The story shifts to 1933, the year that Baba was born and Zahir Shah became king of Afghanistan. In that same year two young men went driving while drunk and high and killed a Hazara couple – Ali’s parents. The killers were brought before Amir’s grandfather, who was a respected judge, and he ordered them to enlist in the army. He then adopted the orphaned Ali into his own home. Ali grew up as a servant, but also as Baba’s playmate.
Hosseini begins to connect the private lives of the characters with the political history of Afghanistan. This date is significant because Baba’s fate (and that of the other characters) will become bound with the fate of the Afghan political climate. Baba and Ali grew up in a similar situation to Amir and Hassan.
They are still close, but Baba never calls Ali his friend and Amir never thinks of Hassan as his friend – their ethnic and religious divides seem too great. Nevertheless, when Amir thinks of Afghanistan he imagines Hassan’s face, and he remembers their childhood as one long playtime together. He describes some of their adventures, including watching a John Wayne movie and comparing him to the other Americans they had seen – the long-haired hippies that hung around Kabul.
Amir openly acknowledges that the divides between Hazara and Pashtun, Shi’a and Sunni seem insurmountable in Afghanistan, even by close companionship and love. Hosseini introduces the prevalence of American culture in Kabul at this time – this would be surprising to the average American reader used to the Afghanistan of the present day.
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Despite their closeness, Hassan spends the day cleaning the house and preparing food while Amir goes to school in Baba’s fancy American car. Hassan is illiterate because of his servant class, but he is fascinated by stories. Amir often reads to him in an old cemetery atop a nearby hill, under the boys’ favorite pomegranate tree. In the trunk of the tree Amir had carved the words “Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul.” Amir enjoys teasing Hassan when Hassan doesn’t understand a big word that Amir reads, and sometimes Amir makes up a meaning for it.
Baba is representative of this liberal, Americanized side of Afghanistan that will be eradicated in the years to come. The pomegranate tree, the hill, and Amir’s carved words all become etched in his memory as symbols of a happy childhood and his friendship with Hassan. These images will return later to remind Amir of his guilt, and also to inspire nostalgia in him for an Afghanistan at peace.
The boys’ favorite story is “Rostam and Sohrab,” in which the warrior Rostam kills his enemy in battle and then discovers it is his long-lost son Sohrab. It is a tragic story, but Amir feels that all fathers have a secret desire to kill their sons.
This story will echo throughout the novel as a symbol of the father-and-son relationships that are so important in The Kite Runner. Amir understands the love/hate nature of his relationship with Baba.
One day under the pomegranate tree Amir begins to make up his own story while pretending he is still reading out loud. Hassan says it is one of the best stories Amir has ever read to him. Amir is elated by this and that night he writes his first story, about a man whose tears turn into pearls, and who makes himself miserable so he can keep crying and become richer. The story ends with him atop a mountain of pearls, crying over the wife he has murdered.
Amir first recognizes his talent for storytelling here. The adult Amir is telling this story, so it is clear that his ability to write and tell stories will continue to develop and become part of the novel itself. Writing about his past guilt will become part of Amir’s redemptive process. The story ends tragically just like “Rostam and Sohrab.”
Amir tries to show the story to Baba (who is talking with Rahim Khan), but Baba is uninterested. Rahim Khan, however, takes the story and offers to read it. At that moment Amir wishes Rahim Khan was his father, but then he feels immediately guilty.
Amir again fails to please Baba. Though he has now “stood up for himself” by writing a story, it is not the kind of talent Baba wants in a son.
Later that night Rahim Khan leaves Amir a note that says he has a “special talent,” and that the story has an impressive use of irony. He encourages Amir to keep writing. Amir is exhilarated by the praise, and he wakes up Hassan, who is downstairs, and reads the story to him. Hassan says the story is wonderful and that Amir will be a great writer one day, but then Hassan wonders why the man in the story didn’t just make himself cry by chopping onions. Amir is annoyed that Hassan thought of this and he didn’t, and he thinks a cruel thought about Hassan as just an illiterate Hazara.
Rahim Khan acts as a kind of foil father-figure to Baba. He gives Amir the attention and praise he wants so badly, and is willing to nurture his unorthodox gifts. Amir again shows his selfishness and vanity – he always wants to be better than Hassan, and uses his wealth and education to put him down whenever Hassan proves himself cleverer or better. The Pashtun idea of Hazaras as inferior is deeply ingrained in Amir’s subconscious.