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Amir, a well-to-do Pashtun boy, and Hassan, a Hazara and the son of Amir's father's servant, Ali, spend their days in a peaceful Kabul, kite fighting, roaming through the streets and being boys. Amirís father (who is generally referred to as Baba, "daddy", throughout the book) loves both the boys, but seems critical of Amir for not being manly enough. Amir secretly fears his father blaming him for his motherís death during childbirth. However, he has a kind father figure in the form of Rahim Khan, Babaís friend, who understands Amir better, and is supportive of his interest in writing stories. Amir tells us that his first word was 'Baba' and Hassan's "Amir,' suggesting that Amir looked up most to Baba, while Hassan looked up to Amir.
Assef, a notoriously mean and violent older boy with sadistic tendencies, blames Amir for socializing with a Hazara, which is, according to Assef, an inferior race that should only live in Hazarajat. He prepares to attack Amir with his brass knuckles, but Hassan bravely stands up to him, threatening to shoot out Assef's left eye with his slingshot. Assef and his henchmen back off, but Assef says he will take revenge.
Hassan is a successful "kite runner" for Amir, knowing where the kite will land without even watching it. One triumphant day, Amir wins the local tournament, and finally Baba's praise. Hassan goes to run the last cut kite, a great trophy, for Amir saying "For you, a thousand times over." Unfortunately, Hassan runs into Assef and his two friends. Hassan refuses to give up Amir's kite, so Assef exacts his revenge by sexually assaulting Hassan. Hassan did not give up the kite because he wanted Amir's respect. Wondering why Hassan is taking so long, Amir searches for Hassan and hides when he hears Assef's voice. He witnesses the rape but is too scared to intervene. He thinks to himself "he is just a slave, it doesn't matter". Afterwards, for some time Hassan and Amir keep a distance from each other. Amir reacts indifferently because he feels ashamed, and is frustrated by Hassan's saint-like behaviour. Already jealous of Baba's love for Hassan, he worries if Baba knew how bravely Hassan defended Amir's kite, and how cowardly Amir acted, that Baba's love for Hassan would grow even more.
To force Hassan to leave, Amir frames him by planting a watch and some money under Hassan's mattress; he falsely confesses. Baba forgives him, despite the fact that, as he explained earlier, he believes that "there is no act more wretched than stealing." Hassan and his father Ali, to Baba's extreme sorrow, leave anyway. Hassan's departure frees Amir of the daily reminder of his cowardice and betrayal, but he still lives in their shadow and his guilt.
Five years later, the Soviets invade Afghanistan. Amir and Baba escape to Peshawar, Pakistan and then to Fremont, California, USA, where Amir and Baba, who lived in luxury in an expansive mansion in Afghanistan, settle in a run-down apartment and Baba begins work at a gas station. Amir eventually takes classes at a local community college to develop his writing skills. Every Sunday, Baba and Amir make extra money selling used goods at a flea market in San Jose. There, Amir meets fellow refugee Soraya Taheri and her family; Soraya's father, who was a high-ranking officer in Afghanistan, has contempt of Amir's literary aspiration. Baba is diagnosed with terminal oat cell carcinoma but is still capable of granting Amir one last favor: he asks Soraya's father's permission for Amir to marry her. He agrees and the two marry. Shortly thereafter Baba dies. Amir and Soraya settle down in a happy marriage, but to their sorrow learn that they cannot have children.
Amir embarks on a successful career as a novelist. Fifteen years after his wedding, Amir receives a call from Rahim Khan, who is dying from an illness. Rahim Khan asks Amir to come to Pakistan. He enigmatically tells Amir "there is a way to be good again." Amir goes.
From Rahim Khan, Amir learns the fates of Ali and Hassan. Ali was killed by a land mine. Hassan had a wife and a son, named Sohrab, and had returned to Babaís house as a caretaker at Rahim Khanís request. One day the Taliban ordered him to give it up and leave, but he refused, and was murdered, along with his wife. Rahim Khan reveals that Ali was not really Hassan's father. Hassan was actually the son of Baba, therefore Amir's half-brother. Finally, Rahim Khan tells Amir that the true reason he has called Amir to Pakistan is to go to Kabul to rescue Hassan's son, Sohrab, from an orphanage.
Amir returns to Taliban-controlled Kabul with a guide, Farid, and searches for Sohrab at the orphanage. In order to enter Taliban territory, Amir, who is normally clean shaven, wears a fake beard and moustache, otherwise the Taliban would exact Sharia punishment against him. However, he does not find Sohrab where he was supposed to be: the director of the orphanage tells them that a Taliban official comes often, brings cash and usually takes a girl back with him. Once in a while however, he takes a boy, recently Sohrab. The director tells Amir to go to a soccer match and the man wearing the John Lennon glasses is the man who took Sohrab. Farid manages to secure an appointment with the speaker at his home, by saying that he and Amir have "personal business" with him.
At the house, Amir has a meeting with the man. The man in sunglasses reveals himselft to be Assef, Amir's childhood nemesis. Assef is aware of Amir's identity from the very beginning, but Amir doesn't realize it is Assef sitting across from him until Assef starts asking about Ali, Baba and Hassan. Sohrab is being kept at the home where he is made to dance dressed in women's clothes, and it seems Assef might have been raping him. (Sohrab later says, "I'm so dirty and full of sin. The bad man and the other two did things to me.") Assef agrees to relinquish him, but only for a price - cruelly beating Amir. However, Amir is saved when Sohrab uses his slingshot to shoot out Assef's left eye, fulfilling the threat his father had made many years before.
Amir tells Sohrab of his plans to take him back to America and possibly adopt him, and promises that he will never be sent to an orphanage again. After almost having to break that promise (after decades of war, paperwork documenting Sohrab's orphan status, as demanded by the US authorities, is impossible to get) and Sohrab attempting suicide, Amir manages to take him back to the United States and introduces him to his wife. However, Sohrab is emotionally damaged and refuses to speak or even glance at Soraya. This continues until his frozen emotions are thawed when Amir reminisces about his father, Hassan, while kite flying. Amir shows off some of Hassanís tricks, and Sohrab begins to interact with Amir again. In the end Sohrab only shows a lopsided smile, but Amir takes to it with all his heart as he runs the kite for Sohrab, saying, "For you, a thousand times over."
The Kite Runner received the South African Boeke Prize in 2004. It was the first best seller for 2005 in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan. It was also voted the Reading Group Book of the Year for 2006 and 2007 and headed a list of 60 titles submitted by entrants to the Penguin/Orange Reading Group prize (UK). However, there have been some critiques of The Kite Runner (see Miller, "The Kite Runner Critiqued: New Orientalism Goes to the Big Screen".
In addition to the film adaptation, the novel was also adapted to the stage by Bay Area playwright Matthew Spangler. David Ira Goldstein (Arizona Theater Company Artistic Director) directs a cast that includes Barzin Akhavan as Amir, Demosthenes Chrysan (General Taheri), Gregor Paslawsky (Rahim Khan) and James Saba (Ali), all from New York City, Thamos Fiscelle (Baba) of Los Angeles, and Bay Area actors Craig Piaget (Young Amir), Lowell Abellon (Young Hassan), Rinabeth Apostol (Soraya), Adam Yazbeck (Assef), Zarif Kabier Sadiqi, Wahab Shayek, and Lani Carissa Wong. The cast is joined on stage by Tabla player Salar Nader.
The Kite Runner has been accused of hindering Western understanding of the Taliban, depicting Taliban members as representatives of various Western myths of evil.
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