|The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 4, 1965, and was the oldest of five children. Just as he describes in The Kite Runner, Kabul was a cosmopolitan city at the time. Western culture, including movies and literature, mixed with Afghan traditions, such as kite fighting in the winter. Lavish parties were normal at the Hosseini family’s home in the upper-middle class neigborhood of Wazir Akbar Khan. Hosseini’s father served as a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry, and his mother taught Farsi and history at a local high school for girls. Then, in 1970, the Foreign Ministry sent his father to Iran. While the family only spent a few years there, Hosseini taught a Hazara man, who worked as a cook for the family, how to read and write. By this time, Khaled Hosseini was already reading Persian poetry as well as American novels, and he began writing his own short stories.
Repeated moves marked the next decade of the Hosseini family’s life. They returned to Kabul in 1973, the year Mohammad Daoud Khan, overthrew his cousin, Zahir Shah, the Afghan King, in a coup d’etat. The Afghan Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris in 1976. Though they hoped to return to Afghanistan in 1980, that was not possible because of a military invasion by the Soviet Union. Instead, the Hosseinis moved to San Jose, California after they were granted political asylum in the United States. Khaled Hosseini went on to graduate from high school in 1984 and attended Santa Clara University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1988. In 1993, he earned his Medical degree from University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, and in 1996 he completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai medical Center in Los Angeles, making him a full-fledged doctor.
While Khaled Hosseini has said before that his first novel is largely fictional, he acknowledges that the Afghanistan he knew as a child inspired it. Like his main character, Amir, Khaled Hosseini enjoyed Western films and kite fighting. He also lived in a pre-revoltionary Afghanistan that had not yet been ravaged by the Soviet invasion and subsequent Taliban rule. In a 2003 interview with Newsline, Khaled Hosseini said the passages in the book most resembling his life are those of Amir and Baba as immigrants in the United States. When the Hosseinis arrived in California, they had difficulty adjusting to the new culture, and for a short time his family lived on welfare. He also remembers the local flea market where he and his father worked briefly among other Afghans, just as Amir and Baba did in the book.
Although the period of adjustment passed and Khaled Hosseini became a successful practicing doctor in 1996, he felt deeply influenced by what he recalled of his homeland, and he began writing "The Kite Runner" in March 2001. Two years later, in the midst of the U.S. war in Afghanistan, Riverhead Books published the book. “The Kite Runner” became an international bestseller, with more than eight million copies in print. It also received numerous book awards, including the the Boeke Prize, the Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Award, and the Literature to Life Award. In 2007, it was made into a feature film. The movie encountered some problems. The children who played Hassan, Amir and Sohrab, and a fourth boy with a smaller role, had to be moved out of the country. Hassan’s rape scene in the film, along with Sohrab’s abuse at the hands of the Taliban, put the young actors and their families in possible danger, as some Afghans found the episode insulting. In May 2007, Khaled Hosseini published his second book, "A Thousand Splending Suns," which also became a bestseller.
Khaled Hosseini’s literature also changed his personal life. After nearly twenty-seven years, he returned to Afghanistan to see what had become of his country and his people. Like Amir, he was able to find his father’s old home, but he also recognized that war and brutality destroyed the place where he grew up. His efforts to bring attention to the plight of refugees earned him the Humanitarian Award from the United Nations Refugee Agency in 2006, and he became a U.S. goodwill envoy to the organization. It was during a 2007 trip as an envoy that he was inspired to start his own non-profit group. He created the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which funds projects to empower vulnerable groups in Afghanistan, such as women and children. Today, Khaled Hosseini writes full-time. He continues to live in Northern California with his wife, Roya, and their two children.
Amir recalls an event that happened twenty-six years before, when he was still a boy in Afghanistan, and says that that made him who he is. Before the event, he lives in a nice home in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Baba, his father. They have two servants, Ali and his son, Hassan, who are Hazaras, an ethnic minority. Baba’s close friend, Rahim Khan, is also around often. When Afghanistan’s king is overthrown, things begin to change. One day, Amir and Hassan are playing when they run into three boys, Assef, Wali, and Kamal. Assef threatens to beat up Amir for hanging around with a Hazara, but Hassan uses his slingshot to stop Assef.
The story skips to winter, when the kite-fighting tournament occurs. Boys cover their kite strings in glass and battle to see who can sever the string of the opposing kite. When a kite loses, boys chase and retrieve it, called kite running. When Amir wins the tournament, Hassan sets off to run the losing kite. Amir looks for him and finds Hassan trapped at the end of an alley, pinned with his pants down. Wali and Kamal hold him, and Assef rapes him. Amir runs away, and when Hassan appears with the kite, Amir pretends he doesn’t know what happened. Afterward, Amir and Hassan drift apart. Amir, who is racked by guilt, decides either he or Hassan must leave. He stuffs money and a watch under Hassan’s pillow and tells Baba that Hassan stole it. When Baba confronts them, Hassan admits to it, though he didn’t do it. Shortly after, Ali and Hassan move away.
The story jumps to March 1981. Baba and Amir are in the back of a truck as they escape from Kabul, which was invaded by the Soviets and has become a war-zone. After a hellish journey, they make it to Pakistan. Two years later, Baba and Amir live in Fremont, California. While Baba works at a gas station, Amir finishes high school and goes to college. Baba and Amir sell things at a flea market on Sundays, and Baba sees an old friend, General Taheri. Amir notices General Taheri’s daughter, Soraya. When Amir finally speaks to her, General Taheri catches him and tells him there is a proper way to do things. Not long after, Baba is diagnosed with lung cancer. Amir asks Baba if he will get General Taheri’s consent for Amir to marry Soraya. General Taheri accepts the proposal. They hold the wedding quickly because of Baba’s health, and Baba dies a month later. Amir and Soraya try unsuccessfully to have a baby while Amir works on his writing career.
Amir gets a call from Rahim Khan. Rahim Khan is sick and wants Amir to see him in Pakistan. Amir meets him a week later, and Rahim Khan tells Amir about the devastation in Kabul. He says things only got worse after the Soviets were forced out. Now the Taliban rule by violence. He has a favor to ask of Amir, but first he needs to tell him about Hassan. When Baba and Amir left Afghanistan, Rahim Khan watched their house. Out of loneliness and because he was getting older, he decided to find Hassan. He convinced Hassan and Hassan’s wife, Farzana, to come back to Kabul with him. Farzana and Hassan eventually had a little boy, Sohrab. A few years later Rahim Khan went to Pakistan for medical treatment, but he received a call from a neighbor in Kabul. The Taliban went to Baba’s house and shot Hassan and Farzana and sent Sohrab to an orphanage.
Rahim Khan wants Amir to go to Kabul and bring Sohrab back to Pakistan, where a couple lives that will take care of him. He tells Amir that Baba was Hassan’s father, and Amir agrees to do it. In Afghanistan, Amir finds the orphanage where Sohrab is supposed to be, but he is not there. The orphanage director says a Taliban official took Sohrab a month earlier. If Amir wants to find the official, he will be at the soccer stadium during the game the next day. Amir goes to the game, and at half-time, the Taliban put a man and a woman in holes in the ground and the official Amir is looking for stones them to death. Through one of the Taliban guards, Amir sets up a meeting with the official.
When they meet, Amir tells the official he is looking for a boy, Sohrab, and the official tells the guards to bring the boy in. Sohrab is wearing a blue silk outfit and mascara, making him appear more feminine and suggesting that the men sexually abuse him. The official says something Amir recognizes, and suddenly Amir realizes the official is Assef. Assef says he wants to settle some unfinished business. He beats Amir with brass knuckles, breaking Amir’s ribs and splitting his lip. Sohrab threatens Assef with his slingshot, and when Assef lunges at him, Sohrab shoots him in the eye, allowing Amir and Sohrab to escape. As Amir recovers in the hospital, he finds out there never was a couple that could care for Sohrab. Amir asks Sohrab to live with him in the U.S., and Sohrab accepts.
The adoption officials tell Amir that adopting Sohrab will be impossible since he can’t prove Sohrab’s parents are dead, and Amir tells Sohrab he may have to go back to an orphanage. Amir and Soraya figure out a way to get Sohrab to the U.S., but before they can tell Sohrab, Sohrab tries to kill himself. He lives, but he stops speaking entirely. Even after they bring Sohrab to California, Sohrab remains withdrawn. One day, they go to a park with other Afghans. People are flying kites. Amir buys one and gets Sohrab to fly it with him. They spot another kite and battle it. Using one of Hassan’s favorite tricks, they win. Sohrab smiles, and as the losing kite flies loose, Amir sets off to run it for Sohrab.
Amir - The narrator and the protagonist of the story. Amir is the sensitive and intelligent son of a well-to-do businessman in Kabul, and he grows up with a sense of entitlement. His best friend is Hassan, and he goes back and forth between acting as a loyal friend and attacking Hassan out of jealousy whenever Hassan receives Amir’s father’s affection. Amir is a gifted storyteller and grows from aspiring writer to published novelist. His great desire to please his father is the primary motivation for his behavior early in the novel, and it is the main reason he allows Hassan to be raped. From that point forward, he is driven by his feelings of guilt as he searches to find a way to redeem himself. Ultimately he does so through courage and self-sacrifice, and he tells his story as a form of penance.
Hassan - Amir’s best friend and half-brother as well as a servant of Baba’s. Hassan proves himself a loyal friend to Amir repeatedly, defending Amir when he is attacked and always being ready to listen. His defining traits are bravery, selflessness, and intelligence, though his smarts are more instinctual than bookish, largely because he is uneducated. As a poor ethnic Hazara, he is considered an inferior in Afghan society, and he is the victim of racism throughout the novel as a result. He is Baba’s illegitimate child, though he is not aware of this fact, and he grows up with Ali acting as his father. His rape is an early catalyst in the story, and even though he is not present in a significant portion of the novel, he plays a major role throughout.
Baba - Father of Amir and Hassan and a wealthy, well-respected businessman. Baba believes first and foremost in doing what is right and thinking for oneself, and he tries to impart these qualities to Amir. He also never lets anyone’s lack of belief in him stop him from accomplishing his goals. Although he distrusts religious fundamentalism, he follows his own moral code and acts with self-assurance and bravery. When necessary, he is even willing to risk his life for what he believes in. Yet his shame at having a child with a Hazara woman leads him to hide the fact that Hassan is his son. Because he cannot love Hassan openly, he is somewhat distant toward Amir and is often hard on him, though he undoubtedly loves him.
Ali - Acting father to Hassan and a servant of Baba’s. Ali is defined by his modesty more than anything, and he works diligently as Baba’s servant. He loves Hassan deeply, though he rarely expresses his emotions outwardly. Poor and an ethnic Hazara, he suffers from partial paralysis of his face and walks with a limp caused by polio.
Sohrab - Son of Hassan and Farzana. In many ways, Sohrab acts as a substitute for Hassan in the novel, and he is a central focus of the plot in the later sections of the book. He is also an ethnic Hazara and is great with a slingshot. His character arc takes him from being a normal little boy to the traumatized victim of sexual and physical abuse, and he goes from speaking very little to not at all.
Assef - Hassan’s and Sohrab’s rapist and the novel’s antagonist. Assef represents all things wrong in Afghanistan. A racist who wishes to rid Afghanistan of Hazaras, he is incapable of remorse and enjoys inflicting violence and sexual abuse on those who are powerless. He even claims Hitler as a role model.
Rahim Khan - Friend of Baba and Amir. Rahim Khan is Baba’s closest confidant, and the one man who knows all of Baba’s secrets. For Amir, he serves a father figure, often giving Amir the attention he craves and filling the holes left by Baba’s emotional distance.
Farid - Amir’s driver and friend. A former mujahedin fighter, Farid is at first gruff and unfriendly. But he becomes a valuable and loyal friend to Amir in Amir’s search to find and rescue Sohrab. He is missing toes and fingers from a landmine explosion and represents the difficulties that many Afghans faced in the years of warfare that ravaged the country.
Sanaubar - Hassan’s mother and Ali’s wife for a time. Though Sanaubar is infamously immoral in her youth and abandons Hassan just after he is born, she proves herself a caring grandmother to Sohrab when she reappears later in the novel.
Soraya - Amir’s wife. Soraya is steady, intelligent, and always there for Amir when he needs her. She can be strong-willed like her father, General Taheri, and deplores the way women are often treated in Afghan culture.
General Taheri - Soraya’s father and a friend of Baba. General Taheri is proud to the point of arrogance at times, and he places great value on upholding Afghan traditions. He is in many ways the stereotypical Afghan male, both in his roles as a father and husband.
Jamila - General Taheri’s wife and Soraya’s mother. Jamila plays the part of the typical Afghan wife and mother. She obeys her husband without question and wants nothing more than to see her daughter married.
Kamal - A boy from Amir’s and Hassan’s neighborhood. Cowardly and conformist, Kamal helps Assef rape Hassan. After he is raped himself, he becomes a symbol of the brutality that destroys Afghanistan.
Sharif - Soraya’s uncle. When Sharif first appears, he is just a minor figure at Soraya’s and Amir’s wedding. Later, however, he becomes instrumental in helping to get Sohrab into the United States.
Sofia Akrami - Amir’s mother. Though Sofia died during childbirth, Amir knows she loved literature as he does. Amir seeks information about her at various points in the novel.
Farzana - Hassan’s wife and Sohrab’s mother. Farzana appears only briefly, but in that time she is portrayed as a loving mother.
Wali - One of the boys from the neighborhood who helps Assef to rape Hassan. Wali is depicted as a conformist.