What is the purpose of starting "The Kite Runner" with a flashback?

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The Kite Runner does start with a flashback. It might be helpful to start with the words of the novel.

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. 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.

Based on these words, it becomes clearer why the novel starts with a flashback. First, as the narrator, Amir, says, the past has a profound effect on the present and future. No matter what Amir does, how old he is, or what he has accomplished, what happened when he was twelve years old has a grip on his life. In other words, the events that took place in that alley in 1975 have shaped him. Amir’s guilt in not protecting and standing up for Hasan, his loyal and best friend, is always with him.

Second, by starting with a flashback, Amir is able to unpack who he is now. More importantly, the flashback shows Amir’s “original sin” and his need for atonement. As the novel progresses, Amir finally gains the courage to go back to Afghanistan and make “atonement” and find redemption. Without heavily emphasizing the past, the novel would not make sense. Furthermore, one of the best ways to depict Amir's need for redemption is to use a flashback.

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The opening of the flashback helps to establish the fact that Amir lives with a past that has found its way into the present and future.  The use of the flashback helps to establish this.  It brings about a sense of depth to the characterization of Amir.  The flashback helps us, as the reader, understand the depth that exists within Amir.  It also helps to bring us a bit closer to a life that is rooted in the past, with flickers and embers lighting in the present.  At the same time, the flashback also helps to bring Amir a bit closer to a life that he, himself, has turned away from.  From a stylistic point of view, Hosseini is able to bring the life of Afghanistan into focus through the opening flashback.  At the same time, it makes for a very smooth transition between modern life and the life that was in the past.  We come to understand that Amir's life in Afghanistan is complex and distinct.  The flashback enables this to be possible.  At the same time, the idea of "becoming good again" lingers in our own mind and is understood when we see the flashback materialize into a story of the past.  In the end, the use of the flashback brings to light that the past is not dead and not really past. It helps to make the Faulkner idea true in that it is not even past.  The flashback brings this theme out into full force.

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