Summary: Chapter 14
The period is June 2001, and Amir has just received a call from Rahim Khan, who wants Amir to see him in Pakistan. Amir tells Soraya he has to go. Rahim Khan, the first grownup Amir ever thought of as a friend, is very ill. Amir takes a walk to Golden Gate Park, and as he sits watching a man play catch with his son and looking at the kites flying, he thinks of something Rahim Khan said to him on the phone. He told Amir there is a way for him to be good again. That night, while Amir and Soraya are in bed, Amir thinks of their relationship. They still make love, but both of them feel a kind of futility in the act. They used to lie together and talk about having a child, but now their conversations are about work or other things. Amir drifts off to sleep and dreams of Hassan running through the snow. A week later, Amir leaves for Pakistan.
Summary: Chapter 15
Amir lands in Peshawar, where Rahim Khan is. The driver of the cab he takes talks incessantly, telling Amir that what has happened to Afghanistan is awful. They reach the neighborhood known as “Afghan Town,” and Amir sees dirty children selling cigarettes, carpet shops, and kabob vendors. Amir remembers the last time he saw Rahim Khan, twenty years earlier in 1981. It was the night he and Baba left Kabul. They had gone to see Rahim Khan, and Baba had cried. Baba and Rahim Khan had kept in touch, but Amir had not spoken with Rahim Khan since just after Baba’s death.
Amir arrives at Rahim Khan’s apartment, and Rahim Khan answers the door. He looks thin and sickly. Inside they have tea and talk. Amir tells him he is married now to Soraya Taheri, General Taheri’s daughter, and he talks about Baba and his career as a novelist. Rahim Khan says he never doubted Amir would become a writer. The conversation turns to what Afghanistan has become since the Taliban took over. Rahim Khan tells Amir the story of how he got the scar over his eye. A man next to him at a soccer game cheered loudly. The guard on patrol heard the noise, walked over, and smashed Rahim Khan with the butt of his rifle. Amir learns that Rahim Khan had been living in Baba’s house in Kabul since 1981, when Amir and Baba fled. He took care of the place, as Baba expected to eventually return. Meanwhile, Kabul became dangerous as the fighting between Afghan factions vying for control of the city grew worse. Rockets fell randomly, destroying homes and killing civilians. Rahim Khan says he cheered at first when the Taliban took over and ended the fighting.
Rahim Khan coughs blood into a napkin while they’re speaking, and Amir asks how well he is. Rahim Khan replies that he is dying and does not expect to live through the summer. Rahim Khan asked Amir there because he wanted to see him, but also because he wanted something else. In the years he lived in Baba’s house, he was not alone. Hassan was with him. Before Rahim Khan asks Amir for the favor, he must tell him about Hassan.
The call Amir receives from Rahim Khan at the beginning of the section is the same one he refers to in the book’s first chapter. The narrative has almost come back to the present, though some important events need to occur before that happens completely. Amir has not spoken to Rahim Khan for twenty years, and hearing from him visibly shakes Amir. He is upset to hear that Rahim Khan is ill, but the call upsets him for another reason, which becomes clear when he takes his walk to Golden Gate Park and watches the kites flying. He realizes that Rahim Khan knows about everything that happened with Hassan, evident in Rahim Khan’s comment to Amir that he knows of a way for Amir to be good again. Amir is again reminded of his treatment of Hassan, and despite the life that Amir has made for himself in California, he will not be free of this guilt until he finds a way to make up for letting Hassan be raped and then falsely accusing Hassan of stealing from him.
Though Amir does not yet know how to atone for his sins against Hassan, two hints about how he will do it occur in the section. The only things keeping Amir from being completely happy are his guilt and the fact that he and Soraya are unable to have a child. For Amir, these have become linked into one feeling of emptiness. To underscore the way Amir links the two, as he lies in bed with Soraya he thinks first of their inability to have a baby, then dreams of Hassan running in the snow. Amir’s narration implies that he goes to see Rahim Khan in Pakistan not only because Rahim Khan is sick but also because, as Rahim Khan says, he knows a way for Amir to be good again. Amir hopes there will finally be some way for him to correct the wrong that lingers in his thoughts.
Once he arrives in Pakistan, Amir begins to realize the extent of what has happened to the people of Afghanistan and the events that have destroyed Kabul in the time he has been away. When the cab driver takes him through “Afghan Town,” for instance, Amir sees children covered in dirt and selling cigarettes along the road, indicating that they are poor. Although they were forced to leave everything behind, Amir and Baba were lucky in the sense that they were able to make it to the United States and to some degree rebuild their lives. Many of the Afghans who had to flee had little to begin with, and they wound up with even less as refugees. Amir sees sights familiar from Afghanistan, like the carpet shops and kabob vendors, mixed with the degradation the Afghans now endure. The smells he describes as he passes through Afghan Town, which include the familiar aroma of a food called pakora mixed with the poverty-signifying stench of “rot, garbage, and feces” (p. 196), represent this combination.
Based on Rahim Khan’s description, it’s evident that the fighting destroyed everything, from the buildings Amir knew to the way of life he remembers in Kabul. Rahim Khan says the Alliance did more to ruin the city than the Shorawi did. The Alliance he refers to is the Northern Alliance, a militia made up of different non-Pashtun ethnic groups. The Northern Alliance was one of the militias that helped to push the Soviets, or Shorawi, out of Kabul and ultimately out of Afghanistan. But once the Soviets were gone, these militias began fighting each other for control of Kabul and the country, resulting in a great deal of damage and numerous civilian deaths. Rahim Khan mentions Gulbuddin, or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who led one of the factions that caused the most destruction in Kabul. It was the Taliban that ultimately emerged in control. Initially, they quelled the fighting, so Afghans like Rahim Khan rejoiced. But the Taliban quickly implemented a rigid code of Islamic law and maintained order through brute force. Rather than end the nightmare the Afghans had lived with, the Taliban prolonged it.