Summary: Chapter 16
Rahim Khan tells Amir the story of how he found Hassan, and the narrative shifts so that Rahim Khan narrates in the first person. In 1986, Rahim Khan went to Hazarajat. He went primarily because he was lonely, but also because as he aged, it became difficult for him to care for Baba’s house by himself. He found Hassan’s home, a small mud house, and saw Hassan in the yard. The men greeted each other, and Hassan took Rahim Khan inside to introduce him to his wife, a pregnant Hazara woman named Farzana. As they spoke, Rahim Khan learned that Ali was killed by a land mine. Rahim Khan then explained to Hassan that he wanted Hassan and Farzana to come to Baba’s house with him and help him care for it. Hassan declined, saying that Hazarajat was their home now. Hassan asked several questions about Amir. When he learned Baba was dead, he cried. Rahim Khan stayed the night, and in the morning, Hassan told him that he and Farzana would go back to Kabul.
Out of respect, Hassan and Farzana live in the small servants’ hut on Baba’s property, and Hassan works diligently cleaning and repairing the house. That fall, Farzana gives birth to a stillborn girl, whom they bury in the yard. Farzana becomes pregnant again in 1990, and that same year Sanaubar, Hassan’s mother, appears at the front gate, weak and with her face severely cut up. Hassan and Farzana nurse her back to health, and she and Hassan become close. That winter, it is Sanaubar who delivers Hassan’s and Farzana’s son. Sanaubar loves and cares for the boy, who is named Sohrab, after the character from Hassan’s and Amir’s favorite story when they were children. Sanaubar lives until Sohrab is four. By then, it is 1995. The Soviets had been pushed out of Kabul, but fighting continues between rival Afghan groups. Hassan, meanwhile, is teaching Sohrab to read and to run kites. In 1996, the Taliban take control of Kabul. Two weeks later, they ban kite fighting.
Summary: Chapter 17
The story shifts back to Amir’s perspective. Amir sits with Rahim Khan thinking of everything that happened between him and Hassan. Amir asks if Hassan is still in Baba’s house, and Rahim Khan hands him an envelope. It contains a photograph of Hassan and a letter for Amir. In it, Hassan says the Kabul they used to know is gone. One day, a man at the market hit Farzana simply because she raised her voice so another man who was half-deaf could hear her. Hassan talks about his love for his son, and he says Rahim Khan is very ill. If Amir ever returns, he says, he will find his faithful friend Hassan waiting for him. Rahim Khan says a month after arriving in Pakistan, he received a call from a neighbor in Kabul. The Taliban had gone to Baba’s house and found Hassan and his family there. Hassan said he was taking care of the house for a friend, and they called him a liar like all Hazaras. They made him kneel in the street and shot him in the head. When Farzana ran out of the house, they shot her, too.
The Taliban moved into Baba’s house, and Sohrab was sent to an orphanage. Rahim Khan knows an American couple in Pakistan that cares for Afghan orphans, and they have already agreed to take in Sohrab. Amir says he can’t go to Kabul. He can pay someone else to get Sohrab. Rahim Khan says it is not about the money, and that Amir knows why he must go. Rahim Khan says one day Baba told him he was worried that a boy who can’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything. He tells Amir one more thing: Ali was unable to have children. Amir asks who Hassan’s father was then, and Rahim Khan says Amir knows who it was. Hassan never knew. They couldn’t tell anyone because it was a shameful situation. Amir shouts at Rahim Khan and storms out of the apartment.
The events of this section, which largely recount what happened to Hassan in the time since Baba and Amir left for Pakistan, deftly tie together several of the book’s thematic elements: the pain of guilt, the hatefulness of racial prejudice, the challenge of acting against injustice, the value of loyalty, the love as well as the discord between fathers and sons, and the role history plays in private lives. We do not learn all the details of Hassan’s life, but we learn the basics. Most importantly, we now know that he had a son, Sohrab. In many ways, Hassan’s relationship with Sohrab acts as indirect proof that Hassan never forgot Amir. Naming the boy after a character in his and Amir’s favorite story is one example. Hassan also did with Sohrab all the things he and Amir used to enjoy, such as going to the movies and flying kites. The relationship between Hassan and Sohrab also adds a new dimension to the theme of fathers and sons that runs through the novel. It is perhaps the most loving father-son relationship we see in the book, making it all the more painful when we learn that Hassan is dead.
Hassan’s murder is important for many reasons. It plays multiple roles in the section, and in the novel as a whole. For instance, it brings together two of the story’s major themes. His death is presented as a combination of the political strife ravaging Kabul and the entrenched prejudice against Hazaras that has turned up repeatedly in the novel. Two members of the Taliban, who at this point control Kabul without competition, shoot Hassan. Rahim Khan’s telling of the story implies that these Taliban officials want Baba’s house, and since Hassan is a Hazara, he essentially has no rights. Conspicuously, the men are not punished for killing Hassan and Farzana. The suggestion is that, to these men, the lives of Hazaras have no value, or at least not enough value to punish anyone for ending them. Foreshadowing of Hassan’s death occurs when the Taliban first take over Kabul. Though most of the city’s residents celebrate the event, Hassan does not cheer. “God help the Hazaras now,” he says to Rahim Khan at the end of Chapter 16 (p. 213).
Hassan’s death also marks a turning point in Amir’s quest for redemption. To Amir, the news of Hassan’s murder means not only that he has lost his friend forever, but also that he can never apologize to Hassan for allowing his rape and then lying about him stealing Amir’s birthday money. Making up for these actions was part of the reason he traveled to Pakistan in the first place. Initially, the story suggests that Amir will have to live with his guilt permanently, but Rahim Khan says one way remains for him to make amends. Amir can go to Kabul, find Sohrab, and bring him back to Pakistan where he can be taken care of. The request is not Rahim Khan’s alone. Hassan said in his letter to Amir that the most important thing for him was to survive so that Sohrab would not become an orphan. With Hassan and Farzana dead and Rahim Khan ill, Amir is perhaps the only person who can make sure Sohrab is not abandoned.
Going to Kabul becomes a test of Amir’s honor, loyalty, and manhood. Amir is clearly afraid to go. He knows the city is extremely dangerous, and in returning there he would risk everything he has, including his life and the welfare of his family. Kabul will also undoubtedly recall memories of Hassan and his past that Amir would rather not confront. Rahim Khan recognizes that the decision is a difficult one for Amir. To convince him, he brings up the conversation he once had with Baba, when Baba said he feared that Amir would not be able to stand up to anything as a man if he could not stand up for himself as a boy. Amir concedes that Baba may have been right. Then Rahim Khan reveals that Ali was not Hassan’s father, and implies that Hassan was, in fact, Baba’s child. Hassan and Amir, then, would be half-brothers, and Sohrab would be Amir’s nephew, obligating Amir further to find the boy. The dilemma brings together the tensions Amir has struggled with in the novel. By rescuing Sohrab, Amir can become the man that Baba always wanted him to be, and he can finally atone for the ways he failed Hassan as a friend.