Everyday people make decisions which change the course of their lives. Amir, the narrator of The Kite Runner, is only a boy when he makes a decision out of confusion, jealousy, and guilt that affects his life and those of the people around him forever. Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Amir and Hassan, two boys growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan in the early 1970’s. Amir is the son of Baba, a rich businessman living in the luxury of what is said to be Kabul’s nicest home. Hassan is the son of Ali, Baba’s Hazara servant. As babies Amir and Hassan fed from the breast of the same nurse, but nothing can change the fact that Hassan is Shia and Amir Sunni.
Amir and Hassan are best friends. Yet, the societal and cultural barriers which separate them confuse Amir. According to Baba, Amir should not listen to everything he is taught at school. In fact, Baba does not follow all Islamic laws-he drinks alcohol. Even though Baba’s father, a judge, adopted Ali as a child and the two were raised as brothers, Ali and Hassan live outside Baba’s home in a small hut. Inside the home, Ali and Hassan serve Baba and Amir. When Amir states that nothing can alter the divide between he and Hassan, it may be because he experiences it from all aspects of his life.
Baba is a man people look up to. He is also someone who always seems to get the things he wants out of life. It is not until he has Amir that he is disappointed. ‘If I hadn’t seen the doctor pull him out of my wife with my own eyes, I’d never believe he’s my son.’ Along with the fact that Amir’s mother, Baba’s happiness, died in childbirth, their relationship has been strained by Baba’s inability to understand what he deems as Amir’s ‘weakness.’ Due to this disconnect, Amir is always striving to impress his father. While Amir is a disappointment, Hassan is able to obtain Baba’s attention and affection without trying. If Amir wants to go to a movie or buy a kite, Hassan is always invited and receives equal treatment. Amir doesn’t understand. He wants to feel special.
Although still young, Amir has ideas about the advantages in his life that Hassan does not possess. He observes as Hassan cleans Baba’s home and helps cook his meals for him. As the two play together and discuss the political state of Afghanistan, they mention that one day they will have TV there. Amir says he will buy one for Hassan. Hassan accepts, saying he will put the TV in his hut. It is a terrible realization for Amir that Hassan never has plans of leaving-his life doesn’t permit doing so. The boys play inside the house in front of a fire in winter, in the warmer weather they climb the hills near pomegranate trees and Amir reads Hassan’s favorite stories to him. Hassan cannot read. In all of their interactions Amir sees the purity and goodness that is Hassan. If ever Amir is cruel to Hassan because he cannot read or he ignores him around his other friends, Hassan will never be untrue. ‘And that’s the problem with people who mean everything they say. They think everyone else does too.’ Amir truly cares for Hassan, but he is completely blinded by his need to gain his father’s approval. In his devotion to Amir, Hassan finds himself directly in the path of destruction.
The day finally comes for Amir to impress Baba-Kabul’s annual kite-fighting tournament. As usual, Amir is dependent upon Hassan in order to complete the competition. Amir flies the kite, knocking the others out of the sky, but it is Hassan who has the ability to run down the defeated kite. It is possessing the last kite which falls from the sky that is considered the ultimate prize of the competition and Hassan is proud to run after it for Amir. During the tournament all Amir can think about is what Baba is thinking and what he will say and do after he wins. When Amir realizes that Hassan is trapped with the bully Assef not only because he has Amir’s blue kite but because he has defended Amir one time before, he watches to see what will happen to his friend. Out of fear for his own safety and perhaps a bit of jealousy, Amir allows Assef and a few boys to throw rocks and rape Hassan- a secret he will carry for years. When Hassan finally returns home that night, Amir takes the kite from him to give to Baba. Things are never the same. Amir wins Baba’s attention for a short time. Yet, had he stood up for Hassan that day, he may have won Baba’s full approval for giving in to his weakness. Instead he alters the courses of several lives forever.
Not long after the assault of Hassan, things change in Afghanistan. The Soviet invasion makes it unsafe for people to live safely the way they used to. Baba and Amir drive out of Afghanistan to Pakistan and then go to America where they begin a new life in California. Sometime before that, overcome with guilt, Amir could not stand being around Hassan any longer. He took a watch and money and placed it under Hassan’s bed. Then, Amir told Baba Hassan had stolen his things. Instead of betraying Amir, Hassan admitted he had stolen from Baba(even though he had not). But, Baba forgave him. It was Ali, Hassan’s father, who decided they would leave Kabel. Amir got his wish and they never saw Ali or Hassan again-the servants who were like family gone.
Life in California is a chance for Amir to forget what he has done. For Baba, his new life is a reminder of everything lost to him. As always, Baba gives his own happiness so that Amir can have what he needs. Amir attends high school and the university while Baba works twelve hour days pumping gas. Baba even makes it possible for Amir to meet, Soraya, a girl with parents from Afghanistan, who would later become his wife. When Baba gets cancer and refuses chemotherapy, it is clear Amir is still very much concerned with himself. “What about me Baba?’ In his answer, Amir’s father makes it clear that his problems with his son were always because he worried the boy wouldn’t be able to take care of himself. He has tried to teach him how not to have to ask that question. Even as an adult, with a poor father willing to buy him a car and spend his life savings on his wedding, Amir never really seems to appreciate the love his father shows him in caring for him the best way he knows how. Yes, Amir carries the guilt of what he has done to Hassan and the lies he told, but what does all that amount to?
In June 2001, after Baba’s death, Amir receives a phone call from Baba’s best friend, Rahim Khan in Pakistan. He wants to see Amir. ‘Come there is a way to make things good again.’ Amir has always sensed that Rahim Khan knows his secret. When Amir arrives, he finds a story awaiting him. When Baba left Kabul he gave his house to Rahim Khan to watch over. Lonely in the large place, Rahim Khan went searching for Ali and Hassan. He found Hassan with a pregnant wife, Farzana. Hassan and his wife agreed to move to Kabul and live in Baba’s home with Rahim Khan. There, they lived and raised their son, Sohrab. But the country and city were torn apart by war. Rahim Khan described the neighborhood with falling shells and gunfire all around. One day, the Taliban came around and shot both Hassan and Farzana for being Hazara. Sohrab was sent to an orphanage. Now, Rahim Khan wants Amir to find the boy. ‘I think we both know why it has to be you.’ Before Amir leaves, Rahim tells him that Hassan was his brother.
Amir thinks his whole life has been a lie. His father told him the worst thing a person could do was steal. He feels his father has stolen not only Hassan’s identity, but their relationship as a family. Looking back, the boy would most likely have been less confused by his father’s relationship with Hassan had he known. Perhaps he would have felt less jealous, guilty. Now, the things that have passed have been revealed to be not only his sins, but Baba’s as well. They have both kept a terrible secret. What is left of it all but a little boy-Hassan’s son?
Sohrab experienced Afghanistan at its worst. He watched his parents’ murder and was sexually abused by Taliban officials-one of them the same man, Assef, who had hurt his father all those years before. But his uncle saved him and took him to California to live with the only family he had left. Sohrab ‘wanted his old life back.’ Amir wanted that too. Before all the lies and betrayal, life in Afghanistan had been comfortable and safe.
For a long time, Amir lived with regret. He must have thought if he could go back to the moment when he didn’t help his friend, he would do just about anything. Years pass and life goes on. Even if he had told Baba or Soraya his secret sooner, it wouldn’t have changed what had happened. There are things in life that often times it seems better to not know. I wonder how things would have changed for Amir if Rahim Khan had never told him Hassan was his brother? It may have spared him the hurt of knowing his father never told him the truth, but he also may never have saved Sohrab.
All people make mistakes. What if these mistakes combined with other events, completely out of our control create awful situations for us? It’s entirely possible. The novel doesn’t necessarily seem to be a question of right versus wrong, but a description of how people come through life’s toughest circumstances. We scrape our knees on the floor scratching and clawing our way out and at the end of the day we live to tell the tale. When war, emotional and physical abuse are involved it is difficult to guarantee a happy ending. That isn’t always accurate or compulsory. The struggle is sometimes more captivating.
Final Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Film: The Kite Runner(2007)