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?
This is a pivotal question, because as the novel says what happened to Amir when he was twelve truly has shaped his life.
What Amir is referring to is the brutal assault and rape of Hassan, his best friend and the loyal servant boy of his family. Amir witnessed the attack, but he was too afraid to do anything about it. He tried to forget it, but the truth of the matter is that this act was seared into his mind indelibly. Furthermore, his act of cowardice and Hassan's unbeleivable loyalty exacerbated his guilt to a higher level.
As an adult he still remembers what happened, and so even though he is in America, far removed from Afghanistan, he needs redemption. So, when there is an opportunity for him to go back and set things right by risking his life for Sohrab, Hassan's son, he takes the chance. Here is what he says:
"That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."
When he is beat up, he says something remarkable.
"My body was broken—just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later—but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed."
The reason why he says it is because he is reliving what he should have done when he was twelve.