Summary: Chapter 4
The story jumps back in time to 1933, the year Baba is born and Zahir Shah becomes king of Afghanistan. Around the same time, two young men who are driving while drunk and high hit and kill Ali’s parents. Amir’s grandfather takes the young Ali in, and Ali and Baba grow up together. Baba, however, never calls Ali his friend. Similarly, because of their ethnic and religious differences, Amir says as a child he never thought of Hassan as a friend. Even so, Amir’s youth seems to him like a long stretch of playing games with Hassan. But while Amir would wake up in the morning and go to school, Hassan would clean the house and get groceries. Amir often read to Hassan, who was illiterate. Their favorite story was “Rostam and Sohrab,” in which Rostam fatally wounds Sohrab in battle and then finds out Sohrab is his lost son.
During one reading session under their favorite pomegranate tree, Amir begins to make up his own story while he is reading to Hassan. Hassan says it is one of the best stories Amir has read. That night, Amir writes his first short story, about a man whose tears turn to pearls. The man finds new ways to make himself sad so he can cry and become richer, until the story ends with him sitting atop a mound of pearls, sobbing over the wife he has stabbed. Amir tries to show Baba the story while Baba is speaking with Rahim Khan, but Baba does not pay much attention. Rahim Khan takes the story instead. When Rahim Khan leaves later than night, he gives Amir a note. In the note, he tells Amir he has a great talent. Amir goes to where Hassan sleeps and wakes him so he can read him the story. When Amir has finished, Hassan tells him the story is terrific. He has only one question: why didn’t the man make himself cry with onions? Amir is annoyed he didn’t think of it himself and has a nasty thought about Hassan being a Hazara, though he says nothing.
Summary: Chapter 5
One night, gunfire erupts in the street. Ali, Hassan, and Amir hide in the house until morning. Amir says that night was the beginning of the end of the Afghanistan they knew. It slipped away further in 1978 with the communist takeover, and it disappeared completely in 1979 when Russia invaded. The gunshots were part of a coup in which Daoud Khan, the king’s cousin, took over the government. Because the roads are closed that night, Baba doesn’t arrive home till dawn. That morning, Amir and Hassan hear talk of what happened on the radio, but they don’t understand what it means that Afghanistan has become a republic. They decide to go climb a tree.
While they’re walking, a rock hits Hassan. Amir and Hassan discover Assef and two other boys from the neighborhood. Assef is a notorious bully. He is one of the children who mocks Ali’s limp and calls him names. He also carries a set of brass knuckles. Assef calls Hassan a flat-nose and asks if they heard about the new republic. He says his father knows Daoud Khan, and that next time Daoud Khan is over for dinner he’s going to talk to him about Hitler. Hitler had the right idea about ethnic purity. Afghanistan is the land of Pashtuns and the Hazaras just pollute the country. Assef takes out his brass knuckles. He says Amir is part of the problem for being friends with a Hazara. For a moment, Amir thinks that Hassan is his servant, not his friend, but he quickly recognizes his thought is wrong. As Assef goes to hit Amir, Assef suddenly freezes because Hassan has his slingshot aimed at him, which allows Amir and Hassan to get away.
After Daoud Khan’s coup, life goes back to normal. The following winter, on Hassan’s birthday, Ali calls Hassan inside. Baba is waiting for him with a man named Dr. Kumar. Dr. Kumar is a plastic surgeon. He is Hassan’s present. Dr. Kumar explains that his job is to fix things on people, sometimes people’s faces. Hassan touches his lip in recognition. The surgery works, and though Hassan’s lip is raw and swollen while he recovers, he smiles all the while. The winter after, all that remains of his cleft lip is a faint scar.
The relationship between ordinary people, such as Hassan and Amir, and political events like Daoud Khan’s coup are a main focus of this section. At the beginning of this section, for instance, Amir says in his narration that Baba was born in 1933, the same year Zahir Shah became king. Why does Hosseini set up this parallel? Because the fates of Zahir Shah and Baba—as well as the fates of those dependent on Baba like Amir, Hassan, and Ali—are all bound together in a sense. When Daoud Khan, in a bloodless coup, takes over in Chapter 5, we know that the lives of our characters are about to change, even if we aren’t sure how. Amir’s and Hassan’s encounter with the racist boy Assef is a hint: the change is not going to be for the better. The rules that govern life in Kabul have been stirred up, and power balances have shifted. Bloodshed and violence may be in store. We witness this from the perspective of Amir, a young boy who does not know what it means that Afghanistan has become a republic. What he does know is this bully, Assef, suddenly has more power because of who his father knows. Amir feels uncertain and threatened, as many Afghans likely did.
The Search For Redemption
Amir’s quest to redeem himself makes up the heart of the novel. Early on, Amir strives to redeem himself in Baba’s eyes, primarily because his mother died giving birth to him, and he feels responsible. To redeem himself to Baba, Amir thinks he must win the kite-tournament and bring Baba the losing kite, both of which are inciting incidents that set the rest of the novel in motion. The more substantial part of Amir’s search for redemption, however, stems from his guilt regarding Hassan. That guilt drives the climactic events of the story, including Amir’s journey to Kabul to find Sohrab and his confrontation with Assef. The moral standard Amir must meet to earn his redemption is set early in the book, when Baba says that a boy who doesn’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything. As a boy, Amir fails to stand up for himself. As an adult, he can only redeem himself by proving he has the courage to stand up for what is right.
The Love and Tension Between Fathers and Sons
Amir has a very complex relationship with Baba, and as much as Amir loves Baba, he rarely feels Baba fully loves him back. Amir’s desire to win Baba’s love consequently motivates him not to stop Hassan’s rape. Baba has his own difficulty connecting with Amir. He feels guilty treating Amir well when he can’t acknowledge Hassan as his son. As a result, he is hard on Amir, and he can only show his love for Hassan indirectly, by bringing Hassan along when he takes Amir out, for instance, or paying for Hassan’s lip surgery. In contrast with this, the most loving relationship between father and son we see is that of Hassan and Sohrab. Hassan, however, is killed, and toward the end of the novel we watch Amir trying to become a substitute father to Sohrab. Their relationship experiences its own strains as Sohrab, who is recovering from the loss of his parents and the abuse he suffered, has trouble opening up to Amir.
The Intersection of Political Events and Private Lives
The major events of the novel, while framed in the context of Amir’s life, follow Afghanistan’s transitions as well. In Amir’s recollections of his childhood, we see the calm state of Kabul during the monarchy, the founding of the republic, and then watch as the Soviet invasion and infighting between rival Afghan groups ruin the country. These events have a hand in dictating the novel’s plot and have significant effects on the lives of the characters involved. The establishment of the republic gives Assef an opportunity to harass Amir, simply because Assef’s father knows the new president. Later, Kabul’s destruction forces Baba and Amir to flee to California. When the Taliban take over after that, they murder Hassan and even give Assef a position that lets him indulge his sadism and sexual urges without repercussions. Both of these events factor into Amir’s mission to save Sohrab and his redemption by confronting Assef, subtly implying that Afghanistan will similarly have its own redemption one day.
The Persistence of the Past
All the characters in the novel feel the influence of the past, but none so much as Amir and Sohrab. In Sohrab’s case, his past has been so traumatizing that it affects all his behavior. The prolonged physical and sexual abuse he endured makes him flinch anytime Amir touches him. He also fears the abandonment he experienced when his parents died so much that he attempts suicide when Amir says he may have to go back to an orphanage. For Amir, the past is always with him, from the book’s first sentence, when he says he became what he is today at the age of twelve, to its final sentence. That’s because Amir defines himself by his past. His feelings of guilt for his past actions continue to motivate him. Amir even feels responsible for the Taliban murdering Hassan because he thinks he set in motion the events that led to Hassan’s death when when he pushed Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house. As he says on the book’s first page, the past can never be buried.
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