Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The Kite Runner

Author: Khaled Hosseini
Published: May 29, 2003


Kabul, Afghanistan 
  • Amir lives in Kabul, Afghanistan with his father – Agha Khan, a Pashtun 
  • Plays with Hassan, their domestic help, Ali’s son, a Hazara 
  • Amir and Hassan are both are bullied by the neighbourhood boys, especially Assef. 
  •  Amir wins the kite flying competition and Hassan runs the last cut kite for him 
  • Amir goes in search of Hassan and sees him surrounded by Assef and his cronies
  • Since Hassan refuses to hand over the kite, he is verbally and sexually abused by Assef and his gang 
  • Amir runs back home
  • Hassan becomes silent, friendship between the two sours 
  • Ali and Hassan leave Kabul

California, USA 
  • Amir, at the age of eighteen escapes with his father from Afghanistan that is now being ruled by the Taliban 
  • Reaches America via Pakistan 
  • Amir completes his graduation in English
  • Sells odd and ends at a flea market where he meets a girl called Soraya
  • Marries her despite the fact that she had a ‘past’ 
  • Shortly after their, marriage Baba (Aga Khan) dies of cancer
  • Amir starts writing books
  • Gets a call from Rahim Khan (Amir is now 38). He wants Amir to visit him

Peshawar, Pakistan 
  • Rahim Khan informs Amir of Hassan’s death, and also tells him that he and Hassan were half brothers (from the same father). 
  • Rahim Khan asks Amir to find Sohrab, Hassan’s son who is in an orphanage in Kabul 

Kabul, Afghanistan
  • Amir reaches the orphanage in Kabul starts looking for Sohrab
  • The director tells him that Sohrab has been taken away by a bearded man who is a senior Taliban official 
  • Amir takes an appointment with him. 
  • The bearded man turns out to be Assef
  • Sohrab dressed like a girl is brought before him and asked to dance 
  • Assef agrees to let the boy go on the condition that Amir fights with him
  • Assef wears brass knuckles and starts smashing Amir. With his catapult, Sohrab slings a brass all at Assef that gets lodged in his eye. 
  • Amir and Sohrab escape and reach Peshawar.

Peshawar, Pakistan
  • Amir decides to adopt Sohrab and take him to America
  • Lawyer advises him that Sohrab should be left in the orphanage for some time, and hearing this news, Sohrab slashes his wrists
  • He is saved but stops talking to anyone
  • Soraya arranges for the visas

Fremont,California, USA
  • Amir and Sohrab reach Fremont
  • Sohrab doesn’t talk to anyone
  • On the Afghanistani new year, Amir flies a kite 
  • When he offers to run and get the kite, he sees a spark in Sohrab’s eyes. 


Kabul, Afghanistan

A strong friendship develops between him and Hassan. They play ‘panjpar’, watch English movies, buy kabobs and fly kites. Amir reads to Hassan from the Shahnama, sitting under pomegranate trees. They are friends, but it’s Amir who has the upper hand. Being of a lower caste and the domestic help’s son, Hassan is ready to ‘anything’ for Amir, and is loyal to him at all times. Hassan is deadly with the catapult and often protects Amir from the neighbourhood bullies. The ‘Kite Flying Competition’ in Kabul is a much anticipated event. The last cut kite is a prized possession. Amir wins the competition and Hassan runs after the last kite. Amir goes in search of Hassan and sees him being raped. He doesn’t try and fight the boys but instead runs away from that place. Hassan had let the boys assault him because he had promised Amir the kite, and he had refused to part with it. Hassan is loyal and brave friend but Amir betrays him. Amir sacrifices Hassan for the blue kite so that he could receive his Baba’s love. Amir distances himself from Hassan since he is overridden with guilt. Hassan’s quiet acceptance unnerves Amir. He wants some kind of anger or disapproval from Hassan and in a fit of churlishness even hurls pomegranates at him. Hassan is a gentle soul and doesn’t do anything, which further angers him. Amir is frustrated by Hassan's saint-like behaviour. Hassan's presence reminds Amir daily of his own inadequacy – of his cowardice and betrayal. Amir falsely accuses Hassan of having stolen his watch. He frames him as a thief to force him to leave. Hassan and Ali leave Kabul.Amir continues to live with the guilt of not having taken the right action. The incident continues to haunt him even when he’s grown up. In March 1981, when the Russian army invades Afghanistan, Amir and his father escape to USA.

California, USA

Amir and Baba begin their life afresh in U.S.A. For Amir it’s a chance to bury his past. They face many hardships. They had a luxurious lifestyle in Kabul but here Agha Khan has to do menial jobs. Amir meets a girl named Soraya, also from Afghanistan. She is attractive but has a bad reputation because of her past. Just before their engagement, she tells him the truth but Amir doesn’t back away. He admires her courage and marries her. This was a brave step since society shuns women like that but Amir is way past caring. This also shows that Amir had developed into a fine human being. He had the courage to do what he thought was right irrespective of what the society thought. Amir had always been interested in literature and though Baba had not been happy with his choice of career, he lets him do what he pleases. Slowly and gradually Amir establishes himself as a writer. He is leading a happy and comfortable life with Soraya, except for the fact that they don’t have any children. Then one day, when Amir is 38, he gets a phone call from Rahim Khan.

Peshawar, Pakistan

Amir chokes and is breathless as Rahim Khan tells him about Hassan’s death. All the pleasant and unpleasant memories which he had swept under the rug come flooding back. Amir feels angry when he comes to know that Hassan had been his half brother. His father had betrayed Ali. Amir realises that he, like his father, had betrayed the one person who would have done anything for him. Agha Khan might have even brought Hassan to USA. Had Amir not accused Hassan falsely, in all probability, he would have been enjoying a life in USA, where no one even knew the meaning of the word Hazara. Amir is overridden with guilt. Rahim Khan wants Amir to find Sohrab, Hassan’s son who is in an orphanage. This was a chance for Amir to be good again and he takes it.

Kabul, Afghanistan

On reaching Afghanistan, Amir feels very sorry to see the state of affairs. He feels hatred towards the Russians and Taliban for destroying his home country – for turning a land of flourishing greenery into a land of dirt, rubble, dust, upturned tanks and jeeps. The ghosts if Amir’s past surface once again when the he comes face-to-face with the tormentor of his childhood, Assef, now a senior Taliban official and the one who has taken away Sohrab from the orphanage. Amir is filled with emotion on the striking resemblance that Sohrab bears to his father. Assef proves the adage ‘once a bully always a bully’ right. He tells Amir that he can take Sohrab only if he can win from him. As Assef’s brass knuckles start to make mincemeat of him, Amir feels at peace. This was what he had tried to escape at the age of twelve! The weight of his guilt had been heavier than the blows he was now receiving. In some hidden corner of his mind, he had been actually looking for this very moment. He remembers the pomegranate throwing incident and feels completely healed since he is paying for the past mistakes and sins he had committed. Sohrab, a silent spectator to the fight, asks Assef to stop and when he doesn’t, he pulls out a catapult and slings a brass ball that leaves Assef minus an eye, thus completing his father’s threat to Assef given two decades ago. Amir redeems himself by standing up to Assef and proves that he has the courage to do what is right. And in another context, the adage ‘like father, like son’ also comes true. The way Hassan had saved Amir from Assef in the past, the same way Hassan saves him.

Peshawar, Pakistan

Amir bonds with Sohrab in the time they spend together. They play ‘panjpar’, a game of cards and slowly Sohrab opens up. As the arrangements for Sohrab’s visa are difficult, Amir employs a lawyer who advises him to send Sohrab to an orphanage. Sohrab is a tormented and insecure child. He cannot bear the prospect of living in an orphanage again and the fear that Amir might leave for the U.S. without him, and takes the extreme step of slashing his wrists. Amir saves him and eventually takes him with him. The events of the past year prove too much for ten-year-old Sohrab (death of parents in front of his own eyes, hand-to mouth existence in the orphanage and then sexual abuse) and he withdraws into a shell.


There is no change in Sohrab in the first few months. Amir and Soraya try very hard to ‘connect’ with Sohrab and elicit a response from him, but it all their efforts are in vain. He doesn’t even touch the things they buy for him. Then on the Afghani New Year, Amir sees Sohrab’s eyes on a kite in the sky, and knows that there is hope yet. He offers to run the cut kite for Sohrab just the way Hassan used to run for Amir. “For you a thousand times over,” Amir says to Sohrab, the same words Hassan used to say to him. And thus, the circle is complete.


Of all the characters, I found Sohrab the most heroic. He undergoes a series of traumatic events – his parents are shot dead on the street in the most humiliating manner, he has to live in an orphanage where there is little to eat and even less protection for he’s taken by a Taliban official for pleasure. If personal loss was not enough, he has to undergo humiliation of the worst kind. Dressed in strange clothes, and with make-up on his face and bells around his feet, he’s made to dance like a performing monkey in front of people. My blood curdles up when Assef strokes Sohrab. This is child abuse of the worst kind and one flinches with fear to think of what else he must have undergone in the hand of Assef. Any child his age would have cracked up long ago as his life is an endless hell, but not Sohrab. This shows that he has patience and is hopeful that some day things wil get better. Even in those extreme circumstances, even after being physically and psychologically abused, he is able to decipher right from wrong and when he sees Assef bashing Amir, tells him to stop. He at that point doesn’t even know who Amir is bit he does know that what Assef was doing was wrong.

Only a person with great courage would dare to tell a Taliban official to not do something, and that too someone who was in any case at his mercy. Sohrab probably knew that what Assef could do to him would make death a appear a sweet option but no, not only does he tell him to stop but also pulls out his catapult and shots a brass ball at Assef. This was the only weapon so to say that was undetected probably because of its innocuous appearance but it manages to do to Assef what even a bullet wouldn’t have. By shooting at Assef, Sohrab, besides exceptional courage, displays great presence of mind, quick thinking, concentration and decision making qualities. Earlier in the book, it was written that ‘he was deadly with the catapult’ and this incident proves it right. Without the right eye-hand co-ordination such an aim would never have been possible. He solves a critical problem by taking the right decision. Sohrab was solely responsible for saving Amir’s life.

Besides courage, a hero should have qualities like intelligence and innate goodness, and Sohrab, according to me, scores well in both. He comes across as dynamic and resilient too. He undergoes a series of life altering situations and even when he withdraws into a shell, I knew that it was just a matter of time, and that he would soon bounce back. The spark of hope and happiness kindles not just in Amir’s but every reader’s heart when Sohrab eyes the kite in the sky. This just shows his strength of character, his ability to conquer grief and move on in life.

In a nutshell some of the heroic qualities that Sohrab displays include courage, ability to distinguish right from wrong, presence of mind, ability to take timely and correct decisions, intelligence, patience, concentration, physical fitness and agility (he’s a great kite runner), faculty to think critically and solve problems, goodness of heart, resilience, good eye-hand co-ordination, ability to overcome grief.

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