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Literature / The Kite Runner

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"For you, a thousand times over."

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

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 part 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 going on 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:

  • Abusive Parents: Baba can come off as this, ignoring most of Amir's achievements, because Amir is more interested in poetry and Baba is an extremely physical and manly man who has scars from wrestling a bear, builds orphanages on a whim, stands up to an armed soldier who wants to rape a man's wife, and is so intimidating everyone in the room notices him the moment he steps in. Once Baba and Amir move to America, their relationship improves.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the book, Amir was described as having light brown hair with hazel eyes and Assef having the blond hair and blue eyes of his German mother. In the movie, both characters have black hair and Assef's German heritage is not mentioned.
  • 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 (but she's too timid to say anything).
  • Anti-Hero: Amir is fundamentally a good person who wants to do the right thing, but his cowardice and inability to own up to his mistakes makes him into a anti-hero that frequently makes the situation worse.
  • Arc Words: For you, a thousand times over.
  • Armored Closet Gay: Assef makes fun of Amir and Hassan walking together and calls them the Afghan slur kunis, but he turns out to be bisexual, raping Hassan and molesting both young girls and boys as a Talib.
  • The Atoner:
    • Baba's kindness towards Hassan (and, to a lesser degree, Ali) is eventually revealed to be this. Baba had an affair with Ali's wife, producing Hassan; he could never openly acknowledge Hassan as his son, so he tried to make up for it by giving Hassan nice things.
    • Amir atones for his betrayal of Hassan by coming back to Afghanistan to find him. When he learns that Hassan is dead, he undertakes a perilous rescue of Hassan's orphaned son.
  • Badass Israeli: Baba has this opinion of the Israeli government. He likes forwardness in foreign policy, it seems.
  • Batman Gambit: Rahim Khan sends Amir to his Redemption Quest by rescuing Sohrab and placing him in an orphanage runned by American expats. Said orphanage never existed. He knew Amir wouldn't have gone if he knew Hassan's son was his responsibility now, and the trip to Afghanistan would give him the time to understand it.
  • Beard of Evil: Assef grew one after joining the Talibans. Granted, it's a thing with the Taliban and Islamic extremists in general.
  • Bigot with a Crush: Hassan's mother Sanaubar was considered very attractive by many Pashtun men, despite being part of a historically oppressed minority.
  • Bittersweet Ending: 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.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Assef hates anyone who isn't a Pashtun, but he is half-German himself. He also admires Adolf Hitler greatly. The last part should make it no surprise that he's homophobic, yet he rapes Hassan, a fellow boy, and molests young boys and girls as an adult.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Amir's cowardice partway through the novel is weighed against the behavior of more intensely and obviously evil characters like Assef, his cronies, and members of the Taliban.
  • Brats with Slingshots: Probably one of the most dramatic uses; Hassan wields one, as does his son Sohrab.
  • Break the Cutie: Both Hassan and his son suffer horribly but Sohrab has it way worse, as he's left mute from it.
  • Broken Bird: Sohrab, Sohrab, Sohrab. The poor boy is so traumatized he doesn't even talk for the entire final chapter, which, mind you, includes a Time Skip to the year after.
  • 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 raised together. And while loved by Hassan, Amir sacrificed 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. He felt guilty, but also wanted to have Baba to himself, so Amir later sacrificed Hassan again, this time by framing Hassan with theft. The Reveal plays this trope even straighter, as Hassan is actually Amir's half-brother.
  • Cancer Has Many Names: Like the Devil, as discussed nearly word-for-word by Amir. In Baba's case, oat cell carcinoma.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Assef. This guy just loves being horrible to people.
  • Comforting the Widow: Hassan was born roughly a year after Amir's mother died in childbirth. Odds are that Sanaubar was Sex for Solace to a grieving Baba.
  • Corrupt Church: The Taliban and their interpretation of Islam, taking this trope to its utmost extreme. Justified, since this is exactly how they are in real life.
  • Crapsack World: Afghanistan has turned into this when Amir returns to it. The US shows signs of a False Utopia as well, but it's not really elaborated on in the book at least (even the atomic bomb scare doesn't get a mention).
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Several characters, but most of all Amir and his wife Soraya.
  • Death by Childbirth: Amir's mother died giving birth to him. Amir not only feels guilty about it, but suspects that this is part of the reason for his strained relationship with Baba.
  • Deceased Parents Are the Best: Amir doesn't take nothing from his distant father, but takes the same passion for literature of his deceased mother, and inherited from her most of the book of his childhood. One could wonder how things would have been between Baba and Amir if she survived.
  • Defiled Forever: Soraya is treated by everyone in the Afghan Fremont community as damaged goods because of her ill-fated affair with an American. Fortunately for her, she gets to Marry for Love with Amir.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Assef. A pedophillic bisexual, actually. Though since he doesn't mention women anywhere in the book, he may actually be homosexual.
  • 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.
    "I am so khasta [tired]."
  • Dirty Coward: This is a recurring attribute in the book, with cowardice being seen as a particularly vile sort of flaw and the question of whether it can ever really be absolved brought up.
    • Assef is a swaggering bully who’s never shown confronting anyone without at least two lackeys, and early on gets scared off by Hassan aiming a slingshot at him. Even when he settles to fight Amir at the end, he makes sure he has brass knuckles and the other man is unarmed.
    • Amir abandoned Hassan to get beaten up and raped by Assef, and framed him for stealing just so he wouldn’t have to face his guilt in the house.
    • Baba and Rahim Khan were more unorthodox, being tough and deterimined go-getters, but turned out to be moral cowards of sorts when they refused to tell the truth of Hassan’s parentage to save the former's image.
  • Dumb Struck: Kamal and then Sohrab.
  • During the War: Includes the Soviet Invasion and takeover of the Taliban of Afghanistan from Rahim Kahn's perspective.
  • Eagleland: A mixed bag at times, but largely leaning towards Type 1. Baba sees America as the saviour who will liberate Afghanistan from the Soviets, and Amir is grateful to America for helping him move on and start a new life, away from the bad memories of his youth.
  • Ear Ache: Assef likes biting off people's ears. He's even called Assef Goshkhor, or "Assef the Ear Eater".
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Or at least Earn Your Bittersweet Ending. Baba is dead, Rahim Khan is dead also, and Hassan has died pointlessly killed by Talibans, ruining every chance of his ever reconciling with Amir. However, at least Amir has earned redemption by rescuing Sohrab from war-torn Afghanistan, and it's hinted that Sohrab may one day recover from his many traumas.
  • 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.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Baba refuses to take any chemotherapy or palliative treatments for his cancer. In Amir's words, he fights and loses "on his own terms".
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: When the story starts, in Afghanistan in the early seventies, Baba was part of the ruling class, and was a respected and admired business man who contributed part of his wealth for the improvement of his community. After the Soviet invasion, Baba, Amir, and Rahim Kahn leave Afghanistan, and while Rahim stays in Pakistan, Baba and Amir make their way to San Francisco, where for the remainder of his life Baba works as a mere gas station attendant.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Amir's attempts at full redemption for allowing Hassan to be raped. As an adult, Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns that Hassan was killed by the Taliban before he could atone for failing to come to Hassan's defense and prevent his rape when they were children.
  • Fire-Forged Friendship: Amir and Farid, eventually. Although Farid bears some prejudice towards Amir (a bourgeois whose family could afford to escape for safety in America), he comes to respect him after learning that his purpose is to rescue his nephew. He takes a great deal of risk to help Amir in his quest, and it's implied it wasn't just for the money.
  • 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 as well make a drinking game out 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."
    • Baba foreshadows the Taliban's regime when tells little Amir how poorly he thinks of the mullahs "God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands."
    • When Baba and Amir speak about Soraya's scandal Baba tells that "what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime". 50/50 of possibility that he had the time he impregnated Sanaubar with Hassan in his mind then.
    • Amir and his wife can't conceive, and start considering adoption. Amir's father-in-law is skeptical, since he thinks that Afghans are insanely tied to their origin and indeed it doesn't feel right for the couple to raise someone who is not of their blood. The solution comes in the form of Sohrab, Amir's long-lost nephew. Amir gets to adopt someone who is actually related to him.
  • Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: What forgiveness 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.
  • Guilt Complex: Amir. Loads and loads of it. It turns out that his father was also plagued by guilt.
  • Hates Being Touched: Sohrab tends to be very uncomfortable with being touched due to his sexual abuse at the hands of Assef and his henchmen.
  • Hate Sink: Assef. As a child, he was a violent, bigoted bully who raped Hassan. As an adult, he joins the Taliban so he can murder and rape anyone (including children like Hassan's son Sohrab) he pleases, with no actual loyalty to Afghanistan or Islam. He's also a Boomerang Bigot, hating anyone not a pure Pashtun but being half-German himself, as well as idolizing Hitler yet he's a Depraved Bisexual.
  • Hit Me, Dammit!: Amir once starts a fight with Hassan by pelting him with pomegranates specifically so Hassan will fight back. Hassan refuses to do it. Amir does this because he is looking for punishment since he did not save Hassan from being raped by Assef. Years later when Amir is being attacked by Assef in a challenge to save Sohrab, Amir begins to laugh specifically noting that he's finally receiving the punishment he felt he deserved.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Rahim Khan (who's around Baba's age) with Amir and Hassan.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Sohrab.
  • In the Blood: All over the place, such as Hassan's son being 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 has a mighty Hair-Trigger Temper; he is much more similar to Ali, the father who raised him.
  • Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Baba follows very manly pursuits such as football (i.e. soccer) and even willingly chats with The Sociopath Assef over it. Amir, by contrast, is a sensitive literary type who loves reading poetry and fiction, majors in creative writing and later becomes a published author himself. (Amir also takes after his Missing Mom, who taught poetry in Kabul.)
  • Karma Houdini: Downplayed with Assef. Nothing particularly happens to him that impedes his ongoing campaign of ethnic cleansing and he's in the exact same position he is at the story's end, but he's now minus an eye.
  • Knight Templar: Baba seems like this at times, blowing off the Koran for his own interpretation of life, almost never accepting that his stubbornness causes problems, and neglecting Amir because Amir is not like him.
  • 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 both because he's afraid, and so he can continue his goal of impressing Baba. Years later, Amir gets a severe 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 similarity of deformity 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.
  • Mask of Sanity: Assef. At his birthday party, Amir notes how he looks like the perfect son: blonde, blue-eyed, courteous and athletic, with only his eyes giving away hints of his sadism. It's implied that even his parents have noticed something is off with him, judging by their nervousness during his charming charade with Baba and Amir.
  • Meaningful Echo: Invoked by Amir during his return to Afghanistan, when he, for the second time in his life, "[leaves] a fistful of crumpled money under a mattress". The first time, it was to frame Hassan for theft; this time, it's an act of charity towards a poor family who let him stay the night, after he overhears a conversation that indicates that the family went hungry in order to feed Amir and his guide.
  • Meaningful Name: A few:
    • Soraya, Amir's wife shares the name of the famous Iranian queen. Both women are unable to have children.
    • Sohrab, Hassan's son is named after the tragic hero of the Persian epic Shahnameh. Also he was the childhoods hero of Hassan.
  • Missing Mom: Both Amir and Hassan lost their mothers, Amir's died of childbirth, Hassan's ran away after giving birth. The latter ultimately came back after Hassan was an adult.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Amir even writes a book about a writer himself.
  • My Greatest Failure: A pretty huge theme:
    • Amir: Not standing up for Hassan when he got raped, and framing Hassan for stealing and causing Ali to leave, bringing Hassan with him. While Amir tends to feel guilt over a lot of things, these are the most prominent, and it remains there and drives him for the entire rest of the novel.
    • Soraya: Running off with her boyfriend when she was 18.
    • Baba: While this is only implied to be so, sleeping with Sanaubar and so betraying his lifelong friend and his recently deceased wife.
    • Rahim Kahn: Keeping the above secret.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Amir for pretty much the whole book, especially after he lets Hassan get raped.
  • Mysterious Past: No one knows what Sanaubar did all the years before reuniting with Hassan. Considering how repulsive was the man who taunted about "knowing her" to Hassan, and being a lone young woman fending for herself, she most likely lived as a prostitute.
  • Nephewism: Sohrab is adopted by Amir, his biological uncle.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Assef's beatdown of Amir. With brass knuckles.
  • No Name Given: "Baba" simply translates to "Father". Also, Amir never reveals his family name. The movie gives him the surname Qadiri (as displayed on the cover of a novel he's written).
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: As an adult, Assef claims that he does everything he does for the sake of his country and Islam. His casually cruel behavior both before and after his conversion makes it clear that he just likes hurting people, and Amir sees right through him.
  • Oh, Crap!: Amir when he learns that Assef is the one holding Sohrab hostage as a sex slave.
  • One Degree of Separation: Lampshaded when a random beggar off the street happens to "know" Hassan's mother. According to the book, this is in fact a pretty common occurrence in Afghanistan.
  • Orphanage of Fear: Where Sohrab is sent. Subverted in that it may have been really an Orphanage of Love, since the one who manages it is trying his hardest to keep it that way but, due to circumstances, he is forced to make sacrifices against his will. It's only the horrible state it is in because of the horrible conditions outside.
  • Pædo Hunt: As an adult, Assef sexually abuses young children, including past victim Hassan's son.
  • Parental Favoritism: Amir often feels that Baba likes Hassan better than Amir himself; specifically, Baba seems to care for Hassan by default, while Amir is constantly left feeling like he has to earn his father's affection. Becomes this trope when it's revealed that Hassan was Baba's illegitimate son, and it's partially justified as he can't open acknowledge him, so he lavished all the attention he could on him.
  • Parental Substitute: One of the themes is that your parents are not always the closest persons to live with you or raise you. Rahim Khan was a father figure to Amir being the dad that Baba isn't to Amir, Ali raised and loved Hassan despite not being his father, Amir will raise Sohrab after Hassan's death.
  • 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.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Amir has none of Assef's racist and fundamentalist bullshit: "What mission is that? Stoning adulterers? Raping children? Flogging women for wearing high heels? Massacring Hazaras? All in the name of Islam?"
  • Redemption Quest: Amir going to rescue Sohrab is used as redemption for how cowardly he had been in the past.
  • Religion Is Wrong: The novel plays with this, having a more gray view on the subject. Religion itself isn't shown to be a problem, instead some of the conflict comes from its followers. On one end, you have Baba who's more liberal with his beliefs and finding the mullahs to be hypocritical, while, on the other end, there are the Taliban who use their interpretations to justify their means.
  • The Reveal: Both a protagonist and an antagonist reveal.
    • Protagonist: Amir and Hassan are half-brothers, as Baba had a brief affair with Hassan's mother.
    • Antagonist: Hassan's child Sohrab is kept captive as a child Sex Slave by none other than Assef, Amir and Hassan's childhood bully who raped Hassan himself.
  • Scarpia Ultimatum: When Amir and his father are leaving Afghanistan, the Russian guard will only let the truck carrying them into Pakistan through 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 manage to out-Biff Biff Tannen by going from childhood bully to teenage rapist to adult rapist and Taliban war criminal. And ever the rapist.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Rahim Khan is the sensitive guy to Baba's manly man. Rahim is calm, pensive and approves Amir's writing talent. Baba is a proud, larger-than-life businessman, interested in manly sports.
  • 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.
  • Sinister Minister: In general, members of the Taliban. In particular, the Taliban executioner with the John Lennon sunglasses who leads the stoning of a young couple in a football stadium. Turns out it's Assef.
    Baba: Piss on the beards of these self-righteous monkeys. They do nothing but finger their prayer beads and recite a language they don't even understand. God help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands.
  • Sinister Shades: The John Lennon-style sunglasses that hide a Taliban man's eyes and that he's Assef.
  • So Happy Together: Amir is told by a former professor now a beggar who knew his mother that during her pregnancy she was so happy that she was scared. She thought that one could be so happy only when a great tragedy impends. She was right.
  • 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.
  • Standard '50s Father: In personality type and general background, Baba actually fits this—consider him the Standard 1960s Afghan Father. He is an upper-middle class businessman, a pillar in his community, smokes and drinks with his friend and business partner Rahim Khan, enjoys manly sports, and is decidedly distant in his affection towards Amir. He even provides moral advice to Amir, although he flatly disdains organised religion.
    Baba: There is only one sin, and it is theft.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Rahim Khan and Homaira, the daughter of his neighbours' servants. His family is Pashtun and well-to-do, hers is Hazara and lower-class.
  • Sweetie Graffiti: Platonic example: 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, or at least none mentioned.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Hassan, oh, Hassan. Just from how pure and innocent you were, you pretty much had Sacrificial Lamb written all over you. Amir even compares him to one.
  • The Topic of Cancer: Defines Baba's later years in America. Amir learns a lot about said topic the hard way.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: A mental example: to Amir, Kabul is this, and the dark secret is Hassan's rape
  • Two-Timing with the Bestie: From a retelling of events, Amir learns that his Baba's friend, Ali, and his wife, Sanaubar, had two failed pregnancies before having Sohrab. Only that Hassan is actually Baba's child since Ali is infertile.
  • Undying Loyalty: A trait of Hassan that serves as one of the driving forces of the plot.
  • The Unfavorite: How Amir feels about Baba's treatment of him as opposed to Hassan. Amir feels this way even before he finds out Hassan is his half-brother.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Amir to Baba. The latter does care for and love Amir but he's rather distant and more stern with him than he is with Hassan. Some of it, Amir thinks, has to do with that Baba's "princess" (Amir's mother) died giving birth to him.
  • 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 that he attempts suicide.
  • Wretched Hive: Kabul after the Soviet invasion, and even more in the violence that follows their withdrawal.
  • You Are the Translated Foreign Word: As typical with Khaled Hosseini's works, Amir starts the first chapter with a Farsi word and its translation.