Summary: Chapter 12
After nearly a year of longing for Soraya, Amir finally gets the nerve to speak to her. General Taheri is away, but while they’re talking, Soraya’s mother, Jamila—whom Amir addresses formally as Khanum Taheri at first—returns. She asks Amir to sit, but he does the proper Afghan thing and declines. For weeks he talks to Soraya only when General Taheri is away, until one day he is giving her one of his stories when General Taheri arrives. General Taheri throws the story out, and walking Amir away he tells Amir to remember that he is among other Afghans. Amir is disheartened, but he soon becomes focused on Baba, who is ill. Baba is diagnosed with lung cancer but refuses to receive treatment. Amir tells Baba he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. Baba replies that he’s been trying to teach Amir precisely this all his life and forbids Amir to tell anyone about his illness.
Baba weakens as the months pass until one day he collapses. Cancer has spread to his brain. Afghans arrive in droves to see Baba in the hospital. At Baba’s bedside, Amir asks if he will go to General Taheri to ask Soraya’s hand in marriage for Amir. Baba goes happily the next day. General Taheri accepts, and after Baba tells Amir over the phone he puts Soraya on the line. Soraya is happy, but she says she must tell Amir about her past because she doesn’t want any secrets. When she was eighteen, she ran away with an Afghan man. They lived together for nearly a month before General Taheri found her and took her home. While she was gone, Jamila had a stroke. Amir admits it bothers him a little, but he still wants to marry her.
Summary: Chapter 13
The following night, Amir and Baba go to the Taheris’ home for the traditional ceremony of “giving word.” General Taheri is happy and says they are doing it the right way now. Because Baba is so sick, they plan to have the wedding quickly. Baba rents an Afghan banquet hall for the ceremony, buys the ring, Amir’s tuxedo, and other necessities, until he has spent almost all of his $35,000 in savings. Of the wedding, Amir remembers sitting on a sofa with Soraya. They are covered with a veil and look at each other’s reflections in a mirror. It is the first time he tells her he loves her, and they are together for the first time that night. Shortly after, Baba dies. Many Afghans whom Baba helped come to the funeral. As he listens to them pay their respects, Amir realizes how Baba defined who he is.
Because their engagement was so brief, Amir doesn’t learn about Soraya’s family until after the wedding. General Taheri does not work. He feels it is below him and keeps the family on welfare. He also does not allow Jamila, who was once a great singer, to sing in public. Soraya tells Amir that, on the night her father brought her home after she ran away, he arrived with a gun, and once she was home he made her cut off her hair. Amir is different from every Afghan guy she has met.
In the summer of 1988, Amir finishes his first novel. He gets it published, and then he and Soraya start trying to have a baby. They are unable to conceive, however, and after numerous tests, doctors cannot explain why they can’t have a child. They talk about adoption, but General Taheri says he doesn’t like the idea. Amir agrees, though he doesn’t seem certain. Amir’s writing career has gone well, in the meantime, and with the advance from his second novel, he and Soraya buy a house in San Francisco. But the inability to have a child still lingers between them.
The different events of this section all revolve around one focus: Amir becoming a man. He marries and makes love for the first time. He loses Baba and becomes fully responsible for himself. He also completes and publishes his first novel, establishing his career as a writer. In all of these events, Amir experiences a profound mix of joy and pain. Embracing independence and adulthood also requires him letting go of his childhood dependence on Baba. When Amir pleads with Baba to try chemotherapy, Amir asks what he is supposed to do without Baba. Baba replies that this is what he has been trying to teach Amir his whole life. To Amir, it is clear for the first time why Baba has always treated him the way he has. He was preparing Amir to take care of himself and to know right from wrong. In other words, he was teaching Amir to be a man. In his transition to adulthood, Amir also transitions from one family to another. At the beginning of the section, he is a boy living in his father’s house. At the end, he is a man with a wife and his own home. What Baba does see of this makes him happy, and he dies proud of Amir. Only one crucial thing remains missing for Amir. He wants to have a child.
Despite Amir’s growth into an adult, he can't let go of one part of his childhood: He still feels guilty about Hassan. This guilt, though it is not prominent as it once was, still rises to the surface on occasion. Sometimes Amir simply wonders about him, as when he wonders if Hassan has married. Other times his guilt is more pronounced. When Soraya tells Amir about the time she ran away with another man, Amir actually feels jealous that she is able to speak about the incident. For Soraya, her secret is an event in the past that is done and over with. For Amir, however, his secret is very much still present, and he still cannot talk about it. Amir feels that, until he is able to atone for his treatment of Hassan, it will continue to haunt him.
Another subject of the section is the way the Afghan refugees, Amir and Baba included, preserve their culture in California. In the U.S., no controversy results from a young man and woman speaking in public without adults present. For Afghans, however, such encounters are not entirely appropriate. Certain customs must be followed. General Taheri feels the need to remind Amir of this fact when he sees Amir speaking with Soraya. He tells Amir he is among Afghan peers. The message is clear: they may be in California, but Afghanistan is still present, and Amir should act accordingly. From that point forward, Amir’s courtship of Soraya proceeds in a more traditional fashion. Amir does not propose to Soraya, for instance. Baba is the one who proposes the marriage to General Taheri. The wedding takes place in an Afghan banquet hall, and the ceremony follows Afghan customs, such as Amir and Soraya gazing at each other’s reflection in a mirror while they are covered with a veil.
Traditional Afghan culture is not always positive, however, and the section slips in some comments on the way it treats women. For instance, General Taheri, who is portrayed as the paradigm of Afghan manhood, does not allow Jamila to sing in public, despite the fact that she was once famous in Kabul for her beautiful voice. Even Jamila, who knows firsthand the limits the culture places on women, exhibits this way of thinking. She dotes on Amir compulsively just because he married Soraya. Amir says he could have gone on a killing spree and she would still approve of him, because without Amir, Soraya might have aged alone, and every woman needs a husband. Implicit here is a belief that a woman needs a man to lead a meaningful life. A double standard exists in the way Afghan society treats men and women regarding sex. Soraya complains that she lost value when she ran away because she was no longer considered virtuous. Men, meanwhile, can have sex with anyone and will be viewed as guys who are just having fun. Amir does not have these prejudices. He attributes this to the fact that Baba was a liberal Afghan, but also because he grew up without women around, so he was never exposed to this double standard.