Last Updated on May 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1309
Amir remembers the joy of winter in Afghanistan. The schools close during the snowfall, and the boys are free to spend their days playing cards, flying kites, and building snowmen. It is also the only time of year that the tension between Amir and Baba eases. This is because of the kite-fighting tournament held in Kabul. Amir and Hassan try making their own kites with little success, so Baba takes them to buy kites from an old blind man who sells the best kites in the city.
The tournament is an Afghan tradition and the highlight of the winter season. When a kite is cut, the kite runner chases the losing kite before delivering it to the winner as a trophy. Hassan is the greatest kite runner Amir has ever seen and seems to have an “inner compass” as to where the kite will land that defies all logic.
In the winter of 1975, Amir watches Hassan run his last kite.
After Amir hears Baba comment that he thinks Amir could win the kite-fighting tournament that year, he becomes convinced that he will succeed in the tournament and win Baba’s love.
The boys arrive at the tournament, and Amir sees Baba and Rahim Khan sitting on the rooftop. After spending all day kite-fighting, Amir’s conviction that he will win returns to him, and he cuts the last blue kite and emerges victorious. The crowd roars, and Baba jumps to his feet, pumping the air. Amir tells Hassan to go and run the blue kite for him.
When Hassan fails to return, Amir goes looking for him and finds Hassan in a desolate alleyway, surrounded by Assef and his accomplices. Assef demands that Hassan hand over the kite, but Hassan insists that Amir won the tournament fairly and refuses to give it up. Assef sneers, saying Hassan is “as loyal as a dog” and that Amir would not do the same for him. Hassan retaliates, saying that he and Amir are friends. Assef hits Hassan with a rock and tells him he can keep the kite as a memory of what Assef is about to do.
In his narration, a horrified Amir has a flashback to the memory of Ali telling them that he and Hassan fed from the same breast and that there is a lifelong “brotherhood” between such people. In another memory, he dreams of being lost in a snowstorm. The vision of snow vanishes, and suddenly there is a blue sky filled with kites.
Amir returns to the events in the alleyway. Assef’s friend Wali says that his father said that what they are going to do to Hassan is sinful, but Assef responds that Hassan is “just a Hazara.” Assef instructs them to hold Hassan down and removes his own pants before positioning himself behind Hassan. Amir catches a glimpse of Hassan and sees the look of resignation on his face. Amir weeps and considers intervening but decides to run away.
Twenty minutes later, Amir comes out of hiding and sees Hassan walking toward him. He can see tears in Hassan’s eyes and blood on his pants, but Amir says nothing. Hassan hands him the blue kite, and the boys made their separate ways home.
Amir arrives home to Baba and Rahim Khan’s jubilation. Baba wraps him in his arms, and for a moment, Amir can forget what he has done.
Amir sees little of Hassan in the week following the rape. When Amir sees Ali, he asks after Hassan, but Ali tells him that all Hassan seems to want to do is sleep.
Baba takes Amir to Jalalabad to stay with Baba’s cousins, the Homayouns. Once at the Homayouns’ house, the family enjoys a traditional Afghan feast, and Baba continues exalting Amir and talking about the kite tournament. That evening, as Amir lies down to sleep, he says aloud that he watched Hassan’s rape, but everyone else is sleeping, so no one hears him. That night, Amir becomes an insomniac.
One day while out in the garden, Amir asks Baba if he would consider replacing the servants. Baba is furious and tells him that he would never replace Ali or Hassan.
Another afternoon, Amir asks Hassan to climb the hill with him again so he can read Hassan a story. Amir begins to pelt Hassan with pomegranates and urges him to hurt him back. Instead, Hassan crushes the pomegranates against his own face and asks Amir Amir if he is “satisfied” now.
In the summer of 1976, Amir turns thirteen. Baba throws a huge party to celebrate and invites most of the neighborhood. Assef turns up at the party alongside his parents. He tells Amir that he personally picked a present for him. When Amir is alone, he opens the gift, which is a biography of Hitler. He hurls it out of sight. Rahim Khan then comes to find him and tells Amir one of his own secrets: when Rahim Khan was young, he nearly married a Hazara girl, but he called off the marriage when his parents found out. He says that it was for the best, as he could not have lived with his parents’ rejection of his wife. Rahim Khan tells Amir that he is always there to listen to him and gives him a present of a leather-bound notebook.
Fireworks illuminate the party’s guests, and Amir sees Hassan serving Assef and Wali drinks before Assef kneads Hassan in the chest with his knuckles. Amir is grateful when they are cast into darkness again.
The next day, Amir decides that either he or Hassan has to go. When he comes across Ali later that afternoon, Ali gives Amir a late birthday present: a new hardback copy of the Shahnameh. The next morning, Amir takes some of his birthday money and the watch he received from Baba and leaves them under Hassan’s mattress. He goes to tell Baba that Hassan has stolen from him and witnesses Baba going to confront Ali. Hassan, in his final sacrifice for Amir, confesses to stealing the gifts, even though he did not. Amir recognizes that Hassan knows that Amir witnessed his rape. Baba forgives Hassan, but Ali insists they are leaving. Amir realizes from Ali’s “cold, unforgiving look” that Hassan has told him about the rape.
The story jumps forward to March 1981, as Baba and Amir escape Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in a truck alongside other refugees. Amir, who is travel-sick, struggles to prevent himself from retching. Amir and Baba are leaving in secret, as violence and uncertainty in the wake of the communist overthrow of President Daoud Khan, along with the Soviet occupation, have divided society and made all citizens suspicious of each other. When they reach the checkpoint, a Soviet soldier demands half an hour with the woman in the truck in exchange for letting them pass. Baba is outraged at the indecency and nearly shot by the soldier, but another Russian soldier intervenes. The woman’s husband kisses Baba’s hand to show his gratitude.
When they reach Jalalabad, the driver, Karim, admits that the next truck they need is broken but says that his cousin owns a fuel truck that will allow the refugees to continue their journey. The refugees spend a week hiding in a basement, where Amir recognizes Assef’s friend Kamal. Kamal looks ill, and it is implied that he has been raped.
Once the refugees are able to board the fuel truck, the air is so thick that they struggle to breathe. When they arrive in Pakistan, Kamal’s father screams in horror. Kamal has stopped breathing during the journey and died. His father is hysterical, and Karim thinks Kamal’s father is going to shoot him, but instead Kamal’s father shoots himself in the mouth.