The Kite Runner
Summary: Chapter 18
Amir walks from Rahim Khan’s house to a small teahouse, thinking about how responsible he was for Hassan’s death. He also goes over the evidence that Baba was Hassan’s father: Baba’s paying for the surgery to fix Hassan’s lip, and his weeping when Ali and Hassan left. Baba had said that theft was the only sin, and Amir thinks how Baba stole from him a brother, from Hassan his identity, from Ali his honor. Amir realizes he and Baba were more alike than he knew. They had both betrayed their truest friends. What Rahim Khan wanted was for Amir to atone for Baba’s sins and his own. On the ride back to Rahim Khan’s, Amir recognizes he is not too old to start fighting for himself, and that somewhere in Kabul, a small part of Hassan remains. He finds Rahim Khan praying and tells him he will find Sohrab.
Summary: Chapter 19
Rahim Khan arranges for an acquaintance named Farid to take Amir to Kabul. Farid and his father had fought against the Soviets. Later, after Farid had children, he lost two daughters and three fingers on his left hand to a land mine. Amir is dressed in an Afghan hat called a pakol and wears a fake beard that reaches down to his chest. Once in Afghanistan Amir says he feels like a tourist in his own country. Farid asks sarcastically if, after twenty years in America, Amir still thinks of Afghanistan as his country. He guesses that Amir grew up in a large house with servants, that his father drove an American car, and that Amir had never worn a pakol before. He points to an old man in ragged clothing and says that is the real Afghanistan. Amir has always been a tourist there.
They stop for the night at the home of Farid’s brother, Wahid. The house is small, with bare dirt walls and two lamps for light. Inside, Wahid’s wife and another woman bring tea. The three men talk for a time, and Wahid asks Amir why he has returned to Afghanistan. Farid says contemptuously that Amir is probably coming to sell his land and run with the money back to America. Wahid snaps at Farid for insulting a guest in his home, but Amir says he should have explained earlier. He is going to find a Hazara boy, his illegitimate half-brother, so that he can take him to Peshawar where people will take care of him. Wahid calls Amir a true Afghan and says he is proud to have Amir stay in his home.
Wahid’s wife serves dinner to Farid and Amir, and Wahid says he and his family ate earlier. While Amir eats, he notices Wahid’s three boys staring at his wristwatch. He gives the boys the watch as a gift, though they lose interest quickly. As Amir and Farid lie down to sleep, Farid says it was wrong of him to assume Amir’s reason for returning and says he will help Amir find the boy. That night, Amir dreams of a man shooting Hassan, and realizes he is the man in the dream. He goes outside to think and hears two voices coming from the house, Wahid’s and his wife’s. They are arguing about dinner. Because they gave Amir their food, the children did not have any dinner. Amir realizes that the boys weren’t staring at his watch, they were staring at his food. The next morning, before Amir and Farid leave, Amir stuffs a wad of money under one of their mattresses.
Another irony appears in this section: Amir realizes he is more like Baba than he thought. However, what they share is betrayal of their best friends. Baba had betrayed Ali, his closest friend since childhood, by sleeping with Sanaubar. As Amir says, having sex with a man’s wife was the worst possible way an Afghan man could be dishonored. Amir had similarly betrayed Hassan. But despite all Baba’s lies, Amir sees that Baba was correct to say that Amir always let someone else fight his battles for him. Though Amir never says so explicitly, he knows he is doing what Baba would have done in the situation when he resolves to go to Kabul to find Sohrab. The situation presents a further twist of irony in that Amir realizes he can share in Baba’s greatest virtue, the courage to do what is right, only after he has recognized that he shares Baba’s greatest failing as well. If Amir saves Sohrab, both he and Baba will be pardoned, at least to some degree, for the ways they betrayed their dearest and closest friends.
Amir’s guilt over the way he treated Hassan also plays a significant role in his decision to return to Kabul. As Amir leaves Rahim Khan’s house, Amir wonders if the chain of events that followed from his coercing Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house eventually led to Ali stepping on a landmine and to Hassan being shot. Had Amir acted differently, Ali and Hassan never would have left for Hazarajat, and both might still be alive now. Through this logic, Amir has made himself responsible for their deaths. He realizes he cannot save them, but a piece of Hassan lives on in Sohrab. By rescuing Sohrab, Amir will figuratively rescue Hassan as well. With this in mind, and the knowledge that he still has time to begin fighting for himself, Amir returns to Rahim Khan’s house to tell him he will make the trip back to Afghanistan.
As Amir returns to Kabul, he is confronted by some of the unpleasant realities he left behind in Afghanistan, many of which are embodied by Amir’s driver, Farid. While Amir was in the United States attending school, countless Afghans were fighting to free their country from the Soviets. Thousands of Afghan men died, leaving children behind. After these wars, landmines that had been planted to kill the enemy were never cleared. As a result, children were frequently killed or injured by mines hidden in land that hadn’t seen fighting in years. Farid knows all these facts firsthand. He lost his father to the fighting when he was sixteen, then later lost two daughters as well as some fingers and toes to a landmine blast. Though Amir left behind his wealthy life when he and Baba left Afghanistan, he still never had to endure the tragedies that the average Afghan faced during the 1980s and 90s. Farid recognizes that Amir did not suffer the way many Afghans did. Amir escaped when Farid and most others could not, making Farid resent Amir at first.
Farid’s other reason for treating Amir contemptuously has to do with class. While rich Afghans had the money to leave, an expensive endeavor that required paying drivers to smuggle them out or buying plane tickets, most Afghans did not. Even before the wars destroyed Afghanistan, life was different for the rich. Knowing that Amir grew up rich, Farid says Amir was always a tourist in Afghanistan. As a boy, Amir lived in a large house with servants. Most Afghans, by contrast, have very little. When Farid points to the old man walking with a sack filled with scrub grass on his back and calls him the real Afghanistan, he is right to a large degree, and Amir knows it. Even Amir’s job as a writer represents a privileged life, which is why he is slightly embarrassed to tell Wahid what he does. Amir’s most troubling confrontation with Afghanistan’s poverty occurs when he overhears Wahid and his wife arguing. He realizes they gave him their food out of courtesy, but it meant that they and their children had nothing to eat. In an act recalling the way he framed Hassan years earlier, he stuffs money under the mattress before he leaves, only this time he does it to make amends.