When Chapter Ten opens Amir and Baba are being smuggled out of Soviet- or Shorawi-occupied Kabul along with other Afghanis. Their goal was to reach the safer territory of Pakistan. Amir still has carsickness at age eighteen, which embarrasses Baba. The truck stops so that Amir can vomit on the roadside. Amir thinks of how secretly they had to leave Kabul, telling no one, not even their servant. The rafiqs, or Communist comrades, had taught everyone in Kabul how to spy on their neighbors and even their family.
The truck was supposed to have no trouble crossing through the Russian-Afghani checkpoints because of the driver, Karim's connections. At a checkpoint, the Afghani soldiers would have let the truck pass without issue, but one Russian soldier demanded a half hour with one of the refugees, a married woman. To Amir's dismay, Baba defended the woman, telling the Russian soldier that he had no shame and that he would "take a thousand bullets before [he] let this indecency take place." Amir felt ashamed that while Baba would give his life to save someone, he did nothing to save Hassan. The Russian soldier aimed the barrel of his gun at Baba's chest, but the shot that rang out did not kill him. It came from the gun of a more senior Russian soldier, who apologized for the first one, explaining that he was on drugs. The truck passed the checkpoint safely and in the darkness, the woman's husband kissed Baba's hand.
When the refugees finally reached Karim's brother's house in Jalalabad, he told them that his brother, Toor's, truck had broken the week before and could not take them to Peshawar, Pakistan. Baba smashed Karim against the wall and began to strangle him, furious that Karim had lied to them in order to take their money. Only the married woman's pleas stopped Baba from killing Karim. It turned out that there were many other refugees in the house, who had been waiting there for two weeks. Amir, Baba, and the others went into the basement to wait with them. Waiting there with them in the damp, rat-infested basement were Amir's schoolmate, Kamal, and his father. Kamal had a sunken look in his eyes, and his father explained to Baba that his wife had been shot and Kamal had been raped.
Because it turned out that Toor's truck was irreparable, the refugees departed in the tank of fuel truck. Before they left, Baba kissed the Afghani dirt and put some in his snuff box to keep next to his heart. Later, Amir awoke in the fuel tank feeling as though he was suffocating. He comforted himself with the memory of a spring afternoon he spent kite-fighting with Hassan. When they finally got out in Pakistan, they were thankful to be alive. Yet Kamal had suffocated on the fumes and died. In a rage, Kamal's father put the barrel of Karim's gun in his mouh and shot himself.
Chapter Eleven opens in the 1980s in Fremont, California, a year and a half after Amir and Baba arrived in America. Amir explains that Baba loved "the idea of America" so much that it gave him an ulcer. He believed that the only worthwhile countries were America, Israel and Britain, even though his support of Israel drew accusations from other Afghanis of his being anti-Islam. He was the only Republican among their blue-collar neighbors and even hung a framed picture of Ronald Reagan in their apartment. One day, Baba got into a fight with Mr. and Mrs. Nguyen, the owners of the small grocery store across the street. Mr. Nguyen had asked for Baba's ID when he wanted to pay with a check and Baba was so insulted that he damaged their property. It was clear to Amir that Baba missed their old life in Kabul and was having trouble adjusting to America. Whereas in Kabul he had been wealthy and influential, in Fremont he worked long hours at a gas station and missed almost everything about home. He saw life in America as a gift he had given to Amir and something he would have to suffer. For Amir, America was an escape from his memories of Hassan.
Amir graduated from high school at the age of twenty, when Baba was fifty. After the ceremony, Baba took Amir to a bar, where he bought drinks for other patrons and became the life of his own impromptu party. When they drove home, Amir was shocked to find that Baba had bought him a Ford Torino to drive himself to junior college. When they went inside, Baba said he wished Hassan was there. Amir's throat closed up with guilt. Amir also had to grapple with Baba's disappointment that he wanted to be a creative writer instead of a doctor or lawyer. Amir found release from his guilt by driving his Ford for hours at a time and sitting by the ocean. He was grateful to be starting anew in America.
The next summer, when Amir turned 21, Baba bought an old Volkswagen bus. On Saturdays, he and Amir drove to yard sales in neighboring towns and then sold their wares at the San Jose flea market. The flea market was a cultural epicenter for Afghan families, who dominated the Used Goods section. One one such day, Baba introduced Amir to General Taheri, an old acquaintance of his from Kabul. The "casually arrogant" Taheri did not impress Amir, but his daughter, Soraya, entranced him. Baba told Amir that Soraya had had a relationship with a man that did not work out well and had not been courted since. This did not matter to Amir, who already thought of her as his "Swap Meet Princess."
Amir's desire for Soraya tormented him. At the flea market, he made excuses to walk by the Taheris' stand just to get a glimpse of her, but he could not muster the courage to talk to her. Finally one Sunday, he asked Soraya what she was reading. This was not a casual question in the Afghani community, because two single young people chatting invited gossip. Soraya knew that Amir was a writer and said she would like to read one of his stories. Just then, Soraya's mother, Kamila (or Khanum Taheri), showed up and greeted Amir warmly. She was a nice woman with one peculiarity; one side of her mouth drooped. Khanum Taheri sent Amir off with fruit and asked him to visit again. Amir understood that Khanum Taheri, and perhaps the General, saw Amir as a suitor for Soraya.
Every week, Amir visited the Taheris' booth when the General was away. He chatted with Khanum Taheri and Soraya. He found out that like him, Soraya was attending junior college. She wanted to be a teacher. She told Amir how, as a child in Kabul, she taught her illiterate housekeeper, Ziba, how to read. Amir was ashamed, remembering how he had lorded his literary over the oblivious Hassan. Just as Amir handed her a story to read, General Taheri arrived at the booth and Soraya was forced to hand him the story out of propriety. He dropped it into the garbage can. Then General Taheri took Amir aside and scolded him for having such an open conversation with Soraya in the marketplace.
Later that week, Baba caught a terrible cold but did not wan to go to the doctor. Amir convinced him to see a doctor when he saw that Baba was coughing up blood. The doctor told Amir that there was a suspicious spot on Baba's lung that he needed to have checked out. That night, Amir prayed for the first time in a very long time. They finally got to see a specialist, Dr. Schneider, but Baba lost his temper when he found out the doctor was Russian-American. They found a new Iranian doctor, Dr. Amani, who discovered that Baba had terminal cancer. Baba refused to prolong his life with chemotherapy and made Amir promise not to tell anyone about his disease. After the diagnosis, Amir and Baba still went to the flea market on Sundays. As the weeks progressed, Baba lost weight and got sicker until one day, he fell on the ground and started having seizures.
At the doctor's office, the doctor showed Amir Baba's CAT scans. The cancer had spread to Baba's brain and he would have to take medications and receive radiation. Once news spread that Baba was dying, many local Afghans came to pay their respects, including the Taheris. Baba refused radiation, so Amir took him home to die. Then Amir asked him to ask General Taheri to go khastegari, to ask for Soraya's hand in marriage. Baba called and made arrangements to visit the Taheris the next morning. Amir helped Baba dress and drove him to the Taheris' house, then went home to wait. Finally, Baba called and said that the general had accepted and then put Soraya on the phone. She was delighted but said she wanted to tell him a secret. When the Taheris lived in Virginia, she ran off with an Afghan man. When her father found her and dragged her home, she found out that her mother had suffered a stroke that paralyzed the right side of her face. Amir was slightly upset to find out that Soraya was not a virgin because he was. At the same time, he knew that he of all people could not hold someone accountable for her past mistakes, so he told Soraya that nothing could change his desire to marry her. Envy tempered Amir's joy because Soraya was now free of her shameful secret whereas his still plagued him.
Beginning in Chapter Ten, Amir is yanked out of his predictable, privileged life and thrust into one of uncertainty and hardship. Knowing Amir and Baba as we have come to, it is difficult to think of them as refugees, leaving everything they have and know behind in order to save their own lives. Because we know Afghan history, we know that Baba might have lost everything anyway, had he stayed to see the Taliban rule and the United States bomb the land. In newspapers and on the news in recent years, we have seen pictures of refugees and of starving, injured Afghan refugees. It seems as though Hosseini chose to focus on the a wealthy family's experience to show us what a good, prosperous life was like in Afghanistan. He makes the point that it was not always a wrecked country, even though it has been for as long as many Americans have known about it.
Amir is eighteen when he and Baba flee to Pakistan, meaning that it has been years since Ali and Hassan left. Indeed, he mentions that they have had several different servants in the intervening years. Still, Amir is not at all free from his guilt. Hosseini even introduces Kamal as a foil for Hassan. Like Hassan, Kamal has been raped and no longer smiles. His death and his father's subsequent suicide suggest one horrifying possibility of what might have happened to Hassan and Ali without Baba's protection. It is also a warning of what could easily happen to Baba and Amir. So much has changed since Amir was a boy, yet Baba still has the same unflappable courage. When Baba stands up for the married woman, it is the last time we ever see him in his element, in a position of power and defending those who are helpless. Once Baba and Amir come to America, Baba can never be the same because he is no longer in a position to help others.
The theme of sacrifice returns in Chapter Eleven, where we see how much Baba has given up in order to ensure Amir a better future. Once a party-giver and benefactor, Baba is now a gas-station worker in a country where he does not even speak the language fluently. He has gone from living in a large, luxurious house to living in a small apartment. Once the person everyone else could depend on, Baba now depends on Amir to help him navigate American life. The incident with the Nguyens makes it clear how out of place Baba is in California. As Amir explains, in Afghanistan the only 'credit card' they had was a branch into which a vendor carved a notch for each item bought. When Baba loses his temper after Mr. Nguyen asks him for ID, he is not being irrational; he comes from a place where such a request would have signified extreme distrust. While living in America is hard for Baba, it is a dream come true for Amir. Fremont, California is free of all the places and things that remind him of Hassan, his "harelipped ghost." As he says, "America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of the past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far. Someplace with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins. Amir can set his mind on new goals and let the optimistic American spirit carry him as far away from Kabul emotionally as he is physically.
To Baba's disappointment, Amir is the same person in Fremont as he was in Kabul. He still wants to be a writer. However, their relationship grows closer out of necessity; having lost almost everything familiar, they cling to one another. When Amir graduates from high school and Baba wishes Hassan was there, Amir feels a now-seldom pang of guilt. He does not realize that Baba is feeling worse guilt, because Hassan is his son and deserves the same opportunities as Amir. As Amir will surmise later, Baba may feel closer to Amir in America because Amir is more like Hassan there, struggling, no longer protected by privilege. As much as Amir wants to be swept up in the "river" of America, he is still rooted to Afghan tradition there because of the large community of refugees. From the moment he lays eyes on Soraya, he commits to preserving his roots because she comes from a traditional family.
Amir and Soraya's traditional courtship creates a little Afghan oasis in the confusion of America, which Baba and the Taheris greatly appreciate. As immigrants, even "former ambassadors, out-of-work surgeons, and university professors" are reduced to selling used goods at the flea market. Baba is a gas station worker and General Taheri a welfare recipient, in the matter of their children's courtship they feel like important Afghan men again. They are able to live in this reverie until Baba's diagnosis. From that point on, Amir must watch his father go from a strong, almost legendary figure to a shrunken, weak ghost of his former self. As though to add insult to injury, the cancer spreads to Baba's brain, the source of his intelligence and his trademark unapologetic opinions. In getting married, Amir restores Baba's dignity by showing him how much he is needed. Amir needs Baba to go khastegari, to give word at lafz, and to sit with him at the awroussi. Even in his pain and weakness, Baba feels good again because he has an important role to play. Seeing Amir and Soraya's traditional courtship and wedding also reassures Baba that Amir will not forget where he is from after Baba dies.
At the end of Chapter Twelve, Amir's guilt reappears. As he listens to Soraya's story, he pities her because he knows she is subject to a sexual double standard. But once Soraya is betrothed to Amir, her parents can stop worrying that no one will ever want to marry her. Amir envies Soraya for freeing herself from her guilt and for being a braver and better person than him. Her sin may be smaller than his, but she has the strength to admit to it at the risk of losing him. Amir himself does not reveal his sin until fifteen years later, when he calls her from Islamabad. Only when he has no choice can Amir admit out loud to what he has done because for him, "America [is] a place to bury [his] memories."