir face to face with an old nemesis, Assef, who believes he has been chosen by God to ethnically purify Afghanistan. Amir offers to pay for Sohrab, but Assef means to make good on his threat to meet Amir in combat, stating that he can leave with Sohrab only after they fight to the death. In the struggle, Amir is gravely wounded, but Sohrab saves him with a slingshot that he fires into Assef’s left eye. 

After Amir recovers in a hospital, he promises Sohrab he will not allow him to go back to an orphanage. However, the legal path to bringing Sohrab to the United States is murky. After a meeting with an immigration lawyer, Amir decides his best chance at leaving Afghanistan with Sohrab is to place him in an orphanage and file a petition. Sohrab is frantic at the news. Soon, however, Amir learns that he can petition Sohrab’s visa after the boy arrives in America. Overjoyed, Amir rushes to tell Sohrab the good news but finds Sohrab has cut his wrists.

In the hospital, Sohrab recovers, but he is stricken with the various traumas of his life and will no longer speak. In America, Amir and his wife, Soraya, adopt Sohrab, but Sohrab is despondent. Amir brings Sohrab on a family outing to join fellow Afghans for a communal cookout to play Afghan music and fly kites following the events of September 11, 2001. A small tournament of kite fighters has formed, and Amir buys a kite for Sohrab. Sohrab is cautious at first but obviously intrigued. When they cut a kite down together, Amir asks Sohrab if he would like him to run it for him, prompting Sohrab to fleetingly smile—a sign of hope in a novel about childhoods disrupted by violence and trauma.

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