The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini

"Sad stories make good books" (147).

When and Where?

The Kite Runner begins and ends in 2001 yet, from the beginning of the book, quickly delves into a narrative of the main character Amir’s life. This reflective narrative begins in the 1960s “when [Amir is] five or six” and ends shortly after 9/11 (Hosseini 13). Amir, who narrates the story, begins by describing his childhood home in Kabul, Afghanistan that had “poplar trees lining] the red brick driveway, which led to a pair of wrought iron gates” leading to his home (4). The family’s servant and his son Hassan live in a “modest little hut” behind the main estate-- a suitable distance for partners in crime like Hassan and Amir to live from each other (6)

After a kite fighting tournament in the winter of 1975, a incredibly negative and emotional events occur, which signals a major change in not only character relations, but also foreshadows the negative changes beginning to happen in Afghanistan. “The official end [came] first in April 1978 with the communist coup d’etat, and then in December 1979, when Russian tanks would roll into the very same streets where Hassan and [Amir] played, bringing the death of the Afghanistan [everyone] knew” (36). As the Russian troops moved into the nations a cloud of ominous misfortune moved over the country of Afghanistan, which leads Amir and his father to travel to the United States around the 1980s in search of refuge.
In the new country, the two struggle to become accustomed to the differences in cultural norms, soon find their place where “Afghan families [are] working an entire section of the San Jose flea market” (137). Much of the narrator’s early adulthood is spent biding time in the flea market and he remains in the States for the remainder of his life-- except for one return to Kabul in 2001, which promises loads of suspense and unexpected twists for the reader. Upon returning to his home country, Amir cannot help but “feel like a tourist in [his] own country” (231). The condition of his childhood home, “the paint, once sparkling white, faded to ghostly gray and eroded in parts, revealing the layered bricks beneath. The front steps, crumbled. Like so much else in Kabul, was the picture of fallen splendor” represents the severe alterations that have fallen upon the entire nation of Afghanistan in the twenty years the narrator has been gone. After completing his mission (barely,) Amir returns back to the United States, realizing that it is now, and will from now on be, his home.

Social Context

Afghanistan is a world filled with customs, traditions, and various societal expectation, which make The Kite Runner more fascinating for a reader who is not familiar with said customs. The book gets its title from an annual competition in which “every winter, districts in Kabul [hold] a kite-fighting tournament. And if you were a boy living in Kabul, the day of the tournament was undeniably the highlight of the cold season” (50). Amir and his faithful sidekick Hassan have one dream: Amir wants to win the kite-fighting competition and Hassan wants to run down and find the last kite as a trophy of their success. Will they make their father’s proud and win, or put their families to shame? Find out whether Hassan is worthy of the book’s title by opening the book.

Beyond games and competitions, there is an overwhelming amount of pressure put on younger Afghan men to honor their families and never disappoint. Amir begins to understand the affects of being different at a young age when his father is not enthused about his writing habits because “Real men didn’t read poetry--and God forbid they actually write it! Real men-- real boys--played soccer just as Baba had when he had been young” (20). Along with this expectation, are a set of lessons which Amir learns early in his life. These lessons have religious connotations, but also apply universally. Amir’s father, Baba sums up the rules and says: “There is only one sin. And that is theft... When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth” (225). It is the role of the father to ensure their child grows to be respectable man and Baba tries his best to lead Amir down the right path, but is he successful?
The Kite Runner also contains strong references to religious and gender prejudices. Afghanistan is in a time of strong tensions between the Shi’a and Sunni muslims; those who are not Sunni are often oppressed and used as servants. Amir experiences the harsh truths of reality as he watches Hassan and his father Ali be “called “flat-nosed” because of [their] characteristic Hazara Mongoloid features” (9). Eventually, these comments intensify to events beyond what the reader could ever imagine. When Amir is finally old enough for relationships, the reader learns of the severe oppression inflicted upon Afghan women. They also learn of the strict customs one must follow in order to court; it is here where Amir gets himself in a little bit of trouble. “[Him] a mojared, a single young man, and she an unwed young woman. On with a history, no less. This was teetering dangerously on the verge of gossip material, and the best kind of it. Poison tongue would flap. And she would bear the brunt that poison, not [Amir]-- [he] was fully aware of the Afghan double standard that favored my gender” (146). With sparks flying and temptations looming, Amir must be careful of how he handles himself. Any reader who opens The Kite Runner is sure to find themselves enveloped in exciting adventure, hard truths, and even a little bit of romance. “The Kabul [Amir] lived in was a strange world, one in which some things mattered more than the truth” (301). Find out just how strange things can get and what truths are revealed in The Kite Runner.

Political Context

The Kite Runner takes place during a time of great political instability in Afghanistan. In 1979, while Amir was still fairly young, Russian troops invaded the country, beginning the Soviet-Afghan war. This not only threw off international relations in the nation, but also allowed for a less than favorable group to take control of the country. “In the summer of 1988, about six months before the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan, [Amir] finishes [his] first novel” (182). At this point in time, Amir and his father are living comfortably in the United States and out of harm's way. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the Taliban has taken control and is inflicting terrible amounts of oppression on all those within the nation. Amir only has little knowledge of what is going on in his home country and is shocked when “Rahim Khan [tells him] how, when the Northern Alliance took over Kabul between 1992 and 1996, different factions claimed different parts of Kabul.If you went from the Shar-e-Nau section to Kerteh-Parwan to buy a carpet, you risked getting shot by a sniper or getting blown up by a rocket-- if you got past all the checkpoints that was” (199).
While the Taliban is in control, the members within the group run rampant, making Afghanistan one of the unsafest places for one to live. The Taliban creates fierce factions, who fight amongst each other and drag even the innocent and uninvolved down with them. This is the Afghanistan Amir must face when he returns in 2001 on a mission. This havoc and chaos creates a sense of adventure as the reader anxiously awaits to see if he will survive his mission and make it home safely. The book ends in the aftermath of 9/11 where “soon after the attacks, America bombed Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance moved in, and the Taliban scurried like rats into the caves” (362). With the Taliban out of control, the book ends on a more positive note with the implication that there may be hope for restoration in Afghanistan.

Modern Context

Because much of conflict in The Kite Runner comes from this particular setting, it’s not easy for the events to take place in any other time and place. Although this is true, The Kite Runner is a book phenomenal for being understood by all sorts of people. This is because the truths of humanity explored in this text continue to hold true in a variety of contexts.

Sometimes little comments or observations that characters make help readers realize the context of events. For example, Hosseini mentions “Jimmy Carter, who he [Baba] called a ‘big-toothed cretin’” (126). World contexts are also provided through these small descriptions, such as the differences between American and Afghani society:

I wanted to tell them that, in Kabul, we snapped a tree branch and used it as a credit card. Hassan and I would take the wooden stick to the bread maker. He’d carve notches on our stick with his knife, one notch for each loaf of naan he’d pull for us from the tandoor’s roaring flames. At the end of the month, my father paid him for the number of notches on the stick. That was it. No questions. No ID. (128)

One of the most relevant ideas explored in The Kite Runner is Hosseini’s commentary on immigration and adoption. Even after being the in States for some time, Baba “‘is still adjusting to life in America’” and making cultural mistakes (128). Another problem that immigrants have that stalls their assimilation into their new societies is the language boundary. “For two years, I [Amir] tried to get Baba to enroll in ESL classes to improve his broken English. But he scoffed at the idea” (126). Without giving away too much, the adoption process across international borders is extremely messy and time consuming. Even if you adhere to both countries’ adoption rules, it can be near impossible for the actual adoption to take place.

Significance to Peers

We have a lot in common with Amir. We have friends we don’t want other people to know about. We all get competitive. We want our parents to comfort us and congratulate us. But most importantly, we all have regrets. And while our regrets might be not studying for a test or not using a blinker, Amir regrets something of even greater importance. When this dramatic event takes place in the book, it becomes aturning point in Amir’s life. It changes the way Amir lives–how he thinks, how he interacts with others. The simple events in Amir’s life help us to relate to him. We understand what it’s like for people to move into new environments, meet new people (to flirt with or otherwise), and visit old friends. But the uniqueness of Amir’s situation is enough to keep readers interested in Amir. What would it be like if you had to sneak your away across Afghanistan’s border? What is like to take care of your dying father? What would you do if you couldn’t have children? The differences between readers and Amir attract them to and keep them glued to The Kite Runner.

Literary Value

Many authors use archetypes in all types of writing to help readers feel immediately comfortable or familiar with their characters. InThe Kite Runner, Amir’s father is a character built from the never-able-to-please father figure. This is also found in The Old Man and the Sea.The old man acts as the guardian or the mentor for the boy, although the old man only misses him when he has been at sea for a long time. Another archetype found in The Kite Runner is the character of the wise, old man. Rahim Kahn, in the second portion of the book, is the character that reveals secrets to Amir. He requests to see Amir before he dies to pass on this wisdom. Readers notice this archetype in many other works, such as that of Lois Lowry’s The Giver. The Giver character gives Jonas memories and other knowledge or abilities. The responsibility of knowing what to do with this knowledge is also played with in this book. Hosseini has Rahim Kahn hand down some information that Amir becomes responsible for acting on.

Amir also struggles with the concept of identity. Amir is Afghani, but he comes from a wealthy beginning that separates him from the common Afghanistan person. Later in his life, Amir moves to the United States, where he identifies as an Afghani-American. Upon his return from Afghanistan, the troubles there make him realize his connection to the land and he feels more Afghani. The reality of the United States fades and becomes a fantasyland to him. After this visit, once again in the United States, he never loses his connection to Afghanistan and, in fact, he becomes more connected to Afghanistan than he ever was growing up. This is really similar to the identity crisis that Holden Caulfield experiences in J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. In this controversial novel, Holden struggles to figure out who he is and what his purpose is in life, constantly pointing out “phonies” in the world around him. In one example, Holden toys with the idea of having religion: “‘Listen. What's the routine on joining a monastery?’ I asked him. I was sort of toying with the idea of joining one. ‘Do you have to be a Catholic and all?’" (96). Both Holden and Amir try to find their place and job here on Earth.


“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”

Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-American physician turned novelist writes about how quickly life can change, one moment can completely change the track an entire lifespan. Hosseini is a brilliant author who can craft a realistic image of his home country through his tale of the life of a boy thrust from his country by betrayal and war, detailing the downturn of what would be a prosperous country and the ethnic conflicts within.

Amir is young Afghani boy living in the Wazir district of Kabul in the 1970s. He is the son of a businessman and philanthropist, and Amir spends his childhood trying to live to his father’s expectations. Unfortunately, he is everything his father does not want in his son, instead of sports he reads and writes and he can never stand up to conflict as he is usually defended by his best friend and house servant Hassan. The two boys share an inseparable bond despite being separated by ethnic groups, Amir being Pashtun and Hassan being Hazara. The story tracks Amir’s life from the fateful day he witnesses Hassan being raped, all the way to his young adult years in America, and finally to the fateful day when Amir returns home and ultimately redeems himself of his betrayal.

The story constantly brings reminders into Amir’s life of his betrayal of Hassan, even though he has tried to bury the events of his past. Every happy event of his life carries the undertone of Hassan not being with him. This deliberate action only heightens the idea of betrayal throughout the book, and Hosseini gives us glimpses of the turmoil Amir’s guilt causes. The readers watches him racked with guilt as a boy to an adult whose mind is plagued with constant reminders of what he did not do for his friend.

Amir is eventually both overwhelmed with the desire and forced by external pressures to redeem himself. The readers perspective of war torn Afghanistan while he goes on his journey of redemption would be so different if it had been told through Hassan’s viewpoint. While Amir saw the change in America, Hassan lived through it. The reader’s desire to view the world through Hassan’s eyes it the one piece lacking in this story, and of course sticking to Amir’s viewpoint is intentional and required--the story would be entirely different without it. The reader is forced to see the story through Amir, whether they view him as a coward or a man racked with guilt.

Hosseini crafts a beautiful story dealing with the worst and best of the human condition. Through betrayal and redemption, crime and forgiveness, he details the powerful emotions and forces which cause a person to act. He uses the story Amir and Hassan to present us with events most people can live comfortably without experiencing. With only one book, he brings us into a world and culture we could never imagine. The Kite Runner possesses the power to change one’s entire view of the surrounding world.

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Books by the same author:

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Books with familial themes:

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Books about redemption:

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