Chapters 16–20

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Last Reviewed on May 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1322

Chapter 16

Rahim Khan narrates this chapter in the first person as he speaks to Amir. In 1986, Rahim Khan took the journey to Harazajat to find Hassan. It was partially loneliness that made him seek out Hassan, but as he aged, he was also struggling with the upkeep of Baba’s house.

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Rahim Khan found Hassan living in a small mud house outside Bamiyan. They greeted each other, and Hassan introduced Rahim Khan to his wife, Farzana Jan, who was pregnant. Hassan told him how his father, Ali, had been killed by a landmine two years before. Rahim Khan asked Hassan and his wife to move to Kabul with him. At first Hassan declined, saying that he had built a life in Bamiyan.

When he discovered that Baba had died, however, Hassan wept “like a child,” and the next day he agreed to move back to Baba’s old house with Farzana. When they moved, Hassan and Farzana insisted on moving into Ali’s old mud hut, even though Rahim Khan pleaded with them to live in the house.

That autumn, Farzana gave birth to a stillborn baby girl, who they buried near the sweetbrier bushes. In 1990, Farzana became pregnant again, and it was during this time that Sanaubar turned up at the house. Her face had been cut, leaving her disfigured. Over time she and Hassan became close, and Sanaubar delivered their son, Sohrab, in the winter of that year. The boy became the “center of her existence” until her death.

When some of the violence let up, Hassan took his son on days out and taught him to read, run kites, and shoot a slingshot. People were jubilant when the Taliban took control in 1996, but just two weeks later, kite-fighting was banned, and the Taliban began massacring Hazaras.

Chapter 17

Amir asks if Hassan is still in Baba’s old house, and Rahim Khan hands him an envelope. It contains a Polaroid photograph of Hassan with Sohrab and a letter addressed to Amir. The letter warns that the Afghanistan of their childhood no longer exists, and the country is now governed by fear. Hassan talks about the decline in Rahim Khan’s health and tells Amir that he hopes the Kabul of their childhood will one day return. Regardless, he promises Amir that if Amir ever returns to Kabul, he will find a faithful friend in Hassan.

Rahim Khan says that a month after he left for Pakistan, he received a call from a neighbor saying that the Taliban turned up at the house and found Hassan and his family living there. They forced Hassan to kneel outside before shooting him in the head. When Farzana emerged from the house, they shot her as well.

The Taliban moved into the house and sent Sohrab to an orphanage in Karteh-Seh. Rahim Khan admits that this is why he has summoned Amir: to rescue Sohrab from the orphanage. There is an American couple, Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell, who care for Afghan orphans and have agreed to adopt Sohrab.

Rahim Khan reveals something else: Ali was not able to have children, and Hassan was the result of an affair between Baba and Sanaubar. Overwhelmed by the revelation, Amir shouts at Rahim Khan for keeping the truth from him and Hassan and storms out of the apartment.

Chapter 18

Amir walks into a smoky teahouse and thinks about Baba’s behavior around Hassan, how Baba paid for the surgery on Hassan’s cleft palate and the way he wept when Ali and Hassan left. He wonders how his father could have lied for so long and how he could have called theft the worst of all sins when he himself had stolen Hassan’s right to his identity, Amir’s right to a brother, and Ali’s honor. Amir realizes that Rahim Khan has brought him to Pakistan to atone for Baba’s sins as much as his own.

Amir returns to Rahim Khan’s apartment, where he finds him praying. Once Rahim Khan has finished his prayers, Amir tells him he is going back to Kabul to find Sohrab.

Chapter 19

Amir is driven by a surly man named Farid, who fought the Soviets alongside his father during the occupation. Farid had seven children, including two girls whom he lost to a landmine blast outside of Jalalabad. It was during this blast that Farid lost several toes and three fingers.

Amir wears an Afghan hat called a pakol and an artificial beard. They pass through poverty-stricken villages “like discarded toys amongst the rocks.” Amir remarks to Farid that he feels like a tourist in his own country, and Farid sniggers at him and accurately guesses that Amir’s upbringing was privileged.

They stay overnight with Farid’s brother, Wahid, who lives in a dilapidated house alongside his wife and children. Wahid asks Amir what has brought him back to Afghanistan, and Farid interjects contemptuously, suggesting that he has come back to sell his family’s land and return to the US with the money. Wahid is outraged at his brother for insulting their guest in his home, but Amir is forgiving. He tells them that he has come to Afghanistan to find a boy, the son of his illegitimate half-brother. Wahid says he is proud to have him in his home and that he is a “true Afghan.”

The women serve dinner, saying that the rest of the family ate earlier. Amir notices that Wahid’s boys are staring at his wristwatch. He offers the boys the watch as a gift, and they pass it between them but quickly lose interest. As Farid and Amir prepare to sleep, Farid asks why he did not tell him his reason for being in Afghanistan. Farid admits that it was wrong of him to assume and says he could help Amir find Sohrab.

That night, Amir has a nightmare that he was the man who shot Hassan. He goes outside for air, and just as he is about to go back inside, he hears Wahid and his wife arguing about dinner. They gave all their food to Farid and Amir, so the children have had to go hungry. Amir realizes that the children were not fascinated by the watch but were staring at his food.

The next morning, before departing the house, Amir does something that echoes what he did twenty-six years ago: he stuffs a wad of money under the family’s mattress.

Chapter 20

On the drive from Jalalabad to Kabul, Amir notices grim reminders of the violence that has taken place, such as burnt Soviet trucks and the “charred” remnants of villages. When they arrive in Kabul, the streets are full of rubble, and there are child beggars on every corner.

The Taliban approaches in a red Toyota truck, and Amir stares at them. One of the men holds Amir’s gaze. Farid warns him that one should never stare at the Taliban. An old beggar chimes in, agreeing with Farid. It turns out that the beggar was once a literature professor who knew Amir’s mother, Sofia Akrami. The beggar remembers that Sofia worried her happiness would soon be taken away. Amir contemplates the fact that he has learned more about his mother from this old man than he ever did from Baba.

Amir and Farid find the orphanage, which is extremely run-down; there are bed frames without mattresses and rats skittering about the premises. The director, Zaman, tries to dismiss Amir and Farid until Amir reveals himself as Sohrab’s half-uncle. Zaman says he knows where Sohrab is but that it might be too late to rescue him. He tells them that there is a Taliban official who visits once or twice a month and brings cash, typically in exchange for a child. This official took Sohrab a month ago, but if they go to Ghazi Stadium tomorrow, they should be able to locate the official.

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Chapters 11–15

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Chapters 21–25