After meeting Soraya, Amir thinks about her constantly – he compares his every night to yelda, the Afghan first night of winter, when tormented lovers wait for their beloveds. Almost an entire year passes before Amir gets up the nerve to talk to her. Baba understands what is going on, and he warns Amir that General Taheri is a very traditional Pashtun, and greatly concerned with his daughter’s chastity.
This begins a new section of the novel, as Amir starts to grow and mature in America. He has mostly escaped his past for now, and is able to start building a new life for himself with less guilt. He starts by falling in love with Soraya.
Amir goes to the Taheris’ booth while the General is away and he greets Soraya, who is reading a book. When he asks her what she is reading, he understands that the conversation now has potential for gossip, and he recognizes that the Afghan double standard will judge Soraya for “flirting” with him if she engages. She responds, and they discuss stories and writing.
Hosseini critiques Afghan sexism here – if Soraya answers even Amir’s seemingly innocent question, she will be seen as a “disreputable” sort of woman, especially because of the gossip already circulating about her past.
Soraya’s mother, Jamila, appears and interrupts the conversation. She offers Amir a seat but he does the polite thing and declines, referring to her formally as “Khanum Taheri.” Amir can see the excitement in her eyes that a man has been talking to Soraya, and he feels guilty for the power he wields just because he is a man.
In these interactions Hosseini also shows how the characters preserve their Afghan traditions even in America. An unmarried man talking to a woman would be normal in America, but in Afghanistan there are strict rules about courtship and honor.
For a few weeks after that, Amir goes over to her booth and talks to Soraya only when General Taheri is away. Soraya reveals that her dream is to be a teacher, and she tells Amir how as a child she had taught her father’s servant to read. Amir feels guilty then, remembering how he had used his education to mock Hassan, not to help him.
Amir still cannot escape Hassan entirely, and his guilt occasionally resurfaces. Soraya was raised in a similar situation to Amir, but she used her privilege to teach her servant/friend, rather than taunt her.
Amir gives Soraya one of his stories, but suddenly General Taheri appears and Soray looks terrified. The General throws Amir’s story in the trash and reminds him that he is among other Afghans, and that they will gossip. Amir is disheartened by this encounter, but he has no time to brood because soon after that Baba gets sick.
General Taheri only needs to remind Amir that he is among peers for Amir to feel he has been acting inappropriately. They might be physically in America, but their community still has all the rules of Afghanistan, and Amir should not disregard them.
At first Baba only has a bad cold, but then Amir catches him coughing up blood. Amir takes him to a hospital, and then to several specialists – one of whom Baba refuses to speak to because he is Russian – and finally he is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. The doctors want to give him chemotherapy to prolong his life, but Baba proudly refuses treatment.
Baba encounters the last “bear” he has to wrestle – cancer – and though he recognizes that it will beat him, he decides to lose on his own terms. Baba’s looming death will be a crisis for Amir, however, who has always been dependent on his father.
After Baba’s diagnosis, Amir breaks down and wonders aloud what he will do when Baba dies. Baba is ashamed of the question, and says that all his life he has been trying to teach Amir how to stand up on his own. He also forbids Amir from telling anyone about his illness, as Baba doesn’t want any sympathy.
Amir starts to understand why Baba has been so strict with him, and always worried about his quietness and insecurity – he has been training Amir to be a man, and to live on his own without Baba’s help.
Baba grows progressively weaker but keeps working and going to the flea market. He starts losing a lot of weight though, and people begin to notice his sickliness. One day at the flea market Baba collapses and has a seizure. At the hospital, the doctor says that the cancer has spread to Baba’s brain.
When the legendary, larger-than-life Baba starts growing weak and nearing death, Amir’s looming identity crisis seems much more real. His pillar, the thing he built his life around, and sacrificed Hassan for, is about to be gone.
The next morning Afghans fill the waiting room, wanting to visit Baba. The Taheris arrive and Soraya comforts Amir. Two days later Baba is discharged from the hospital, and that night Amir asks him to go to General Taheri and ask for his permission to marry Soraya. Baba is pleased and proud, and the next day he goes. Amir has to wait nervously at home until Baba calls. He says that General Taheri has accepted, and then he says that Soraya wants to tell Amir something in private.
After General Taheri’s warning, Amir proceeds much more traditionally with his courtship. While this is a bonding moment for Baba and Amir, it shows that in Afghan society the woman has no choice in whether she will marry her suitor, as it is all up to her father. Baba begins to be proud of Amir when he sees he is making decisions for himself and growing up.
Soraya gets on the phone and says she is happy that her father approved, but she must tell Amir about her past, as she doesn’t want any secrets between them. When she was eighteen and living in Virginia, she ran away with an Afghan man. They lived together for almost a month until General Taheri found them and took Soraya home, screaming and cursing at him. When she came home she saw that her mother had had a stroke, and she felt responsible for it. She was glad, in the end, that her father took her away.
Soraya has her own past guilt, like Amir, but her history has much less to do with betrayal and more to do with youthful rebelliousness. In Afghan society, however, Soraya’s past relationship is the worst kind of scandal for a woman, and she would usually be seen as having “lost value” as a potential wife.
Soraya asks if her story bothers Amir, and he admits it does a little bit, but he still wants to marry her. He feels that he of all people is in no position to judge anyone for a troubled past. Soraya weeps with joy at his acceptance, and Amir envies her because her secret has been confessed and dealt with. He is still too afraid to tell her about Hassan.