Literature: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner is a novel written in 2003 by Khaled Hosseini. It is his first novel, the second being A Thousand Splendid Suns.

The story begins in Afghanistan in the 1960's, and follows Amir, a Pashtun and a member of the Kabul upper class. His father's servant, Hassan, is a Hazara, one of the North Afghan tribes (the Pashtuns inhabit the south, along with related regions in Pakistan and Iran). Amir and Hassan are best friends and treat each other like brothers, despite their socio-economic differences. One day, Hassan is subjected to a traumatizing event; Amir witnesses this but due to his cowardice, does nothing to help his friend. This causes a rift between the two and eventually they separate ways.

Many years later, Amir is married and has a relatively good life in the United States, having tucked away his guilt and past. One day he receives a phone call from his father's good friend, asking him to return to Kabul as an important matter awaits him there. It becomes apparent that he finally has to face his wrongdoings and somehow make amends by taking this journey.

In 2007, a movie was made based on the novel, directed by Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Quantum of Solace). The novel was even adapted into a Graphic Novel.

It is currently part of the GCSE syllabus in the UK.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book, Hassan was described as having light brown hair and Assef of mixed race and having blond hair. In the movie, both characters have black hair.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted. Half-German Assef is a walking example of Godwin's Law, but his German mother seems to disapprove of his Hitler-worship.
  • Arc Words: For you, a thousand times over.
  • Badass Israeli: Baba has this opinion.
  • Beard of Evil: Assef.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Often the case with Amir and the antagonist(s) in the novel.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: Assef.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Probably one of the most dramatic uses.
  • Broken Bird: Sohrab, Sohrab, Sohrab.
  • Cain and Abel: Amir to Hassan in childhood, with Baba playing a God who favors Hassan over Amir. They are brothers in spirit, having fed from the same breast and been raised together. And while loved by Hassan, Amir sacrified Hassan by failing to intervene in Assef's raping of Hassan. Amir did this so that Hassan could bring home a kite that would bring favor to Amir from Baba. Feeling guilty and also wanting to have Baba to himself, Amir later sacrified Hassan again, this time by framing Hassan with theft.
  • China Doubling: Some scenes in the movie were filmed in Kashgar, China (a city in the far western part of China) instead of Afghanistan, because there wasn't any snow in Kabul in the summer.
  • Corrupt Church: The Taliban and their interpretation of Islam, taking this trope to its utmost extreme.
  • Crapsack World: Virtually all locations in the novel have some degree of crapsackness to them. This is mainly when Amir returns to Pakistan and Afghanistan, but even the US is much more like a False Utopia than an ideal world.
  • Death by Childbirth: Amir's mother died giving birth to him.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Assef.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Sohrab when he attempts suicide, but this is later subverted when there are the smallest glints of hope in the very last pages of the novel. Still, considering how pessimistic the novel has been, it's reasonable to assume that they will not amount to anything.
  • Dumb Struck: Kamal and then Sohrab.
  • During the War: Includes the Soviet Invasion.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending
  • Even Evil Has Standards: As Amir says, "sociopath" is indeed the right word to describe Assef. But before he fights Amir, he tells the guards that if Amir leaves the room alive and he doesn't, Amir is to be allowed to pass since he has earned his freedom.
  • Eye Scream: At the end, Sohrab finishes what Hassan started and shoots out Assef's eye.
  • Foreshadowing: Hosseini likes this a lot. There is so, so much of it. It's so blindingly obvious most of the time, if you ever reread the story, you might well be sick of it. Some examples are below:
    • "Baba walked out of the welfare office like a man cured of a tumor." A completely forgettable line, blink and you'll miss it—then when you reread the story you realize just how blatantly obvious that one was.
    • On a picnic that Baba and a young Amir take, one of the things Amir says to try to get Baba's attention is "I think I have cancer."
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Amir's attempts at full redemption.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: What forgiveness that does occur nearly always has this effect.
  • From Bad to Worse: While not exactly a paradise in the early sections, over the course of the novel Afghanistan deteriorates amidst the Soviet invasion. And eventually culminating in Taliban rule.
  • Growing Up Sucks: Most prominently Amir, who still lives with his guilt very much in mind.
  • Hope Spot: The novel ends with the mute Sohrab giving Amir a small smile. Grim as the novel has been, this actually gives it the tiniest hope of a happy ending one day.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Sohrab.
  • In the Blood: All over the place, such as: Hassan's son is said to be very much like him, which plays this straight. Seemingly subverted with Amir and Baba, as Amir believes Baba hates him for not being the image of a man as he was, but played straight and noted by Amir that his hatred of him may have stemmed from his guilt over how Baba was Hassan's actual father through an affair with Hassan's mother, and they both had past shames. Averted with Hassan, as he is a much more kindly person than his biological father, and said to be near-impossible to anger as opposed to Baba, who is much like Hassan's perceived father.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Assef's friend Kamal, who helps him rape Hassan, later appears in a catatonic state and is implied to have been gang-raped himself. Then he dies, in what's not quite a Karmic Death.
    • Amir lets loyal Hassan get raped so he can continue his goal of impressing Baba. Years later, Amir gets a sever beating from the rapist. Among his many injuries is a split lip resembling Hassan's harelip. It's a Discussed Trope by Amir, who notes the deformed lip similarity and feels he got what he deserved all those years.
    • See also Eye Scream above for Assef.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Hassan is Amir's half-brother.
  • Magical Hazara: Hassan. Servile? Check. Unappreciated? Absolutely. Vaguely not of this world? Too true. Rescues the hero? Uh-huh. Imparts small nuggets of ill-educated homespun wisdom? All the time. Minority? Clearly. Killed off when melodramatically expedient? Yep. Primitive stereotype? Unfortunately.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Amir even writes a book about a writer himself.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Assef's beatdown of Amir. With brass knuckles.
  • One Degree of Separation: Lampshaded when a random beggar off the street happens to know Amir's mother. According to the book, this is in fact a pretty common occurrence in Afghanistan.
  • One-Hit Wonder: Zekeria Ebrahimi and Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada,the Afghan child actors who played young Amir and young Hassan respectively, had never acted before and have never acted again. In fact, acting in the movie caused major problems after shooting finished, because many questioned sending them back to Kabul, where their families feared attacks because of the homosexual themes in the movie. They were relocated to the United Arab Emirates.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Where Sohrab is sent. Subverted in that it is really an Orphanage of Love the one who manages it is trying his hardest to keep it that way but, due to circumstances, he forced to make sacrifices against his will.
  • Plot Hole: In-universe. As revealed to Amir by Hassan about Amir's story; why didn't the poor man use an onion to shed tears instead of trying to make himself sad?
  • Rape as Drama: Assef's rape of Hassan, serving as a main plot turn.
  • Redemption Quest: Amir going to rescue Sohrab is used as redemption for how cowardly he had been in the past.
  • Religion Is Wrong: How it is presented for quite a bit of the novel, especially when Baba and the Taliban are around, but on the flip side it is widely accepted as a part of everyone's lives.
  • The Reveal: Both a protagonist and an antagonist reveal.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: When Amir and his father are leaving Afghanistan, the Russian guard will only let the truck carrying them into Pakistan if he can have sex with one of the women. Baba stands up for the couple. Also to a lesser extent with Assef and Hassan.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: Assef is a pretty typical example.
  • Serious Business: Kite-fighting. It's pretty much Truth in Television.
  • Shout-Out: A very minor character in the book is named Mariam, which would eventually be one of the main characters' name in Hosseini's second novel.
  • The Sociopath: Assef is outright named as one.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Sohrab, a spitting image of his father, Hassan.
  • Spoiler: In one part of the book, Amir learns while living in America that western culture frowns upon people giving away the ending of movies.
  • Step-Father Mentor: Rahim Kahn to Amir.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: Amir carves Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul, into a pomegranate tree with Ali's kitchen knives.
  • There Are No Therapists: Sohrab was repeatedly sexually abused, tried to commit suicide after he thought Amir betrayed him, then didn't speak for over a year. There was no therapy. Probably there actually were no therapists either, in Afghanistan at the time.
  • Too Happy to Live: The mother's Amir was scared for her happiness.
  • Troubled Child: Sohrab, which isn't too surprising considering all the shit he had been through even before Amir meets him.
  • Undying Loyalty: A trait of Hassan that serves as one of the driving forces of the plot.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Baba, to Amir.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Another driving force behind the plot.
  • Willfully Weak: In physical terms, Hassan and his son Sohrab practically look the same. The difference however is that Hassan doesn't let his sufferings affect him, while Sohrab feels so defeated to the point of committing suicide.
  • Wretched Hive: Kabul after the Soviet invasion, and even more in the violence that follows their withdrawal.
  • You Are The Translated Foreign Word
  • Your Cheating Heart: Ali's wife Sanaubar cheated on him with Baba and conceived Hassan.