Kite running is a cultural tradition of Afghanistan, reminiscent of the country’s beauty, prior to Taliban rule. Before the country’s political and military upheaval, residents fly kites, filling the blues skies with colorful creations. Once the Taliban takes control, these contests are banned.
In the book, two main characters, the privileged Amir and his servant friend Hassan, spend many happy days flying kites together. These carefree days represent the boys’ youth and innocence, but it also symbolizes Afghanistan’s dark side. During kite running competitions, participants coat their kite strings with glass shards to slice an opponent’s kite strings. These competitions leave blood on the hands of Amir and Hassan, like the blood that will follow under Taliban rule.
Once a year in the story, the town holds a kite running competition. Amir’s father wants his son to win to prove his son’s prowess. Amir and Hassan work side-by-side all day until they finally win. Hassan seeks no credit and happily retrieves Amir’s blue kite. As Hassan tries to fetch it, though, he is surrounded by another group of boys that lost the contest. The leader of the group will become a high-ranking Taliban official later in the book. During the encounter, Hassan is raped, and Amir watches from a distance, but does not intercede. Innocence is lost.
The boys’ friendship falls apart while Afghanistan unravels. Amir and his father seek refuge in the U.S. However, Amir is forced to face the demons he left behind in Afghanistan when he returns to try and rescue Hassan’s orphaned son. The boy has become a toy for a high-ranking Taliban official, the same one who raped Hassan.
Amir finally manages to make a treacherous escape with Hassan’s son, but the boy is psychologically damaged. He shows signs of healing at the end of the story as he watches Amir run a kite, restoring innocence again.