The story is narrated from the year 2002. Amir, who is thus far a nameless protagonist, tells us that an event in the winter of 1975 changed his life forever. We do not know anything about this event except that it still haunts him and that it involves something he did to Hassan, whom he calls "the harelipped kite runner." Amir takes us back to his childhood, in the final decades of the monarchy in Afghanistan. His father, Baba, was one of the wealthiest and most charitable Pashtun men in Kabul, where they lived in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood. His mother died in childbirth. Amir's closest friend, the harelipped Hassan, was also his servant and a Hazara. He was very close to his father, Ali, who was Baba's servant.
Despite their differences, Amir and Hassan were inseparable. Hassan would have done anything for Amir; his first word was even "Amir." Baba was aloof and did not pay Amir much attention. He was a huge and imposing man who was rumored to have wrestled a bear. Baba did not subscribe to popular belief, preferring to cast his own opinions about issues. Baba wished Amir was athletic and brave like him instead of cowardly and bookish.
Amir explains how Ali and Baba knew each other. Baba's father took Ali into his house after Ali's parents were killed in an accident. Ali and Baba grew up together just like Hassan and Amir. In each generation, the boys could never truly consider themselves friends because of their class differences. One big difference divider was literacy. Amir was proud of his literacy and lorded it over the unsuspecting, illiterate Hassan. Yet when Amir wrote his first short story and read it to Hassan, it was the latter who found the plot hole in the story.
That same night, July 17, 1973, there was a coup d'etat in Afghanistan, changing it from a monarchy to a republic. Unbeknownst to the boys or anyone else, it was the first of many political changes that would eventually ruin Afghanistan as they knew it. One day, Amir and Hassan got into a confrontation with a boy named Assef and his two friends. Assef idolized Hitler and hated Hazaras. As usual, Hassan stood up for Amir; he got Assef to leave by aiming his slingshot at Assef's eye. That same year, Baba got Hassan surgery to fix his harelip.
In the winter, schools were closed in Kabul and the boys spent much time kite fighting. When defeated kites fell out of the sky, boys chased them to try to bring them home as trophies. They were called "kite runners." Amir usually flew a kite while Hassan ran kites for him. Hassan was the best kite runner anyone had ever seen. He had an innate sense of where a kite would land.
In the winter of 1975, there was a massive kite tournament. Amazingly, Amir won, and Hassan went to run the last kite for him. Before he chased it, he shouted, "For you, a thousand times over." When Hassan did not come home, Amir went out looking for him. He found Hassan confronting Assef and his two friends in an alley. Amir did nothing to help Hassan as Assef raped him. Later he found Hassan walking home, kite in hand, with blood dripping from his pants. He pretended not to know what happened and did not tell Ali the truth when he asked.
After the kite tournament, Amir's relationship with his father improved because Baba was so proud of him. His relationship with Hassan degraded. Amir was too ashamed of what he had done to face Hassan and avoided him at all costs. One day he even suggested to Baba that they get new servants. To his surprise, Baba was furious and threatened to hit Amir for the first time. He said that Ali and Hassan were their family. Amir tried to resolve his guilt by teaching Hassan not to be so loyal to him. He took Hassan up to the hill and pelted him with pomegranates. No matter how much he begged, Hassan would not hit him back. Hassan smashed a pomegranate into his own forehead and asked Amir if he felt better.
Amir's guilt intensified at the lavish thirteenth birthday party that Baba threw for him. He knew Baba never would have given him such a great party had he not won the tournament, which was inseparable in his mind from Hassan's rape. Assef came to the party and gave Amir a book about Hitler. Amir was disgusted to see him teasing Hassan during the party. Baba gave Amir a wristwatch. Rahim Khan gave him the only present he could bear to use, which was a blank notebook for his stories. He also received a good deal of money. To his chagrin, Ali and Hassan gave him a copy of his and Hassan's favorite book. After the party, Amir decided to betray Hassan a second time and frame him as a thief. He hid his wristwatch and money under Hassan and Ali's mattress. The next morning, he accused Hassan, who took the blame as usual. Baba forgave him immediately, but Hassan and Ali were too humiliated to stay. As they left, Amir saw Baba weep for the first time. They never saw Ali or Hassan again.
Five years later, during the Soviet occupation, Amir and Baba fled Afghanistan in a truck full of refugees. When they reached a checkpoint, a Russian soldier demanded to sleep with one of them, a married woman. Baba stood up for her even though the soldier was armed. They were allowed to pass. After hiding in a basement in Jalalabad, they departed for Peshawar, Pakistan in the filthy tank of a fuel truck. Among the refugees were Amir's schoolmate, Kamal, and his father. When they arrived, they discovered that Kamal was dead. Kamal's father put a gun in his mouth and shot himself. Luckily, Amir and Baba managed to emigrate to the San Francisco area.
Baba and Amir's life in Fremont, California was very different from their life in Wazir Akbar Khan. Baba worked long hours at a gas station and even though he loved "the idea of America," had trouble adjusting to its everyday realities. For Amir, America represented a fresh beginning, free of all his haunting memories of Hassan. He graduated high school at the age of twenty and planned to enroll in junior college. His graduation gave Baba a reason to celebrate, but he said he wished Hassan were with them. Eventually, Baba and Amir started selling used goods at a local flea market. They found it to be a miniature Afghan haven, filled with people they knew from Kabul.
At the flea market, Amir fell in love with a young woman named Soraya Taheri. Around the same time, Baba got sick. A doctor diagnosed Baba with terminal cancer and Baba refused palliative treatments. Then one day Baba collapsed with seizures in the flea market; the cancer had spread to his brain and he did not have long to live. Very soon after, Amir asked Baba to go khastegari, to ask for Soraya's hand in marriage. The Taheris accepted happily. Over the phone, Soraya told Amir her shameful secret. She had once run away with an Afghan man. When General Taheri finally forced her to come home, she had to cut off all her hair in shame. Amir told Soraya he still wanted to marry her. He felt ashamed that he could not bring himself to tell her his secret in return.
After khastegari came lafz, "the ceremony of giving word." Because Baba was so ill, Soraya and Amir decided to forgo the Shirini-kori, the traditional engagement party, as well as the engagement period. Baba spent almost all his money on the awroussi, the wedding ceremony. Soraya moved in with Amir and Baba so they could spend his last days together. She took care of him until the night he died peacefully in his sleep.
Many people attended Baba's funeral, each with a story of how Baba had helped them in Afghanistan. Suddenly, Amir realized that he had formed his identity around being "Baba's son." Amir and Soraya moved into their own apartment and worked towards their college degrees. In 1988, Amir published his first novel. Around the same time, the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, but new conflicts erupted. Soon after, the Cold War ended, the Berlin Wall fell, and the riots occurred in Tiananmen Square. In San Francisco, Amir and Soraya bought a house and discovered they were infertile. There was no medical explanation for the infertility, so Amir privately blamed it on his own shameful past.
One day, Amir received a call from Rahim Khan. He was seriously ill and was living in Peshawar. He told Amir, "There is a way to be good again." Amir flew to Peshawar to see Rahim Khan, who told him that he was dying. He explained that the Taliban had destroyed Afghanistan as they knew it and the people there were in grave danger. For a chapter, Rahim Khan becomes the narrator and tells Amir about what happened to Hassan. For a long time, Rahim Khan had lived in Baba's house alone, but he became weak and lonely. In 1986 he went looking for Hassan and found him living in a small village with his pregnant wife, Farzana. Hassan did not want to come to Wazir Akbar Khan until Rahim Khan told him about Baba's death. Hassan cried all night and in the morning, he and Farzana moved in with Rahim Khan.
Hassan and Farzana insisted on staying in the servants' hut and doing housework. Farzana's first baby was stillborn. One day, Sanaubar collapsed at the gate of the house. She had traveled a long way to finally make peace with Hassan, who accepted her with open arms. Sanaubar delivered Hassan and Farzana's son, Sohrab and played a large part in raising him. She died when he was four. Hassan made sure that Sohrab was loved, literate, and great with a slingshot. When the Taliban took over in 1996, people celebrated, but Hassan predicted that things would get worse, as they did. In 198, the Taliban massacred the Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif.
Rahim Khan gave Amir a letter that Hassan had written six months earlier along with a snapshot of him and Sohrab. In the letter, Hassan described the terror of living under the Taliban. He said he hoped Amir would return to Afghanistan and that they would reunite. Then Rahim Khan devastated Amir with the news that Hassan was dead. After Rahim Khan left to seek medical treatment in Pakistan, the Taliban showed up at Baba's house. They demanded that Hassan relinquish the house to them. When he refused, they took him to the street, made him kneel, and shot him in the back of the head. They shot Farzana too when she ran out of the house in a rage.
Rahim Khan asked Amir to go to Kabul and bring Sohrab back to Peshawar. He said that a nice American couple, the Caldwells, had a goodwill organization and would take care of him there. When Amir refused, Rahim Khan told him a life-changing secret: he and Hassan were half-brothers. Baba had shamed Ali by sleeping with Sanaubar, and because Ali was infertile, Hassan had to be Baba's son. Amir flew into a rage and ran out of Rahim Khan's apartment. After thinking things over at a cafÃ©, he returned and said he would bring Sohrab to Peshawar.
A driver named Farid drove Amir from Peshawar. He looked down on Amir for leaving Afghanistan because he had stayed to fight the Soviets and suffered along with his country. He even told Amir that he had never been a real Afghan because he grew up with so many privileges. Amir did feel like a foreigner because he had to wear a fake beard and was dressed in traditional Afghan clothing for the first time. He barely recognized the landscape around him because it was so ravaged by war. They spent the night with Farid's brother, Wahid. Wahid's boys were malnourished and later that night, Amir heard one of his two wives complaining that he had given all the food to their guests. The next morning, Amir hid money under Wahid's mattress before they left.
The devastation in Kabul took Amir's breath away. Children and mothers begged on every street corner, and there were few men to be seen because so many had died fighting. Amir met an old beggar who was once a professor at the university alongside Amir's mother. Amir learns only a few random facts about his mother from the man, but this is still more than Baba ever told him. At the orphanage in Karteh-Seh, Farid and Amir discovered that a Talib official who was a pedophile had taken Sohrab a month before. Farid was so enranged at the man that he tried to strangle him to death, but Amir intervened. The man told them they could find the Talib at Ghazi Stadium. Farid drove Amir to Baba's house, which had become decrepit and was occupied by the Taliban. He and Farid spent the night in a run-down hotel.
Farid and Amir went to a soccer game at Ghazi Stadium. At halftime, the Talibs brought two accused adulterers out to the field and made them stand in pits in the ground. Then the Talib official came out and stoned them to death. Amir managed to make an appointment with this Talib for the same day. Farid drove him there, but Amir went in alone. The Talib had his men rip off Amir's fake beard. Then he called in Sohrab and made him dance for them. Sohrab looked terrified. Amir was horrified to discover that the Talib was Assef. Assef explained that he was on a mission to kill all the Hazaras in Afghanistan. Then he announced that he and Amir would fight to the death and none of his guards were to intervene. Sohrab was made to watch as Assef beat Amir nearly to death. As Assef straddled Amir, preparing to punch him again, Sohrab aimed his slingshot at Assef's eye and begged him to stop. When he did not, Sohrab put out his eye. Farid drove them away and Amir passed out.
Amir flitted in and out of consciousness in the Pakistani hospital where Farid took him. He dreamed about Baba fighting the bear, and realized that he was Baba. When he finally came to, he found out that he had almost died of a ruptured spleen. He had broken his ribs and a bone in his face and he had a punctured lung, among other injuries. Most poignantly, Amir's lip had split open to make him resemble Hassan. Sohrab visited Amir in the hospital but did not talk much. Farid brought a letter and a key from Rahim Khan. In the letter, Rahim urged Amir to forgive himself for what he did to Hassan. He had left Amir money in a safety deposit box, which the key would open.
Amir had to leave the hospital early in order to avoid being found and killed by Taliban sympathizers. He and Sohrab stayed at a hotel in Islamabad. The first night, Amir woke up to find Sohrab gone. After hours of searching he found him staring up at the city's big Shah Faisal mosque. Sohrab revealed that he was afraid God would punish him for what he did to Assef. He felt dirty and sinful from being abused. Amir tried to reassure him and promised to take him to America. He also promised Sohrab that he would never have to go to another orphanage. That night, Amir spoke to Soraya. After all their years of marriage, he finally told her what he did to Hassan. Then he told her he was bringing Sohrab home. Soraya was very supportive and promised to call her cousin Sharif, who worked for the INS.
At the American Embassy, an official named Raymond Andrews told Amir that it would be near impossible to get Sohrab a visa. To Amir's disgust, he told him to give up. Then a kind lawyer named Omar Faisal told Amir that he might have a chance of adopting Sohrab if he put him in an orphanage temporarily. When Amir told Sohrab about the orphanage, the boy was devastated. Amir rocked him to sleep and fell asleep as well. Soraya's call woke Amir. She explained that Sharif would be able to get Sohrab a visa. Realizing Sohrab was in the bath, Amir went in to tell him the good news. He found him dying in the bathtub, having slit his wrists.
In the hospital waiting for news about Sohrab, Amir prayed for the first time in fifteen years. He begged God to let Sohrab live because he did not want his blood on his hands. Eventually, he received the good news that Sohrab was alive.
The story jumps to the present year, 2002. Sohrab and Amir were able to come back to America safely. It had now been a year since they arrived and Sohrab had not spoken once. He barely seemed to have a will to live. Amir kept Sohrab's past secret from the Taheris until General Taheri called him a "Hazara boy." Amir was furious; he told the general never to refer to Amir that way again. Then he explained that Sohrab was his illegitimate half-nephew. General Taheri stopped asking questions after that. After September 11, General Taheri was called back to Afghanistan. In the wake of what happened, Amir found it strange to hear people on the news and on the street talking about the cities of his childhood. It saddened him to know that his country was still beind devastated after so many decades of violence. Then one day, a miracle happened.
At a rainy Afghan picnic, Amir noticed kites flying in the sky. He bought one and went over to Sohrab, who had secluded himself as usual. He told Sohrab that Hassan was the best kite runner he had ever known and asked Sohrab if he wanted to fly the kite. Sohrab was shy, but he followed Amir as he launched the kite into the air. Soon after, they noticed a green kite closing in on theirs. Amir used Hassan's favorite "lift-and-dive" move to cut the kite. Amir noticed the smallest hint of a smile on Sohrab's face. He offered to run the kite for Sohrab and as he ran off, he shouted, "For you, a thousand times over."