The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner Summary and Analysis of Chapters 17-19


Chapter Seventeen

After Rahim Khan finished telling the story about him and Hassan, he handed Amir a letter and a photograph. The photograph was of Hassan and Sohrab. In the letter, Hassan described the violence and injustice in Afghanistan. One day, Farzana spoke slightly loudly in the market and a Talib beat her so hard that she fell down and was bruised for days. Despite the terror, Hassan said, Sohrab was a healthy and smart boy; Hassan had made sure he was literate and knew how to shoot a slingshot as well as his father. Hassan ended his letter by expressing his wish to see Amir in Afghanistan again. Rahim Khan explained that the letter was written six months before. A month after he had arrived in Peshawar, he received news of Hassan's death from a friend. After he left Kabul, word spread that a Hazara family was living alone in Baba's house. One day, the Taliban came to the house and demanded that they leave. When Hassan protested, they took him out to the street, forced him to kneel, and shot him in the back of his head. Farzana ran out screaming and they shot her dead as well. The news devastated Amir, who could only whisper, "No. No. No."

Rahim Khan explained that the Taliban now occupied Baba's house and they were not held accountable for Hassan and Farzana's murders. Then he told Amir that he real reason he made Amir come to Peshawar was to bring Sohrab there. An American couple named Thomas and Betty Caldwell ran a goodwill organization there and would take care of him. When Amir protested and suggested Rahim Khan hire someone to find Sohrab, Rahim Khan was insulted. He told Amir, "I think we both know why it has to be you, don't we?" Then he asked Amir if he had become what Baba feared so many years before, a person who "can't stand up to anything." He said it was his dying wish for Amir personally to bring Sohrab to Peshawar. When Amir continued to refuse, Rahim Khan revealed a monumental secret. Amir and Hassan were half-brothers. Ali was infertile, as evidenced by the fact that his first wife bore him no children, but bore her second husband three daughters. It was Baba who had gotten Sanaubar pregnant, making Hassan his son. Rahim Khan explained that no one but himself, Baba, Ali, and Sanaubar had known about the matter in order to preserve their honor. Hassan never found out. Amir was furious at all of them for keeping the secret. He screamed at Rahim Khan and left the apartment.

Chapter Eighteen

After storming out of Rahim Khan's apartment, Amir had tea at a local café. He felt like a foreigner in his own life. Now that he knew Hassan was his half-brother, it seemed absurd that he had not realized it before. Baba had always treated Hassan like a son not just because he cared for him, but because Hassan was really his son. Amir wondered how Baba could have broken his own cardinal rule about not lying, how he could have lived with himself after shaming Ali.

Suddenly, Baba did not seem like such a shining example of righteousness. Amir now understood that Rahim Khan had called him to Peshawar to pay not only for his betrayal of Hassan, but for Baba's betrayal of Ali. Amir wondered if he was to blame for Hassan and Ali's deaths because he was the one who drove them out of the house and split up the family. Finally, at thirty-eight years old, Amir was ready to take responsibility for his actions. He returned to Rahim Khan's apartment to find him praying and told him he would bring Sohrab to Peshawar.

Chapter Nineteen

A driver named Farid was driving Amir from Peshawar to Kabul. He was a Tajik man of twenty-nine, who looked much older because of all he had experienced, fighting against the Soviet forces. Farid had two wives and seven children, two of whom had been killed by a landmine. Farid himself was missing toes and fingers from his years of combat. Farid was suspicious of Amir because he saw him as a defector; whereas Farid had stayed and fought for his homeland, Amir had fled to the privileges of America. He had abandoned his watan, his homeland.

Amir felt awkward in his traditional Afghan clothing and long fake beard, both necessary for him to blend in to Taliban-controlled Kabul. He told Farid, "I feel like a tourist in my own country," who replied, "You still think of this as your country?" Amir said he did because he had grown up there, but Farid explained to Amir that he had never been a true Afghani because he grew up with so many privileges. Amir did not try to argue with Farid. At last, they arrived in Jalalabad, where they would spend the night with Farid's brother, Wahid.

Unlike Farid, Wahid received Amir warmly. When he found out Amir was a writer, he suggested Amir use his writing to "tell the rest of the world what the Taliban are doing to [Afghanistan.]" Amir explained that he was "not quite that kind of writer." When Wahid asked Amir why he had returned to Afghanistan, Farid interrupted. He ranted about how people returned their only to be greedy and milk money out of their old properties. Wahid scolded Farid for his rudeness. Then Amir explained why he was really in Afghanistan. At this, Wahid called him, "An honorable man ... A true Afghan." Farid was ashamed at his own presumptuousness. Later he apologized to Amir, who told him, "You were more right than you know."

One of Wahid's wives brought dinner to Amir and Farid, saying the family had eaten earlier. As he ate, Amir noticed that Wahid's three boys were staring at his watch. After asking for Wahid's permission, he gave it to them. To his surprise, it did not impress them very much. Amir slept restlessly, dreaming about Hassan's death. He imagined that he himself was the Talib executing Hassan. When Amir woke up, he paced outside and pondered the fact that Afghanistan really was his homeland. His loyalty to the country surprised him, since he had built a new and full life in America. From inside, Amir heard one of Wahid's wives scolding him for not leaving any food for the children; Amir realized that the boys had been staring not at his watch, but at his food. Before he and Farid left the next morning, Amir tucked a wad of money under a mattress for them to find.


Chapter Seventeen brings the subject of literacy into clearer focus. The ability to read and write divided Amir and Hassan when they were boys. Being literate when Hassan was not gave Amir a feeling of superiority over him, causing him to abuse his privilege by playing tricks and being secretly cruel. Hassan's illiteracy does not mask his intelligence; for example, he points out the major plot hole in Amir's story. But as an adult, Hassan realizes that not being literate puts him at a disadvantage and makes him depend on others. For this reason, he makes sure that Sohrab can read and write even though it breaks his family tradition. Even though Hassan feels entitled to very little all his life, he does feel that he has a right to knowledge; as usual, what matters to Hassan is intangible and enduring. The letter is of course significant because of its content, but it is perhaps more noteworthy because of the simple fact that it is written. Hassan is communicating with Amir on an equal level, something he could never have done when they were boys. Hosseini gives a nod here to the power of the written word, which endures and has an effect that transcends even death-after all, Hassan is long dead by the time Amir reads his correspondence. This also gives legitimacy to Amir because, coward though he may be, he is a writer, an ambassador of the written word.

The topics of secrets and family ties converge and come to a climax in Chapter Seventeen, when Rahim Khan finally reveals to Amir that Hassan was his half-brother. Amir is furious because suddenly the way he treated Hassan and Ali seems all the more wrong. The concept of "brother" is much stronger to him than the concept of "servant-best-friend" whereas Hassan had treated him like a brother no matter what. As Amir says, "Hassan had loved me once, loved me in a way that no one ever had or ever would again." Amir's reaction to the news reveals how important family ties are anywhere, but in Afghanistan particularly. As General Taheri says in Chapter Thirteen, "People [in America] marry for love, family name and ancestry never even come into the equation. But we are Afghans." Among Afghans, one's family line determines much about how one's life will proceed, from whether one will be literate to whom one will marry. For instance, the reason the Taheris give Soraya to Amir so easily is because of Baba's good standing and ancestry. Hassan's not knowing his identity meant he missed many of the things to which he was entitled. Amir now feels as though his entire life has been "a cycle of lies, betrayals, and secrets," and not just his own. He finally understands that Baba was as much of a betrayer, liar, and secret-keeper as he is. He also understands that this makes the importance of his redemption twofold, saying, "Rahim Khan had summoned be here to atone not just for my sins but for Baba's too."

Amir's interactions with Farid and Wahid call into question the idea of homeland and national identity. Once he reached America, Amir clung to Afghan customs but insisted on forgetting his memories of Kabul. He welcomed America not for its idealism, as Baba had, but for the simple fact that it was not Kabul. To him, everything in Afghanistan was tainted with memories of Hassan, his "harelipped ghost." Amir's youth when he arrives plays a large role in his feelings about homeland and nationality. Because he is still growing up when he arrives, he is not as mired in Afghan traditions and attitudes as his father's generation. Over the course of fifteen years Amir has come to consider America his homeland, whereas General Taheri is still awaiting the moment when he will be called back to his beloved watan. Amir's opinion of Hassan has changed now that he knows they were brothers, but his connection to America is stronger than his feeling of obligation to anyone in Afghanistan. As he tells Rahim Khan, "I can't go to Kabul ... I have a wife in America, a home, a career, and a family." When he finally consents to find Sohrab, Amir acknowledges his lack of loyalty to his fatherland. He admits, "I knew I had to leave as soon as possible. I was afraid I'd change my mind. I was afraid I'd deliberate, ruminate, agonize, rationalize, and talk myself into not going. I was afraid the appeal of my life in America would draw me back, that I would wade back into that great, big river and let myself forget."

Amir's disconnect from Afghanistan becomes even clearer when he is driving with Farid. Firstly, Amir is in disguise; in addition to his fake beard, he is wearing traditional Afghan clothing for maybe the first time in his life. Amir struggles with his separation from Afghanistan, because he still feels some entitlement to it; he says, "My mother had died on this soil. And on this soil, I had fought for my father's love." Farid quickly dispels any illusions of Afghan nationality that that Amir has when he says, "You've always been a tourist here, you just didn't know it." He points out that because he grew up with so many privileges, he never experienced the life of a typical Afghan. Farid sneers, "You probably lived in a big two- or three-story house with a nice backyard that your gardener filled with flowers and fruit trees. All gated, of course. Your father drove an American car. You had servants, probably Hazaras." Amir has to admit, albeit privately, that all of this is true. He grew up in one of the nicest houses in Kabul. Baba had driven a Mustang and proudly so. He did have a gated backyard, and it was Hassan and Ali who did their chores and tended the garden. It is only when Amir truly begins to reclaim his and Baba's honor that he also reclaims some of his Afghan identity. Wahid proclaims him, "an honorable man ... A true Afghan" only when he discovers that Amir is going to Kabul to honor his family ties.