The narrator, Amir, grows up in a luxurious home in Kabul, Afghanistan, with his father Baba. They have two Hazara (an ethnic minority) servants, Ali and his son Hassan, who is Amir’s closest playmate. Amir feels he is a disappointing son to Baba, but he is close to Baba’s friend Rahim Khan. Amir and Hassan fly kites and read stories together, though Hassan does chores while Amir goes to school. One day three boys named Assef, Wali, and Kamal threaten Amir, but Hassan scares them away with his slingshot.
In the winter there is a big kite-fighting tournament where boys try to cut each other’s kites with glass-covered strings, and then “kite runners” chase after the fallen kites. Amir wins the tournament, and then Hassan goes to retrieve the losing kite. When Amir goes after Hassan he finds him in an alley, trapped by Assef, Wali, and Kamal. Amir watches as Kamal and Wali hold Hassan down and Assef rapes him. Amir runs away, and later both he and Hassan pretend nothing has happened.
Amir and Hassan soon drift apart. Amir is tormented by guilt, and he decides to make Hassan leave the house. He hides some money under Hassan’s mattress and tells Baba that he stole it, and Hassan doesn’t deny it. Baba forgives Hassan, but Ali and Hassan leave the household.
In 1981, Baba and Amir flee Kabul, which has been invaded by the Soviets. They eventually make it to Pakistan, and months later move to Fremont, California. Baba works at a gas station and Amir finishes high school and then studies writing at college. Baba and Amir sell things at a flea market, where Amir starts noticing Soraya, the daughter of Baba’s friend General Taheri. After much delaying, Amir starts courting her. Soon afterward Baba is diagnosed with lung cancer. Amir asks Baba if he will ask General Taheri to let him marry Soraya. General Taheri accepts, and Amir and Soraya get married soon after. Baba is pleased with Amir’s marriage, and he dies a month later. Amir gets his first book published and he and Soraya start trying, unsuccessfully, to conceive. Meanwhile, the Soviets are driven out of Afghanistan.
One day Amir gets a call from Rahim Khan, who is dying and asks Amir to come to Pakistan. Once Amir arrives, Rahim Khan tells him about the horrors of the Taliban regime and war-torn Kabul. Rahim Khan says he had been watching Baba’s house for a while, but then found Hassan and convinced him and his wife Farzana to come back to Kabul. Later Farzana had a boy, Sohrab. After Rahim Khan went to Pakistan he learned that Hassan and Farzana were executed by the Taliban, and Sohrab was sent to an orphanage.
Rahim Khan asks Amir to go to Kabul and find Sohrab, saying this is Amir’s chance to “be good again.” He also reveals that Baba was Hassan’s true father. Amir agrees to go, and he finds the orphanage where Sohrab was supposed to be, but learns that a Taliban official took him away a month earlier. Amir (and his companion Farid) go to a soccer game, where at halftime the official they are looking for executes a man and woman.
Amir meets the official and the man calls in Sohrab, who has clearly been sexually abused. The official then reveals himself as Assef, and he beats Amir with his brass knuckles until Sohrab shoots him in the eye with his slingshot. Amir and Sohrab escape and Amir recovers in Pakistan. Amir then asks Sohrab to come back to the U.S. with him, and Sohrab hesitantly accepts.
Amir discovers it will be almost impossible for him to adopt Sohrab, and he tells him he might have to go back to an orphanage. Soraya figures out how to get Sohrab an American visa, but then Amir finds Sohrab has tried to kill himself. Sohrab survives, but stops speaking altogether. Amir brings Sohrab to California, but he remains silent and withdrawn. One day they are at a park and some Afghans are flying kites. Amir buys one, and he and Sohrab fight another kite and cut it. Sohrab smiles, and Amir goes to run the kite for him.