Summary of Chapter Eight
For a week, Amir hardly sees Hassan. Hassan does his chores but stays out of sight. Amir asks Ali where he is, and Ali says he sleeps all the time. Ali asks Amir if something happened after the kite tournament. Hassan came home bloodied and said he had been in a fight. Amir gets irritable and says he doesn’t know anything.
Amir asks Baba to take him to Jalalabad for a special trip, and Baba says yes and says Hassan could come too, but Amir lies and says that Hassan is sick. He wants to go alone with Baba. It turns out a whole company of people go in three vans: Baba, Rahim Khan, and all their friends. Amir gets carsick in the two hour ride through the mountains, and he throws up on a little girl’s dress. He sees images of the alley in his mind.
In Jalalabad they go to a friend’s house and the women start cooking. Baba and Amir are finally becoming friends as Baba tells him tales of his life, but Amir feels strangely empty. After a communal dinner, Amir sleeps on the floor with the men while the women go upstairs. He can’t sleep and sits up and says the secret out loud about Hassan, hoping someone will hear his confession, but the men are snoring. Amir finally understands that his curse will be that he will get away with his act of betrayal. He becomes an insomniac.
The next week Hassan asks Amir if he wants to go for a hike up the hill. Hassan has lost weight and has circles under his eyes. They go to their tree, and Hassan asks him to read from the Shahnamah, but Amir can’t. He wants to go home.
Amir spends time with Baba and Rahim Khan, and that is the only time he is happy. He stays away from Hassan. Hassan keeps trying to be friendly, but Amir keeps him at arm’s length. If Hassan is around, he can’t breathe. Yet Hassan continues to wait on him: “Everywhere I turned, I saw signs of his loyalty” (78), and he cannot stand it.
While Amir plants tulips with Baba in the spring, he asks him if he ever thought of getting new servants. Baba is very angry with him, explaining Ali has been in the family for forty years, and he and Hassan are not going anywhere.
One day in summer Amir asks Hassan to go up the hill with him so he can read some of his stories to him, but instead he picks up pomegranates and begins hitting Hassan with them. The pomegranates stain Hassan with red. Amir orders him to hit back: “I wished he’d give me the punishment I craved, so maybe I’d finally sleep at night.” Hassan is silent, and Amir calls him a coward. Then Hassan picks up a pomegranate and smashes it on his own face, asking if Amir is satisfied. Hassan leaves and Amir weeps.
For Amir’s thirteenth birthday, Baba throws a huge party. Amir has to stand at the door and greet guests. He is upset by having to greet Assef and his parents. Assef is domineering towards his parents, and they seem afraid of him. Assef invites Amir to play volleyball at his house, but Amir declines. Assef gives Amir a biography of Hitler for a present. Amir runs away to the garden, where Rahim Khan finds him. Rahim Khan tells him how he almost got engaged to a Hazara girl, but his family forbade it. He tells Amir the moral of this story: “the world always wins” (86). This story seems to be an invitation for Amir to confess his burning secret, for Rahim Khan says Amir can tell him anything. For a moment, Amir is tempted, but he thinks everyone will hate him if they know how he betrayed Hassan.
Rahim gives him a leather-bound notebook to write his stories in. When Amir returns to the party, he sees Hassan forced by his role as servant to serve drinks to Assef.
Commentary on Chapter Eight
The pressure builds as Amir bursts with his secret guilt. He has several opportunities to confess and try to fix things with Hassan and Ali, but he is too confused and afraid to admit his failure. His underhand approach to Baba about firing the servants alienates his father who reacts strongly. Ali and Hassan are family, he says. He tells Amir he brings shame on him, and they hardly speak after that. Amir keeps making things worse.
At a time when both boys need help dealing with the situation, grief and guilt get in the way. Amir cannot find the way back. The only adult who guesses what is wrong, Rahim Khan, almost gets Amir to talk, but Amir is fearful that he will lose love by telling what happened and revealing his cowardice.
The scene where Amir hits Hassan with the pomegranates is an explosion, a cry for help. First, he wants Hassan to stand up for himself and not be so submissive. He is angry at Hassan for being a victim. At the same time, Amir is begging Hassan to punish him for his weakness. He feels accused by Hassan’s continued loyalty and acceptance.
Rahim Khan tells his own story of racial prejudice, his love for a Hazara girl, and his family’s outrage. In a country of violent ethnic feelings, his conclusion is that “the world always wins.” There is no way out of these traditional feuds, he hints. And yet, Rahim Khan does try to tear down the racial barriers later in life, as the story will show. The wars coming to Afghanistan will do a lot to destroy the old status quo.
Summary of Chapter Nine
Amir opens his presents the next day and feels he does not deserve all the expensive gifts—a camera, transistor radio, train set, and lots of cash. He feels it is “blood money” (88). His father gives him a bicycle and a watch, but Amir knows it is all because he won the kite contest. He tosses everything in the corner except for the notebook Rahim Khan gave him. Amir thinks with disgust of Hassan having to serve drinks to Assef and concludes, “One of us had to go” (89).
Ali and Hassan give Amir a brand new copy of the Shahnamah with illustrations for his birthday, though neither of them can read it. Amir tosses it with the other gifts and takes his new watch and some birthday money and plants them under Hassan’s mattress, then tells his father that Hassan has stolen from him.
Baba makes Amir and Hassan and Ali come to his office. Ali and Hassan have been crying. When Baba asks Hassan if he stole the items, Hassan says “yes.” Amir feels he has been slapped by Hassan’s sacrifice. Everyone knows that Hassan does not lie, so he could have told the truth and Baba would believe him. Suddenly Amir realizes that Hassan knows he had seen what happened in the alley. He knows that Amir had betrayed him. Amir also knows that if Hassan had told on him, Baba would never forgive him. In that moment he loves Hassan more than he has loved anyone. But he knows that he is not worth Hassan’s loyalty.
Baba surprises Amir by saying to Hassan that he forgives him. He wants to forget it. Ali tells Baba they are leaving anyway, that they can’t live there anymore. Baba breaks down crying, something Amir has never seen, and then he understands the depth of suffering he has caused. Ali says they will go to his cousin’s in Hazarajat. Baba takes them to the bus station. Amir sees “the life I had known since I’d been born was over” (94). He is sorry, but he wants to move on and forget.
Commentary on Chapter Nine
It is clear from this dramatic scene that Ali and Hassan understand everything, but they do not give Amir away, knowing his life would be ruined. Hassan is loyal to the end, and Amir knows he does not deserve it. Ali gives Amir a hard look, and then Amir knows that Hassan had told him the secret, but he is glad that at least Ali knows him for what he is. He is tired of pretending. The one surprise to Amir is his father’s genuine grief. Baba had begged Ali not to go, even called him a brother.
In one way, Amir is not selfish. He cannot get the image out of his mind of Hassan serving Assef, his attacker. He knows that Hassan will continue to be persecuted if he stays. Hazarajat is a desolate and poor area high in the mountains of central Afghanistan where Hazaras predominantly live, but that will be safer for Ali and Hassan in the long run, given the coming political chaos.
Summary of Chapter Ten
This chapter is dated, “March 1981,” five years later. Amir and Baba are escaping from the Soviets who invaded Afghanistan in 1979. They are sitting in the back of an old Russian truck with a dozen people and their suitcases. Amir is now eighteen, but he still gets carsick and keeps vomiting as the truck bumps along. He knows Baba sees this as a sign of his weakness.
Karim the driver makes his money smuggling people out of the country, taking them from Kabul to Jalalabad, and from there, Karim’s brother Toor would take them in a bigger truck over the Khyber Pass to Peshawar, Pakistan. They had left dirty dishes and all their belongings behind in the house, except for one suitcase, so no one would guess their plans. Even their servants did not know they had gone: “You couldn’t trust anyone in Kabul anymore” (98). Children were taught to spy on their parents. Karim and his brother can get people out because they know the soldiers at the checkpoints and have worked out a deal with them.
At a checkpoint, however, a drugged Russian soldier decides he will only let them go if he can have the young woman in the truck who is with her husband and holding her baby. At this point, Baba stands up and asks the soldier where his shame is, but the soldier says this is war. Baba is arguing with the soldier, and Amir is nervous, wishing his father would not be a hero. Baba is ready to give his life to defend the woman as the soldier points his gun at him. Amir hears a shot and thinks his father is dead, but it is a Russian officer who stops the soldier and apologizes for the young soldier being on drugs. As the truck pulls away, the husband kisses Baba’s hand.
In Jalalabad, they stay at Karim’s house but find Toor’s truck is broken. Karim knew this before he brought them, and Baba is so angry he grabs Karim and chokes him, almost killing him. There are others in the basement who have been waiting for two weeks. Amir and Baba join them in the dark rat-infested cellar for the next week. There are thirty refugees, among them Kamal and his father. Kamal looks lifeless and vacant. His mother had been killed by a stray bullet. From the whispering, Amir gathers that Kamal had been gang raped by Russian soldiers and no longer talks.
After a week, the refugees are smuggled out in an empty fuel truck of Karim’s cousin, Aziz. Amir can hardly breathe in the truck because of the gasoline fumes. He panics. He only survives by focusing on Baba’s fluorescent watch. They hear gunfire and planes overhead and finally arrive in Pakistan, but Kamal has died on the trip. His father wails, then grabs Karim’s gun and shoots himself.
Commentary on Chapter Ten
Amir and Baba have lost everything but their lives. Their old identities are gone. They are among the lucky ones who get out. There is a glimpse of a terrorized Kabul, with executions and spies everywhere. The contrast between Amir’s weakness and Baba’s strength is emphasized. Baba is the hero type who will gladly die to uphold the honor of the woman in the truck. Amir’s only thought when he thinks the Russian soldier has shot Baba is “I’m eighteen and alone” (101). On the other hand, Baba’s strength is also a liability as he nearly kills Karim out of anger.
The fate of Kamal is sad and ironic. He is one of the boys who held Hassan down while Assef assaulted him. He in turn is sexually assaulted by Russian soldiers and dies from shock and hardship. Karim’s explanation that the Russians are different from Afghans in that they have no honor is another ironic statement, for there seems to be no honor in feud or war, only those who survive and those who don’t. The other refugees criticize Baba for not praying with the group for God to save them, but he says the only thing that will save them is a truck.
In the fuel truck, Baba tells Amir to think of something nice to distract himself, and he remembers a day flying kites with Hassan, with their “twin shadows” on the grass (107).
Summary of Chapter Eleven
The time and place are given as “Fremont, California. 1980s.” Baba and Amir are living in America. They mix with the other Afghan expatriates there. Baba works now at a gas station to support his son as he goes to an American high school and college. While Amir adjusts to the new environment, Baba has trouble. He hates President Carter and loves President Reagan, who calls the Russians evil. Baba destroys a fruit store in anger that the people won’t take his check. In Kabul there was no I.D. and he was known. Baba misses his old life, but for Amir, “America was a place to bury my memories” (112). Baba was happier in Peshawar as they waited six months for visas, but he says it does not matter. He came to America for Amir. Yet his pride makes him refuse food stamps.
After Amir’s high school graduation, Baba is proud and gives Amir a used Grand Torino for college. Amir now appreciates his father’s sacrifices for him, but for a moment everything is ruined, when Baba says he wishes Hassan was with them.
Baba wants Amir to go to medical school, but Amir stands up for himself: he wants to major in English and creative writing. He is enjoying his freedom and drives his car all over California: “America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past” (119). He can forget his sins.
Baba buys an old Volkswagen bus and begins their flea market business. They go to garage sales on weekends and then resell the items with the other Afghan families at the San Jose flea market. There Baba sees people he knew in Kabul, like General Iqbal Taheri, who once worked for the Ministry of Defense and now works the flea market, like other Afghans. The General tells Amir to appreciate his father, for he is truly great, but Amir has eyes only for the General’s daughter, Soraya. Though Soraya is beautiful, hardworking and smart, she is not courted by suitors because she has had a past with a man, making her ineligible for traditional Afghan marriage.
Commentary on Chapter Eleven
The contrast between life in Afghanistan and America is explored in this chapter. For the older Afghans like Baba, though forced into a different life working in a gas station, the old life is still the standard. Baba’s difficulties adjusting, his rants about politics, are touching, and his character seems more benign as he gives everything for his son’s future. Baba and the General can meet at the flea market and engage in their old gossip and ways, but the young people, Amir and Soraya, are free to re-invent themselves in America. The General’s saying, “Zendagi migzara” sums it up: “Life goes on” (122).
Summary of Chapter Twelve
Amir’s courtship of Soraya is conducted in the old Afghan way because of the General’s strictness with her. Amir looks forward to meeting her at the flea market but can only talk to her when the General leaves their table. She is reading Wuthering Heights, and they discuss that and the fact that he is a writer. She is going to a junior college and wants to be a teacher. He offers to let her read his stories. Soraya’s mother, Jamila, likes Amir and is friendly with him, but the General is stern, formal, and throws Amir’s stories in the trash. Amir is ruining her reputation by hanging around her without a formal engagement.
Meanwhile, Baba becomes ill, and it turns out he has lung cancer from smoking. Baba refuses to go to a Russian doctor, and they finally find an Iranian doctor. Baba decides to skip chemotherapy since it will not cure the disease. Amir is desperate at the thought of his father dying and having to be alone, but Baba is angry, saying he has tried to prepare him for that. After all, he is twenty-two years old.
When Baba has a seizure at the flea market, he is rushed to the hospital. The hospital fills up with visitors, including the General, his wife, and Soraya. Amir weeps with sorrow, and Soraya comforts him. When Baba gets out of the hospital, Amir asks him one last favor—to arrange a marriage with the General’s daughter. They go through the formal rituals, and the General agrees, but Soraya feels she has to explain her past to Amir. She had run off with an Afghan man who was into drugs. Her father found her and dragged her away. Amir has never been with a woman but knows he has no right to judge her, because of his own past. She has been honest about her past, but he does not confess his.
Commentary on Chapter Twelve
The story of Amir’s courtship and marriage is sweet and creates a sympathetic feeling for Afghan tradition. Because all these rituals are conducted in America, they take on a nostalgic feel and show the strength of the Afghan culture. Though in exile, the Afghans stick together as a community. Soraya had been scornful of her tradition when she ran off as a teenager, but she now knows the tradition has worth. Even as both young people want to make their own way, they do not reject the comfort of their culture to create a new home for them in a foreign land. Amir is not blind to the prejudice of Afghan strictures against women. He speaks of the double standards of sexual purity.
Again, Amir’s cowardice is contrasted to Soraya’s courage. She had made a mistake but owns up to it, though in their tradition, Amir could refuse such a woman. She took a chance by confessing. He feels she is the nobler and better person, because he does not want to confess his sins to her.
Another anecdote that contrasts Amir and Soraya is her story of why she wants to become a teacher. In Kabul, she had taken it on herself to teach an illiterate servant girl to read, and she never forgot the joy of watching another person become self-sufficient. Amir thinks with shame how he lorded his literacy over Hassan, using it as a source of power.