Exploring The Kite Runner

“A devastating, masterful and painfully honest story.” – The Daily Telegraph   This post will develop and expand as our class reads Kahled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. To begin the novel, we spent time reading the first chapter and discussing our expectations for the text. We identified some of the underlying themes that we believed would be […]
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“A devastating, masterful and painfully honest story.” – The Daily Telegraph   This post will develop and expand as our class reads Kahled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. To begin the novel, we spent time reading the first chapter and discussing our expectations for the text. We identified some of the underlying themes that we believed would be […]
February 12, 2020

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“A devastating, masterful and painfully honest story.”

– The Daily Telegraph

 

This post will develop and expand as our class reads Kahled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

To begin the novel, we spent time reading the first chapter and discussing our expectations for the text. We identified some of the underlying themes that we believed would be developed throughout the novel. We also identified some of the key quotations from the opening chapter that allowed us to come to these conclusions.

A snapshot of our class whiteboard following our conversation about the opening chapter.

 

Chapters 1-5

Amir takes us back to is early childhood in Afghanistan and introduces us to the cast of characters. His father, whom he calls ‘Baba’ is tough and seems to have very little time for Amir. Their family is supported by two Hazara servants, Ali and his son, Hassan. Amir and Hassan appear to be the next thing to brothers, although Amir often takes advantage of Hassan’s loyalty.

Form responses to the questions below in preparation for a discussion in class. Use quotes from the text to support each of your answers to the questions below. 
  1. Write a brief summary of what has occurred in the novel so far. Explain who each character is and how they are connected to the other characters.
  2. Consider why Hosseini opens the novel in the present with Amir narrating his regret to us. Explain what the purpose of this set up is.
  3. Explain the relationship between Amir and Hassan. What are some of the key aspects to note about their ‘friendship’ so far?
  4. Explain what a cleft lip is.
  5. How does Amir feel about his father in these chapters?
  6. Describe Assef. Explain his ancestry and what his political vision is.

 

Notable Quotes

  • “It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been looking into that deserted alleyway for the last twenty-six years.”
  • “I knew it wasn’t just Rahim Khan on the line. It was my past of untoned sins.”
  • “…there was a brotherhood between people who had fed from the same breast, a kinship that not even time could break. Hassan and I fed from the same breast. We took our first steps on the same lawn in the same yard. And, under the same roof, we spoke our first words. Mine was Baba. His was Amir. My name. Looking back on it now, I think the foundation for what happened in the winter of 1972- and all that followed- was laid in those first words.”
  • “There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft.”
  • “There is something missing in that boy.”
  • “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.” 
  • But in none of his stories did Baba ever refer to Ali as his friend. The curious thing was, I never thought of Hassan and me as friends either.”
  • “There was a pomegranate tree near the entrance to the cemetery. One summer day I used one of Ali’s kitchen knives to carve our names on it: Amir and Hassan: the saltuns of Kabul. Those words made it formal: the tree was ours.”
  • “Most days I worshipped Baba with an intensity approaching

Chapters 6-10 

The traumatic incident that Amir hints at in the first five chapters occurs in this section of the novel. We come to hate Amir, even though we understand his actions. It’s a frustrating place to be in as a reader. Some key symbols are developed in this chapter: the lamb, the kite and the pomegranate tree. Key metaphors around the ‘monster in the lake’ and the ‘snake in the grass’ are established.

Form responses to the questions below in preparation for a discussion in class. Use quotes from the text to support each of your answers to the questions below. 
  1. Now that you know what kite fighting is and that Amir and Hassan used a blue kite, explain why Hosseini included a reference in the opening chapter to blue and red kites flying in the sky as Amir reflected on the past. What do you suppose the kite symbolises at this point?
  2. Explain what Amir means when he says ‘I opened my mouth and almost said something…The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had.”
  3. Hassan describes the dream of ‘the monster in the lake’. This is significant. Go back and read the dream portion of the novel again. Identify the connection between Amir and the monster Hassan describes?
  4. Make a note of what is inscribed in the pomegranate tree in the back yard. Explain why it is significant that Amir picks a fight with Hassan in front of that tree.
  5. What are your thoughts on Amir by the end of this section of the novel? Consider if they have changed from the opening section or not.

Notable Quotes

  • “I was going to win, and I was going to run that last kite. Then I’d bring it home and show it to Baba. Show him once and for all that his son was worthy. Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over.”
  • “…no one was swimming because they said a monster had come to the lake…you kick off your shoes, Amir agha, and you take off your shirt. ‘There’s no monster,’ you say. ‘I’ll show you all.’ And before anyone can stop you, you dive into the water, start swimming away. I follow you in and we’re both swimming.”
  • “I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had.”
  • “It was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb.”
  • “Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay to win Baba.”
  • “Baba held me close to him, rocking me back and forth. In his arms, I forgot what I had done. And that was good.”
  • “I finally had what I wanted all those years. Except now that I had it, I felt as empty as this unkempt pool I was dangling my legs into.”
  • “A part of me was hoping someone would wake up and hear, so I wouldn’t have to live with this lie anymore…in the silence that followed, I understood the nature of my new curse: I was going to get away with it.”
  • “There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged him to the murky bottom. I was that monster.”
  • “On the surface, he was the embodiment of every parent’s dream, a strong, tall, well-dressed and well-mannered boy…But to me, his eyes betrayed him. When I looked into them, the facade faltered, revealed a glimpse of the madness hiding behind them.”
  • “I lifted Hassan’s mattress and planted my new watch and a handful of Afghani bills under it…then I knocked on Baba’s door and told what I hoped would be the last in a long line of shameful lies.”
  • “I was the snake in the grass, the monster in the lake.”
  • “A part of me was glad. Glad that this would all be over with soon.”
  • “Do you have to always be the hero? I thought, my heart fluttering. Can’t you just let it go for once?”
  • “Tell him I’ll take a thousand of his bullets before I let this indecency take place”

 

Chapters 11-14

After fleeing Afghanistan, Baba and Amir make their way to American. The novel has jumped forward at this point and we are hearing from a teenage Amir. Baba works hard to put food on their table and finally, on the night Amir graduates college, Baba expresses his pride. The tale moves swiftly from this moment. Amir attends university, studying English and begins courting Soraya. Baba falls ill and dies of cancer not long after he sees Amir married. And then the phone call from Rahim Khan comes.

Form responses to the questions below in preparation for a discussion in class. Use quotes from the text to support each of your answers to the questions below. 

  1. Why are Amir and his father fleeing Afghanistan?
  2. “America was different. America was a river roaring along, unmindful of the past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far.” This quote from Chapter 11 is said by whom? What does it reveal? What does this metaphor mean?
  3. What does Baba give Amir as a graduation present? What is Amir feeling at this moment? What is Baba feeling?
  4. Baba observes that “It may be unfair, but what happens in a single day can change the course of a whole lifetime.” Whom is he speaking about? Why? What else might be significant about that quote?
  5. What disappointment do Soraya and Amir face? Do you think Amir should have told Soraya about his betrayal of Hassan before they were married? Why or why not? What does this do to a relationship?
  6. Chapter 14 brings us back to the opening of the book: the telephone call from Rahim Khan. What is Rahim asking Amir to do?

A snapshot of our class whiteboard following our discussion about what America means to Amir at this stage of the novel.

 

Notable Quotes

  • “Baba loved the idea of America.”
  • “For me, America was a place to bury my memories.”
  • “A pair of steel hands closed around my windpipe at the sound of Hassan’s name. I rolled down the window. Waited for the steel hands to loosen their grip.”
  • “…I would stand my ground,  I decided. I didn’t want to sacrifice for Baba anymore. The last time I had done that, I had damned myself.”
  • “It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime, Amir.”
  • “Sad stories make good books.”

 

Chapters 15-20 

Form responses to the questions below in preparation for a discussion in class. Use quotes from the text to support each of your answers to the questions below. 

  1. What does Amir say about clichés? Why does Amir use the cliché about “an elephant in the room” to describe his meeting with Rahim Khan?
  2. In Chapter 16, Rahim tells us what happened to Hassan. What has happened? Where is he living? What is his family life like?
  3. In Chapter 17, Rahim gives Amir a letter from Hassan, who wrote it six months before. What is the tone of this letter? How does Amir react?
  4. In Chapter 18, Amir finds out that both Hassan and his wife were shot by the Taliban trying to protect Baba’s house, orphaning their son. Rahim tells Amir it is his job to find Sohrab in Karteh-Seh, Afghanistan, and take him to an orphanage in Peshawar, Pakistan. What is Amir’s reaction? Do you think Rahim’s dying wish is unfair? Why or why not?
  5. Foreshadowing is used frequently throughout this novel to build tension and suspense. What clues hint at the secret that is revealed in Chapters 17-18?
  6. What realizations does Amir come to in Chapter 19?
  7. In Chapter 20, the director of the orphanage, Zaman, tells Amir that Sohrab was taken by a Taliban official, who takes children, usually girls, about once a month, for his “sexual pleasure.” The official gives Zaman a great deal of cash. How does Zaman defend his actions?

Notable Quotes

  • “…I always thought cliches got a bum rap. Because often they’re dead on. But the aptness of the cliched saying is over-shadowed by the nature of the saying as a cliche. For example, the “elephant in the room” saying. Nothing could more correctly describe the initial moments of my reunion with Rahim Khan.”
  • “…hope is a strange thing. Peace at last. But at what price?”
  • “…time can be a greedy thing- sometimes it steals all the details for itself.”
  • “Now everyone in that room was either dead or dying. Except for me.”
  • “A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
  • “I felt like a man sliding down a steep cliff, clutching at shrubs and tangles of brambles and coming up empty-handed.”
  • Like father, like son. But it was true, wasn’t it? As it turned out, Baba and I were more alike than I’d ever known. We had both betrayed the people who would have given their lives for us.”
  • I wished he had let me live on in my oblivion.”
  • There is a way to be good again…A way to end the cycle. With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son.”
  • “I was afraid I’d change my mind. I was afraid I’d deliberate, ruminate, agonize, rationalize, and talk myself into not going. I was afraid the appeal of my life in America would draw me back, that I would wade into that great, big, river and let myself forget, let the things I had learned these last few days sink to the bottom. I was afraid that I’d let the waters carry me away from what I had to do. From Hassan. From the past that had come calling. And from this one last chance at redemption.”
  • “You are an honorable man, Amir agha…I cringed inside.”
  • “Earlier that morning, when I was certain no one was looking, I did something I had done twenty-six years earlier: I planted a fistful of crumpled money under a mattress.”

 

Chapters 21-25

  1. In Chapter 21, Amir finally sees Sohrab and realizes something about the Taliban official. What is it? What is your reaction to this character’s reappearance as a Talib? How does he justify his transformation? Is it a transformation?
  2. In Chapter 22, we encounter many “full-circle” endings as we reach the climax, or turning point, of the plot. List three.
  3. What is your reaction to Rahim Khan’s letter to Amir? Should the letter have been presented to him earlier? Do you feel that Baba was a good man?
  4. Chapter 24 continues the falling action of the plot. Why do Sohrab and Amir travel to Islamabad? Amir says “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.” What does he mean? How can you relate this to Hassan and Sohrab?
  5. What promise does Amir break to Sohrab? What does Sohrab do in response to this? Why might this be significant?
  6. What happens as Amir runs the kite for Sohrab? How is this the final ‘full circle’ moment in the novel?

 

Notable Quotes

  • “I don’t want to forget anymore”
  • “…the pomegranate tree hadn’t borne fruit in years…The carving had dulled, almost faded altogether, but it was still there: “Amir and Hassan. The Sultans of Kabul.””
  • This isn’ you Amir, part of me said. You’re gutless. It’s how you were made. And that’s not such a bad thing because your saving grace is that you’ve never lied to yourself about it…Nothing wrong with cowardice as long as it comes with prudence.”
  • What was so funny was that, for the first time since the winter of 1975, I felt at peace. I laughed because I saw that, in some hidden nook in a corner of my mind, I’d even been looking forward to this.”
  • “My body was broken- just how badly I wouldn’t find out until later- but I felt healed. Healed at last. I laughed.”
  • The slingshot made a thwiiiit sound when Sohrab released the cup. Then Assef was screaming. He put his hand where his left eye had been just a moment ago.”
  • “The impact had cut your upper lip in two, he had said, clean down the middle. Clean down the middle. Like a harelip.”
  • “Let’s just say we both got what we deserved.”
  • Father used to say it’s wrong to hurt even bad people. Because they don’t know any better, and because bad people sometimes become good.”
  • I want to tear myself away from this place, from this relatiy, rise up like a cloud and float away, melt into this humid summer night and dissolve somewhere far, over the hills.”
  • My hands are stained with Hassan’s blood; I pray to God doesn’t let them get stained with blood of his boy too.”
  • “I pray that my sins have not caught with me the way I’d always feared they would.’
  • “As I waited for his reply, my mind flashed back to a winter day from long ago, Hassan and I sitting on the snow beneath a leafless sour cherry tree. I had played a cruel game with Hassan that day, toyed with him, asked him if he would chew dirt to prove his loyalty to me. Now I was the one under the microscope, the one who had to prove my worthiness. I deserved this.”
  • “…a light of hope had begun to enter Sorhab’s eyes, like a timid guest. Now the light was gone, the guest had fled, and I wondered when it would dare return.”
  • “Perspective was a luxury when your head was constantly buzzing with a swarm of demons.”
  • “…I brought Hassan’s son from Afganistan to America, lifting him from the certainty of turmoil and dropping him into a turmoil of uncertainty.”
  • “I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
  • “And one more thing, General Sahib,” I said. “You will never again refer to him as ‘Hazara boy’ in my presence. He has a name and it’s Sohrab.”
  • “The glassy vacant look in his eyes was gone. His gaze flitted between our kite and the green one. His face was a little flushed, his eyes suddenly alert. Awake. Alive. I wondered when I had forgotten that, despite everything, he was still just a child.”
  • It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight.”
  • “Because when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting.”

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