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.