It is December 2001, and the narrator, Amir, reflects on growing up in Afghanistan during the “frigid winter” of 1975. It was a time that made Amir who he is today. He says that he has realized over time that the past always finds a way of “claw[ing]” its way back to him. The previous summer, Amir received a phone call from an old friend, Rahim Khan, who was living in Afghanistan. Amir goes to take a walk along Spreckels Lake in San Francisco and sees two kites soaring above the skyline. He immediately remembers his childhood friend Hassan, “the harelipped kite runner.”
Amir and Hassan spend their childhood climbing poplar trees and playing together. Amir often talks Hassan into playing tricks, like pelting the neighbor’s one-eyed dog with walnuts, but Hassan always covers for Amir if they are caught. Amir lives with his father, Baba, in “the most beautiful house” in their district of Kabul, while Hassan and his father, Ali, work as their servants and live in a mud hut. Both Amir and Hassan are motherless. Amir’s mother died during childbirth, while Hassan’s mother ran away with travelers, a fate most Afghans consider worse than death.
Hassan’s mother and father were an unlikely match. His mother, Sanaubar, was considered beautiful but dishonorable and was nineteen years Ali’s junior. Ali, on the other hand, suffers from congenital paralysis of his lower face, rendering his expressions emotionless.
Hassan and Ali are Hazaras, members of a persecuted ethnic minority in Afghanistan. In the nineteenth century, Hazaras rose up against the Pashtun majority, and the Pashtuns retaliated with acts of “unspeakable violence.” Amir reveals that his teachers failed to mention many of these historical facts and that derogatory terms are still leveled at Hazaras today. The reason for this century-long persecution, he explains, is that Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims and Hazaras are Shi’a.
Ali and Sanaubar were first cousins, and their marriage may have been arranged to restore Sanaubar’s reputation. After Sanaubar left, Hassan became the center of Ali’s world. Baba later hired the same wet nurse to feed Amir—a blue-eyed Hazara woman with a sweet singing voice. Ali reminds the boys that there is “a brotherhood between people who had fed from the same breast, a kinship that not even time could break.”
Amir describes his father as a larger-than-life character with a thick beard, unruly hair, and a petrifying glare. It is even rumored that he once wrestled a bear. In the 1960s, Baba began building an orphanage. Rahim Khan recalled that people were skeptical of Baba’s vision, as he has no architectural knowledge, but Baba proved them wrong by funding the orphanage himself and becoming one of the most successful businessmen in Kabul.
People believed that Baba would never marry well, but he again proved them wrong by wedding Sofia Akrami. Sofia was a highly educated woman, universally lauded for her virtue and beauty, who descended from a royal bloodline.
When Amir sees Baba drinking a glass of whiskey, he recalls how a teacher called Mullah Fatiullah Khan taught the class that drinking was a “terrible sin.” According to Baba, however, there is only true sin: theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft—murdering a man involves stealing his life, while lying to someone deprives them of the truth. Baba insists that Afghanistan will go to ruin if “bearded idiots” like Mullah Fatiullah Khan are left in charge.
Such intimate moments between father and son are a rarity, and Amir sometimes thinks that his father hates him. He believes Baba blames him for “killing” his beloved wife and that he wishes Amir had turned out more like him.
Baba is a Buzkashi enthusiast and takes Amir to watch the annual tournament, which involves participants trying to place an animal carcass in a scoring circle while other riders chase him in pursuit of the carcass. During the tournament, a man is...
(The entire section is 1,244 words.)