Summary of Chapter Eighteen
Amir leaves Rahim Khan and walks the streets trying to reorient himself to his life. He thinks of all the past clues about Baba’s attentions to Hassan. He wonders how Baba, so committed to the truth, could have lied to him. When you tell a lie, Baba had said, it is an act of theft. Baba had stolen his brother from him and Hassan’s identity from him and Ali’s honor from him.
Amir wonders how Ali and Baba could have faced one another every day when Baba had stolen Ali’s honor? Suddenly, Amir realizes he and his father were alike in many ways, both betrayers of those who would give their lives for them. He thinks Rahim Khan has summoned him to atone for both his sins and his father’s. His whole life has been “a cycle of lies, betrayals, and secrets” but “There is a way to be good again” (198) by finding Sohrab. He had always let someone else do his fighting for him, but now he has to do his own fighting. Hassan had loved him in a way no one else ever had, and now he would go for his son.
Commentary on Chapter Eighteen
Though Amir is angry about the lost past, he is already starting to get stronger knowing the truth. Making amends for the past will not only be an act for Baba and Sohrab and Hassan, it will be healing for him. Rahim Khan has been a sort of guardian angel for Baba’s family, and even as he is dying, he tries to bring it together once more. Rahim Khan says he will pray for Amir’s success. Now he has done everything he needs to do before he dies. The torch passes to Amir.
Summary of Chapter Nineteen
Amir has hired an Afghan taxi driver, Farid, to take him to Kabul. Farid and his father fought against the Russians, who killed his father and two of Farid’s children. Farid then moved his family to Peshawar. Rahim Khan helps Amir prepare for his journey with money, native garments, and a false beard. Rahim Khan wants him to stay a few more days to visit with him, but Amir knows if he does not leave immediately, he might back out. He feels this is “one last chance at redemption” (202). He does not tell Soraya what he is going to do.
As they cross into Afghanistan, he sees poverty everywhere. He remarks to Farid that he feels like a stranger in his own country. Farid is belligerent because he thinks Amir is soft, having lived in America for twenty years. He accuses him of being one of the former rich Afghans with Hazara servants. He points to a ragged old man on the road, saying, “That’s the real Afghanistan” (204). Rahim Khan had told Amir not to expect a warm welcome from the Afghans who had stayed behind and fought. Amir has a hard time earning Farid’s respect as he gets carsick.
In Jalalabad, Farid takes Amir to his brother’s adobe house. He meets Farid’s brother Wahid, his children and wife. It is clear that the food they serve the guest means the family has to go hungry. Amir leaves money under their mattress. He gains sympathy by explaining his mission to find an orphan in Kabul. They are surprised he is going for a Hazara boy. Amir admits the boy is his nephew. They decide he is an honorable man. He gives the children his wristwatch as a present. Farid says he will help him find the boy.
Commentary on Chapter Nineteen
Amir is surprised to feel emotion at stepping on the soil of his ancestors. He feels a sense of home stir in him. Farid is bitter about Amir having lived a soft life in America and challenges him that he is not really an Afghan. Once again, Amir appears to be the privileged coward. This changes when Amir admits he searches for the Hazara son of his half-brother. Saying this painful truth for the first time suddenly shifts the hearts of his hosts towards him. They call him “honorable” (208). This is the beginning of a new identity for him, and as hard as the journey will be, it gives him spiritual relief.
Amir’s values will change on this trip. When Amir confesses to Wahid that he is a writer in America, Wahid wants to know if he writes about Afghanistan. Amir blushes to think that his last novel about a bored university professor had gotten good reviews from the critics. Wahid urges him to write about what the Taliban are doing to the country instead.
Amir has a nightmare in this house about Hassan’s execution. He sees the whole thing and then wakes up in horror, for he had been the one pulling the trigger. Amir’s guilt accuses him of contributing to his brother’s hard life and death. Perhaps if he hadn’t sent Hassan away, he could have come to America . . . These thoughts torment him and drive him forward on his mission.
Summary of Chapter Twenty
Farid shows Amir the war-torn landscape from Jalalabad to Kabul and remarks that the dead are luckier than the survivors. Amir hardly recognizes Kabul: “Rubble and beggars” (214) are what he sees. The beggars are children, some five or six years old, some in the laps of burqa-clad mothers. There are few fathers in Kabul. Children play in ruins. Amir asks, where are the trees?
As they stand on the street, the Taliban rolls by in a truck. Amir stares at the bearded and turbaned men, and Farid tells him it is dangerous to stare. A beggar on the street agrees with Farid. Amir gives the beggar some money and then strikes up a conversation with him, asking if he knows where the local orphanage is. The beggar tells him, and then quotes a line of poetry from Hafez. He explains he used to teach at the university from 1958 to 1996. Amir says his mother also taught at the university and tells her name. The man, Dr. Rasul, knew Amir’s mother whom he used to talk to. Shortly before Amir’s birth, she confessed to Dr. Rasul that she was so happy, she was afraid it would all be taken away. Farid stops their talk and rushes Amir away. They go to find the orphanage.
The orphanage director, Zaman, knows Sohrab, who used to be at the orphanage. The orphanage is a desolate place where the children are starving and freezing. Sohrab is not there because a Taliban leader took him away. Zaman admits that he sells orphans to the Taliban leader, usually a girl, but sometimes a boy. Farid attacks the man when he hears this, but Amir stops him. Zaman defends himself, saying he has to sell a few children to get money for the rest of them. The officer took Sohrab a month ago. If they go to Ghazi Stadium tomorrow they’ll see him at halftime, the one wearing black sunglasses.
Commentary on Chapter Twenty
Though Amir had seen the violence on TV, he is shocked at seeing the city in person. It is a lawless ruin, patrolled by terrorists who kill people at the slightest provocation. The profundity of the change comes home when Amir speaks with the former professor who is now a dirty beggar on the street.
Amir realizes looking at the orphanage he will not leave Afghanistan without Sohrab. The director could be called immoral and corrupt, but he claims that he has to sacrifice some children to save the rest. He has sold Sohrab to the Taliban for sexual purposes. The hypocrisy of the Taliban is obvious; there appears to be nothing religious about the organization. Afghanistan is a destroyed and traumatized country, a hell on earth, as Rahim Khan said.
Summary of Chapter Twenty-One
Amir sees a corpse hanging by a restaurant. Farid takes him to the district where Amir grew up. He sees Baba’s house. He stands outside the gates feeling like a stranger. The trees have been cut down. He longs to go in, but Farid honks a warning. Amir insists on climbing the hill. The cemetery and the pomegranate tree are still there. The tree is mostly dead but the carving is visible: “Amir and Hassan. The Sultans of Kabul.” He hears Farid honking and waving. They spend the night in a dilapidated hotel.
The next day they go to Ghazi Stadium to watch a soccer game. Young Talibs with whips roam the stadium to beat anyone who cheers. Then at halftime they witness an execution on the field. Amir does not want to stay but knows he must. The cleric recites from the Koran as a man and woman accused of adultery are buried to their waists in the ground. Farid shakes his head, and Amir remembers Baba cursing the self-righteous clergy. A tall man wearing John Lennon sunglasses arrives and begins throwing stones at the two. Amir hides his eyes. After the two are dead and removed, the soccer game resumes.
Farid tells one of the Talibs in the stadium they have official business with the man in the sunglasses, and they are given an appointment for three o’clock.
Commentary on Chapter Twenty-One
Amir remembers how he and Hassan played explorers when they were children as he sees the old house. Those gentle childhood memories contrast to the corpses and executions now dominating the city, even during soccer games that are turned into Roman spectacles. Farid implies the Taliban are not true Muslims. His disapproval makes the point that even other Sunni Muslims do not agree to this terrorism in the name of religion. Baba and Amir are secular in their outlook but adhere to Afghan cultural traditions. Baba had been disgusted by the severe self-righteous teaching of the clergy and taught Amir to ignore it for more humane values. Amir’s abhorrence of violence has always marked him as too sensitive for this kind of landscape, and after he witnesses the executions, the reader may wonder how he has the courage to look up the man in the sunglasses.
His resolve may have been hardened by the conversation with Farid in the hotel room. At first they exchange life stories and then they tell Mullah Nasruddin jokes about the famous bumbling mullah. Amir is just starting to feel friendly with Farid when Farid suddenly asks, “You come all the way from America . . . for a Shi’a?” (233)
Amir is dismayed, thinking perhaps it is true that Afghanistan is “a hopeless place” (233). Though most Afghans are not as extreme as the Taliban, racial prejudice runs deep. Hosseini tries to show a whole range of Muslims—secular Muslims like Baba, civilized religious Sunnis like Rahim Khan, the saintly Shi’as, Hassan and Ali, and the terrorist Taliban—to show that Islam is not a monolithic group.
Summary of Chapter Twenty-Two
Farid waits in the car while Amir is ushered into the big house in the suburbs for his Taliban appointment. Amir notes, “I was on my own” (239). He is frisked and left in a waiting room. He thinks how insane and irresponsible he is being to Soraya.
The white-robed Talib with John Lennon glasses enters. When his sleeve rolls away from his arm, Amir sees heroin scars; his hands are shaking. The man has his guards rip off Amir’s fake beard, and Amir has a spasm of terror. The Talib begins bragging about the Hazara ethnic cleansing he led in 1998.
Amir asks him for the boy Sohrab. The man says, yes, I’ll let you see my boy. Sohrab comes in, and Amir holds his breath because he looks like Hassan, but he is dressed up with make-up on and ankle bells. He is forced to dance to Pashtun music. Afterwards the man holds him, but Sohrab keeps stealing looks at Amir. The man says to Amir, “Whatever happened to old Babalu?” He refers to Ali, and suddenly he takes off his glasses, and Amir recognizes the bully, Assef, Hassan’s attacker.
Amir offers to pay for the boy, but Assef says his parents are now rich Australians and send him all the money he wants. Assef says he is on a mission from God, and he does not work for money. Suddenly Amir hears himself speak up, asking if Assef’s mission is to rape children, massacre Hazaras, and stone people in the name of Islam? Now Amir knows he has crossed a line. Assef is briefly surprised but claims someone has to take the garbage out of Afghanistan. Amir keeps asking for the boy, and Sohrab is watching Amir now.
Assef wonders why he has come all this way for a Hazara. He pushes Sohrab towards Amir and says to take him, though he will have to pay a price to “earn him” (250). Assef calls the guards into the room and tells him that Amir and he are going to finish some old business. They are not to come in. Only one will walk out alive, and if it is Amir, he will have earned his freedom, and he is to pass. Assef allows Sohrab to stay.
It is the first time Amir has had to fight anyone. Assef turns on the music and then attacks with the brass knuckles. Sohrab screams. Amir is getting beaten badly, but he starts laughing. For the first time since 1975 he feels inner peace. He had once begged Hassan to punish him for being cowardly, and now he is getting what he asked for. As his body is getting broken, he feels healed of his old sins. By this time Assef is looking like a lunatic, when Sohrab interrupts him, telling him to stop. He is crying and aiming his slingshot at Assef. Assef lunges at Sohrab, and Sohrab shoots him in the eye. Assef begins to scream, with blood pouring down his face. Sohrab takes Amir’s hand, and they run out. They get into Farid’s waiting Land Cruiser and take off, while Amir faints in the back seat.
Commentary on Chapter Twenty-Two
Despite the terrible price, Amir feels healed of his soul wound, even as his body is smashed by the persecutor of Hassan and Sohrab. Sohrab is as good as Hassan with a slingshot, and Hassan had once promised to shoot out Assef’s eye if he attacked Amir. Now that promise is fulfilled by Hassan’s son. Amir is finally forced to say what he thinks to Assef, the perpetual bully. His act of truth frees him and ultimately Sohrab, who is pushed into action to protect Amir.
The speech that Assef gives about why he joined the Taliban is interesting in that it illuminates the emotions behind blood feuds. He and his parents had been jailed by the Russian forces, and he had been beaten. He feels he got a message from God in the jail. His life was saved for a purpose. He found the Russian who beat him and killed him.
Whatever Assef thinks, and perhaps he really does think he is on a mission from God to commit ethnic cleansing, it is clear he has been violent and insane since childhood, even then admiring Hitler. He is a drug addict, a pedophile, and a killer. Hosseini makes this character half German and half Pashtun, perhaps to say, he is not really a true Afghan. Assef’s madness, however, stands for the insanity that has destroyed the country.