The Kite Runner Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The Kite Runner

Amir lives with his father, Baba, in Kabul, Afghanistan. His mother, who had died during childbirth, had left behind a collection of Sufi literature. From early childhood, Amir likes to read stories from her books to his servant and playmate, Hassan. While Amir is privileged and able to go to school, Hassan is busy with housework. However, in their free time they are good friends. To commemorate these happy times, Amir carves their names on a pomegranate tree.

Living in a single-parent home, Amir yearns for his father’s attention and gets jealous of Hassan when his father bestows favors on Hassan, favors like arranging cosmetic surgery for his harelip. Amir’s desire for his father’s affection also stems from his father’s indifference toward his son’s interest in books. When it is time for the local kite-flying contest, Amir gets excited because he knows that his father will be watching him with genuine interest.

Hassan is excited about the contest, too, and after Amir wins, Hassan runs and catches the prizewinning kite for his friend. Unfortunately, the neighborhood bully, Assef, and his companions stop Hassan and demand the kite from him. Hassan does not surrender the kite and is physically assaulted and raped by Assef. Amir sees the assault but, fearing confrontation with the bully, does nothing—an act of betrayal that will affect Amir into adulthood and forever change his relationship with Hassan.

Both Amir and Hassan know the social gap that defines their identities. In Afghan culture, Amir is a Pashtun and Hassan is a Hazara, which makes him a servant. Religious difference also sets them apart, even though they both are Muslim: Amir is Sunni, and Hassan is Shia. Pashtuns, the majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, make fun of Hazaras, a minority ethnic group, treating them as pariahs. Children taunt Hassan’s father, Ali, as “a slant-eyed donkey,” and Assef insults Hassan as a “flat-nosed” Hazara who does not belong in Afghanistan.

Amir is not disturbed with his servant-master friendship until the kite incident. Even as a twelve-year-old kid, he is old enough to know that he has not been good. Hassan’s presence reminds him of his own guilt, so he asks his father to get new servants. Baba refuses but, instead, frames Hassan, accusing him of theft; Hassan and his father leave Kabul. A few years later, because of the Russian invasion, Baba and Amir secretly leave Kabul, too. They cross the border into Pakistan after a difficult journey and emigrate to the United States.

Baba adjusts to the cultural and economic challenges of living in the United States and is happy with Amir’s educational success. Amir had majored in English to pursue a writing career, his childhood dream. On weekends, he helps his father sell at the local flea market, where he meets Soraya, the daughter of an expatriate Afghan general. Amir and Soraya soon fall in love, and Amir’s father makes lavish arrangements for a grand wedding. Baba, who has been suffering from cancer, dies one month after the wedding.

Amir and Soraya are happy together, but they remain childless for many years. Twenty years later Amir is a successful novelist in the United States. An old friend of his father, Rahim Khan, calls Amir on the phone and invites him to Pakistan. Amir meets him and soon learns that Baba had sold his home to Rahim. Rahim had then brought back Hassan and his family to live with him. Unfortunately, in Rahim’s absence, Talibs had come to the house and shot Hassan and his wife; their son, Sohrab, ended up in an orphanage.

Rahim also reveals that Hassan was actually Baba’s son, and Amir’s half-brother. Amir is outraged by this belated discovery, but he also recalls his own guilt. Thus, he embarks on a dangerous journey to Afghanistan to atone his past sins and to rescue Sohrab, his nephew.

Afghanistan is now under the oppressive control of the Taliban. After a great deal of searching, Amir meets a Talib, who agrees to arrange a meeting with Sohrab. Amir goes to the appointed place and recognizes Assef, the neighborhood bully from their younger days, who is now a Talib; Assef practically owns Sohrab. Assef says he will release Sohrab only if Amir will engage in one-on-one physical combat with him, and win. In this mismatched fight, Amir is seriously injured. Sohrab hits Assef in the eye with something fired from his slingshot, and Amir and Sohrab manage to escape.

Sohrab and Amir flee to Pakistan, and Amir is hospitalized. He plans to return to the United States with Sohrab after he recovers from his injuries, but because he is not a legal guardian of the child, he cannot obtain a U.S. visa for him. A lawyer advises Amir that to legally adopt Sohrab, it would be necessary to place Sohrab in an orphanage. When Amir reveals this plan to Sohrab, the child is devastated and feels betrayed; Amir had promised him that he would never send him to an orphanage. Sohrab attempts suicide, and Amir finds his nephew’s body in the bathroom, covered with blood. Amir screams for help and vows to become a devout Muslim if God will spare Sohrab’s life. Sohrab lives, but he no longer talks or smiles.

Finally, Amir is able to return to the United States with Sohrab after Soraya obtains a humanitarian visa for the child. The couple do their best to make Sohrab happy in his new home, and Amir forbids his father-in-law from ever referring to Sohrab as a Hazara. Later, Sohrab shows signs of a faint smile as Amir runs after a prizewinning kite.

The Kite Runner Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

December 2001

An unidentified narrator claims that everything he is today can be traced back to something that happened to him when he was twelve years old. Though he is much older now, he remembers everything about the exact moment. On a “frigid overcast” day in the winter of 1975, he was crouched behind a crumbling wall of mud, looking into the alley located near the frozen creek. Though this incident happened a very long time ago, the memory is vivid. The narrator has learned that what others claim is not true. The past cannot be buried; it always manages to claw its way back out of its figurative grave. Looking back, he realizes that he has been gazing into that alley near for the past...

(The entire section is 399 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

Amir [the narrator] and Hassan play together as children, and Amir goads the younger boy into mischief. When Amir begs him to slingshot some walnuts at the neighbor’s dog, Hassan does it. Hassan does not deny Amir anything and he is “deadly with a slingshot.” When Ali, Hassan’s gentle-spirited father, catches them, Hassan never tells his father the slingshot was Amir’s idea.

Amir’s father, his Baba, built his estate in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in Kabul. Marble floors, elaborate mosaic tiles, tapestries stitched in gold, and a crystal chandelier are signs of his success. The living room has a wedding photograph of Baba and his bride, a “smiling young princess in white.” In another...

(The entire section is 513 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

Baba’s nickname is “Mr. Hurricane,” an apt description for the burly, bearded, thundering Pashtun man. He is an unavoidable force. When Amir was about five, Baba determined to build an orphanage. Rahim Khan later told Amir that Baba, without any architectural experience, built and paid for the three-year project from blueprints to completion. Amir was eight when it opened, and he remembers going to the lake with Baba the day before; Amir was supposed to ask Hassan to come along but Amir lied and said Hassan was not available because Amir is jealous that Baba likes Hassan more than his own son because Hassan is a better athlete. Amir and Baba eat their picnic lunch together, but Baba pays no attention to Amir because he is...

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Chapter 4 Summary

In 1933, Zahir Shah began his forty-year rule of Afghanistan and Baba was born. Amir’s grandfather was a prominent judge, and he adjudicated a case which impacted his entire family. A couple of boys got high and drank too much before getting into a car and killing a young Hazara couple. The culprits were sentenced to a year of military service; the judge adopted the couple’s five-year-old son, Ali.

Ali and Baba grew up together in the same way their sons, Hassan and Amir, have done. Despite their many shared pranks and fond memories, Baba never refers to Ali as his friend; the same is true of Amir and Hassan. Though they are friends and grew up together, the religious distinctions between them keep them from being...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

When the roar of explosions, gunfire, and sirens begins, Amir and Hassan huddle against Ali in fright; Ali tries to reassure the boys, but he is clearly shaken, too. They stay that way for hours, unaware that this night, July 17, 1973, marks a dramatic change in Afghanistan. While the king, Zahir Shah, was away in Italy, his cousin Daoud Khan staged a bloodless coup, ending his forty-year reign. Baba returns home and Amir is surprised to see an unfamiliar look of fear on his father’s face. When Baba wraps both boys in his arms, Amir is glad for an instant that this night happened.

The next day, Hassan is afraid he and Ali are going to have to move away now that things have changed; both boys are afraid of the word...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

Amir, like most rich boys in Kabul, loves winter because his house is warm and there is no school during the icy season. He and Hassan spend their days going to movies and playing in the snow, but Amir loves this season mostly because it is a time when he and Baba are closer than usual. Though they live in the same house, the boy and his father have very little in common. Kites are the “one paper-thin slice of intersection” between their two worlds.

Every winter, each Kabul district holds a kite-fighting tournament. The night before the competition, Amir never sleeps, as if he is planning to fight a major battle the next day. In Kabul, kite-fighting is like going into battle. Amir and Hassan used to save their money...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

The night before the competition, Hassan has a dream. A monster is in a lake and everyone is afraid to enter it; Amir is unafraid and both boys gain the favor of everyone watching. Ali prays as he closes the gates behind the boys; he always prays for his son when he leaves. Baba and Rahim Khan sit on the roof, ready to watch the tournament. Suddenly Amir feels as if he will again disappoint his father and does not want to compete. Hassan reassures Amir, as if he could read his friend’s fears, that there are no monsters; again Amir wonders how an uneducated boy is so much smarter than he is.

Soon, nearly fifty kites are in the air. Hassan’s hands are already bloody from the string when the cutting begins. Kites begin...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

Hassan does his chores, but he no longer sings. Amir does not see him for weeks. One day he asks Ali about Hassan; the boy claims to have had a scuffle over the kite and now stays in bed whenever he can. Ali begs Amir to tell him if anything else happened that day, but Amir is derisive and claims to know nothing.

Baba takes Amir to Jalalabad, but Baba spoils things by inviting dozens of people to join them. Baba brags about Amir’s win in the kite tournament. Everyone but Amir cheers; Rahim Khan looks at the quiet boy and tells Baba to pull over. Amir is carsick, but he is also sick from his guilt.

Amir should be happy, but he feels empty. When Baba again brags about Amir’s victory, Amir feels “like...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

The piles of birthday gifts and money mean nothing to Amir; he tosses them into a pile. To him, they are “blood money, things he never would have gotten if he had not won the kite tournament." Baba gave him two gifts. The first is a bright red Schwinn Stingray bicycle, something quite rare in Kabul and sure to make him the envy of everyone he knows. Amir feels no joy and offers his father only a perfunctory thank-you. Baba does not stay to see him open his second gift, a new watch. Amir throws it on the pile. The only untainted gift is the journal Rahim Khan gave him.

That afternoon Amir rides the Stingray for the first and last time. He sees Ali cleaning up from last night’s party and Ali gives Amir the gift from...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

March 1981

Baba, Amir, and some others are in the back of a truck, being smuggled out of Kabul to Jalalabad. It has been five years since Ali and Hassan left, but everything in Kabul has changed. Baba and Amir took very few belongings out of the house so they would not be quickly missed.

The old truck stops at a checkpoint and a young Russian guard demands payment for passage: half an hour with a young woman in the truck. Baba is appalled and asks where the soldier’s shame is; the soldier laughs and says there is no shame in wartime. Baba refuses to back down and Amir is certain he will soon be orphaned at the age of eighteen; however, an older officer intervenes and apologizes for the...

(The entire section is 501 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

Fremont, California (1980s)

Baba loves the idea of America, but living here has given him an ulcer.

Despite his beliefs, Baba is unhappy with nearly everything he encounters in America and refuses to improve his English. It has been eighteen months since he and Amir arrived in the United States, and Baba has still not adapted well. He works at a gas station and misses everything about his homeland. While Baba mourns his memories in America, Amir tries to bury his memories here.

They live in a small, grimy apartment, but Baba knows all the neighbors, mostly Afghans. His body aches from the manual labor he does, the sacrifice Baba made for his son to go to school and have...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

Amir thinks constantly about Soraya Taheri, using every excuse to see her on Sundays but never finding the courage to meet her eyes or speak to her. At the end of spring, Amir makes an excuse to go see her. Baba is not fooled and warns Amir that the general is a man of Pashtun honor and pride, especially concerning his daughter’s chastity.

Soraya is alone when Amir asks for the general, unable to meet her eyes. He stumbles through some pleasantries and leaves; before he loses his nerve, he turns back to her and asks what she is reading. It is a bold question by Afghan standards, but she answers him. She has heard that he is a writer, and he offers to show her one of his stories. Before he can leave, Soraya’s...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

Baba and Amir go to the Taheris’ the next night for the betrothal ceremony. Baba is tired and weak but says it is the happiest day of his life. Soraya’s elegantly dressed mother greets them, and already she is weeping with joy. Baba and Amir formally greet the two dozen guests in the room; then Baba and the general give formal speeches of offering and acceptance. Finally Soraya appears and everyone is moved.

The traditional formalities of an engagement and wedding are shortened because everyone knows without saying that Baba does not have months to live. Amir is not allowed to be alone with Soraya during the preparations, so all he can do is imagine what it will be like when he is free to be close to her.

...

(The entire section is 500 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

June 2001

Soraya is sitting with their cocker spaniel, Aflatoon, and grading papers; she has been a teacher for the past six years. Despite the subtle signs of aging and their fifteen years of marriage, she is still a beautiful woman. Amir hangs up the telephone and stares at it for a long time before his wife finally tells him he looks upset. He tells her he has to go to Pakistan because Rahim Khan is quite sick and wants to see him. Amir has told Soraya about the man who was as close to him as his father, so she knows he must go. He does not know how long he will be gone, but Amir assures Soraya he will be safe.

Amir drives to Golden Gate Park and walks along Spreckels Lake on this...

(The entire section is 440 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

Amir’s flight into Peshawar landed three hours ago, and now he is in a shabby taxicab riding perilously to Rahim Kahn’s house. He and Baba had spent several months here in 1981 and Amir remembers it well. The driver enters an area known as “Afghan Town.” He tells Amir that though many of Amir’s countrymen have opened businesses here, they are still quite poor.

Amir thinks about the last time he saw his father’s friend. Rahim Khan came to tell him and Baba goodbye in 1981 before they fled Afghanistan. The two men spoke by telephone four or five times a year, but the last time Amir spoke with Rahim Khan was shortly after Baba’s death but  lost the connection after only a few moments. The driver stops in...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

Rahim Khan tells the story. He struggled to maintain Baba’s house on his own but was so lonely that, after he learned Baba died, he went to find Hassan. Hassan and his wife Farzana were living in a mud house, in a cluster of mud houses, near Hazarajat. As soon as he recognized Rahim Khan, Hassan kissed his hands and would not stop.

Hassan was quite tall, darkened from the blistering sun, was missing several of his front teeth, and had “sparse strands of hair on his chin.” Otherwise, Hassan’s green eyes, the scar on his upper lip, and his friendly smile were unchanged and easily recognizable. His wife was a shy, courteous woman who looked at Hassan as if he were a prince. Ali died two years earlier in a land mine...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

As Rahim Khan speaks, Amir is struck by the enormity of his traitorous actions. When Amir asks if Hassan is still living in Baba’s house, Rahim Khan gives him a sealed envelope. Amir rips it open and finds a letter and a Polaroid photograph. Hassan and his son are standing at the front gates of the house, and both of them look happy, as if the world has been good to them. Amir would have recognized Hassan if he met him on the street.

The letter is in perfectly written Farsi, and it offers Hassan’s deepest respect for Amir. Hassan says he has shared many of their growing-up stories with his wife and son. He explains that the Afghanistan they knew as children is “long dead”; now only survival matters. The streets...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

Amir thinks about all the signs which should have revealed the truth to him: Baba finding a surgeon to fix Hassan’s harelip, Baba never missing Hassan’s birthday, Baba’s anger at Amir’s suggestion that Hassan should leave, and Baba weeping when Ali and Hassan left. Amir is angry that, by stealing the truth from him, Baba deprived Amir of the right to a brother, Hassan of his identity, and Ali of his honor.

Amir wonders how Ali and Baba could have lived so closely together with this awful knowledge between them. Ali had been dishonored in the worst way an Afghan man could be dishonored, yet he lived with and served Baba for so many years. Amir wonders how he will reconcile his former image of his father with this...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

While riding in a rundown Land Cruiser through the Khyber Pass, Amir feels the familiar surge of carsickness. His driver, Farid, is one of many things Rahim Khan arranged for Amir’s trip to Kabul. Amir has Afghani money, the photograph of Hassan and Sohrab, and a “Shari’a-friendly” beard. Rahim Khan wanted Amir to stay with him longer and do more planning, but Amir was afraid he would change his mind if he did not leave immediately, afraid his current life would tempt him away from his “last chance at redemption.” He did not tell Soraya he was going to Afghanistan or she would have come here immediately.

As soon as Farid drives them across the border, Amir is struck by the poverty and he feels like a tourist...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

Farid had warned him, but Amir is shocked by the death and destruction he sees everywhere they drive. When they arrive in Kabul, Amir is certain Farid must have taken him to the wrong place. This is not the Kabul he once knew.

Amir sees “rubble and beggars” everywhere he looks. While there used to be a few beggars in town, Amir is amazed that these beggars are dirty, starving children and their mothers. There are no fathers; the war has taken them. Wherever they drive, Amir has memories, but what he sees now does not match them. There are no trees and even the smells are different; the street that used to smell like lamb kabobs now smells like diesel fuel. No one but the Taliban gets meat any more, and diesel fuel...

(The entire section is 499 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

The drive to Amir’s former house is full of dreadful sights, but as he and Farid get closer to Amir’s neighborhood, things do not seem so awful. Farid says it is because all the important people now live here, the Taliban as well as the people behind the Taliban: Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis. As they approach the house, Amir remembers playing with Hassan when they were boys.

Amir walks cautiously up the driveway. Everything seems smaller and less important than it was when he and Hassan had lived here. Everything has deteriorated, “like so much else in Kabul… a picture of fallen splendor.” Farid wants Amir to hurry so they will not have any trouble, but Amir wants to go see one more thing. When Farid tells...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

Farid drives Amir to a big house in Amir’s old neighborhood but says he will wait for him in the car. Amir is thankful but wishes he did not have to go into the meeting alone. If Baba were here, he would burst into the house and demand to see whoever is in charge. Amir just hopes he will see Farid again.

Armed guards frisk Amir before ushering him into an upstairs room where he waits nervously. Meeting with the man who had brutally murdered two people earlier today is irresponsible and insane. He eats a few grapes, not knowing it is the last solid food he will eat for a long time.

The two guards return with the black-sunglassed man, who sits across from Amir in silence. Amir notices signs of drug use under...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

Amir hurts everywhere and is not sure where he is; he is only occasionally aware of the doctors and nurses who are treating him. He wants to ask where he is, but his mouth will not open.

Doctor Faruqi, a head-and-neck surgeon, says it is normal to experience disorientation after surgery. Amir has been at a hospital in Peshawar for two days and is “lucky to be alive.” He has a ruptured spleen, seven broken ribs, a punctured lung, an upper lip which was cut in two, some broken teeth, and a fracture in his left eye socket. The wires in his jaws can be removed in six weeks. Later Amir realizes his cut lip must look just like a harelip.

Farid and Sohrab visit Amir. Amir thanks Farid for everything and...

(The entire section is 497 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

Farid takes Amir and Sohrab to an Islamabad hotel. Farid is moved when Amir gives him two thousand dollars and his thanks. Amir never sees Farid again. Sohrab is mesmerized by the television and Amir takes pain medication and sleeps; when he wakes up the boy is gone. The man at the front desk scolds Amir for losing his son but is willing to drive Amir to the mosque where Amir thinks Sohrab may have gone. They find him sitting in the grass outside the mosque.

Amir and Sohrab sit together and the boy finally talks. He is starting to forget what his parents look like. Amir gives him the photograph Rahim Khan took. Soon Sohrab begins crying and asks Amir if God will condemn him for what he did to Assef. Amir explains that...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

Sohrab is wheeled into surgery and though Amir has not prayed for nearly fifteen years, he prays now, offering to do anything if God will spare Sohrab’s life. He cannot bear to add Sohrab’s life to his guilt. Five hours have passed and Hassan keeps remembering Sohrab lying in the bathtub, his arm sliced with a razor and hanging over the side. Finally Amir sleeps.

The surgeon wakes Amir and says Sohrab will live because he is “young and strong.” Amir keeps vigil until Sohrab wakes; the boy is listless and does not speak when Amir reads and talks to him. Finally Sohrab says he is “tired of everything” and wants “his old life back.” Amir is heartbroken for the boy and does not know what to say when Sohrab...

(The entire section is 504 words.)