The Kite Runner
By Khaled Hosseini
Teaching notes prepared for VATE members by Merridie Costello
1. Introduction Page 2
2. Ways into the text Page 4
3. Running sheet and structure of the text Page 10
4. Characters Page 13
5. Issues and Themes Page 15
6. A guided approach to selected passages Page 20
7. Further activities for exploring the text Page 22
8. Key quotes Page 25
9. Essay topics Page 26
10. References and resources Page 27
Page numbers in these notes refer to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, Bloomsbury, 2004
NOTE: This is currently in bookshops. A previous printing of this text , which was the one
available in bookstores early in 2005, has a slightly different format and different pagination.
However the imprint in both versions reads the same and this could be confusing.
Inside Stories may be copied for classroom use
VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide
An introduction to The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini, the writer of The Kite Runner, is an Afghan-born doctor who has
lived in California since 1980. The Kite Runner is his first novel and it is purported to
be the first novel written in English by an Afghan. It takes the form of a young man‘s account of coming to terms with his childhood in Afghanistan, which was scarred by personal loss and betrayal. The story is evocatively set against the tumultuous political, social and religious context of Afghanistan in the period 1970-2001.
The story begins when Amir, the narrator, is working as a writer in San Francisco and receives a phone call from Pakistan. The caller is his late father‘s best friend who asks him to return to the area he and his father fled back in the early 1980s. For Amir this call is his past catching up with him. It also offers him ‗a way to be good again.‘ (p. 2) To make that trip is to embark on a journey laden with consequence. In undertaking it Amir comes face to face with the truth about himself and the guilt that he has carried since a fateful day when he was twelve years of age.
1Khaled Hosseini has said in an interview that he wanted to write a story set in pre-
Soviet Afghanistan as most people in the West only think of Afghanistan as being synonymous with the Soviet invasion, the Taliban and repression. Now, we could also add to that comment the scenario for the first stage of the war on terror. (2002)
Hosseini was born in 1963 and spent his childhood in the 60s and early 70s in an affluent area of Kabul. He drew on this personal experience for the novel‘s primary setting, which includes important details of the treatment of the minority Hazara population as well as a general account of the Afghani political and social backdrop.
A short part of his childhood was spent living in Tehran, Iran, where his father was posted as an Afghan diplomat, the family returning to Afghanistan in 1973. Then in 1976 they were posted to Paris. This meant that when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, his parents were able to make the decision to emigrate to the United States rather than return to the Communist takeover in Kabul. They had heard stories of family and friends taking desperate measures to escape to Pakistan. Some of these stories helped to form scenes in the novel.
The transition to life in America was a difficult time for the whole family. Hosseini has said that there was the anxiety of learning a new language, the pressure he felt as an adolescent to fit in and the loss of identity for his parents. ‗I remember feeling this very dizzying sense of hope that anything could and would happen in this place if you 2wanted it bad enough.‘ His father, he says, was mortified about being dependent on welfare until he got his first job as a driving instructor. Later he got work as an eligibility officer dispensing welfare, mainly to Afghans.
There is always a question with a book such as The Kite Runner as to how much of it
is autobiographical. According to Hosseini not many aspects of the novel are autobiographical. He does concede, however, that perhaps the most prominent one is that, like Amir, he grew up admiring his father deeply and having an intense desire to
1 A conversation between Khaled Hosseini and Riverhead Books www.bloomsbury.com 2 Ibid
VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 2
please him. According to Hosseini, fatherhood in Afghanistan is greatly revered. You are identified by whose son you are. Your tribal identity comes from your father. He was fortunate, he says, as his own father reciprocated his affection and to this day they have ‗a warm and wonderful relationship.‘ Hosseini also acknowledges that the finer qualities in Baba are based on his own father.
In terms of having other similarities with Amir, Hosseini concedes that his love of reading and writing at an early age and the joy of going to the theatre to see Hindi and American films came from his own experience, but he adds that otherwise he does not identify closely with the protagonist.
Hosseini‘s imagination has also been shaped by some childhood experience with ethnic Hazaras. This has helped him in the formation of the characters of Hassan and Ali. The first experience was when Hosseini‘s family lived in Tehran and had a Hazara cook working for them. The cook‘s name was Hossein Khan. When Khalid
was only eight or nine years old he realised this grown man who lived with them could not read or write so he started to teach him the Farsi alphabet, and within a year Hossein could write. ‗It was a lesson in how religion, history and a society‘s biases can 3 conspire to create such enormous gaps between people living under the same roof.‘
Another telling experience Hosseini recalls occurred in Kabul when he was about ten years of age. There was a poor Hazara boy and his mother living over the road and the children would sometimes all play soccer or do kite flying together. The cook who worked for Hosseini‘s family made a chance remark about how he had been abusing this boy for a month or so. It took Hosseini and his brother some years to work out what this actually implied.
Hosseini wants The Kite Runner to show the Afghanistan that existed before the
Soviets entered. One way in which he has effectively woven a subtle Afghan flavour into the novel is by the frequent use of Farsi words in the text, along with their meaning in most cases. There is no ‗p‘ sound in Arabic. So Farsi is the Arabic pronunciation for Parsi, which refers to the descendants of a group of people who fled religious persecution in Persia—now known as Iran—in the seventh and eighth
centuries, to come to the sub-continent. Farsi is widely spoken in both Iran and Afghanistan. These expressions flow so seamlessly into the text that words such as ‗tashakor‘ and ‗namaz‘ effortlessly enter the reader‘s vocabulary. Hosseini says he also set out to explain how the ethnic, tribal loyalties which continue to play out in the political realities within Afghanistan today have roots going back centuries.
Most importantly Hosseini makes it clear that he wanted to tell a good story. ‗I was
brought up on a tradition of storytelling. I want people to get involved with the 4characters and care for them.‘ This is clearly the gift he has bestowed in this
acclaimed novel. It is a brilliant storyteller‘s narrative of the troubled journey to
maturity of his fictional storyteller hero.
3 Ibid 4 Ibid
VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 3
Section 2. Ways into the text
1. Students will need both physical and political maps of Afghanistan in order to locate the places referred to, such as Kabul, the Hazarajat region (central mountainous provinces), Bamiyan (135km west of Kabul), Jalabad (170kms south-east of Kabul), Mazar-i-Sharif, the Khyber Pass, Peshawar and Islamabad in Pakistan, as well as note the geography of the terrain, the climate and tribal regions. Seventy-five percent of the country is mountainous, with average elevation about 1300mts. The Hindu Kush range (central highlands) is the second highest range in the world. Three percent of land is forested and 12.4% is under permanent cultivation. There are 29 provinces.
Have students locate all the areas on the maps. They could also list the page numbers in the text which refer to each location, and use colours or symbols on the maps to track the main travels and journeys described.
2. The population of Afghanistan (July 2003 est.) is 28,717,213, excluding nomads of whom there were over two million in 1983. Kabul (capital) has a population of 2,272,000. There are as many as 3.5 million Afghani refugees in neighbouring countries. Kabul has existed as a centre of population for over 3000 years and was mentioned in Indian scriptures going back to 1500BCE. It is strategically located on the main route to India through the Khyber Pass. It became the capital in 1773 under the reign of Timur Shah.
Students can use the following page references to make brief notes about how Kabul is represented in the text: pp.4, 13-4, 24-5, 35, 40, 45-8, 64-5, 196-7, 227, 232, 238 ff
3. The ethnic composition is: Pashtun 44%, Tajik 25%, Hazara 10%, minor ethnic groups (Aimaks, Turkman, Baloch) 13% and Uzbek 8%. The religious composition is: Sunni Muslim 84%, Shi‘a Muslim 15%, others (Jewish, Hindu and Sikh) 1%.
; Ask students to compare the above figures with Australia using census data.
; Have some students investigate the differences between Sunni and Shi‘a
Muslim, or invite people from the Muslim community to explain this to the class.
4. Points of comparison: figures for 2003
Life expectancy: Afghanistan Australia
46.23 female, 83.13 female
47.67 male. 77.27 male
Infant mortality/live births
; Using Australian census data and the SBS World Guide: The complete fact file thon every country, 12 edition, 2004 make some other relevant comparisons,
such as literacy and educational levels, types of schooling, occupations etc.
VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 4
History of Afghanistan
Students must understand something about Afghani history to fully appreciate the text. It may be useful to photocopy for them the information that follows as a starting point. However, even though the important historical background has been included in this section of the guide, teachers will obviously need to use their judgement about where and how it is most appropriate to convey such information. For some classes it may be more of a ‗further‘ than a ‗beginning‘ activity.
The text makes mention of various aspects of Afghanistan‘s history. Students should make a time line starting with King Nadir Shah in 1931 (when the photo was taken with Amir‘s grandfather p.5). See also pp.21, 32, 34 (bloodless coup by King Zahir Shah‘s cousin Prince Daoud Khan), the Russians, pp.34, 104-08, Taliban activities thp.197, September 11 2001 and the beginning of the war on terror p.332
; What details are given about the Northern Alliance?
; What other details are given about Afghan characteristics, such as
independence and abhorring rules? (p.48)
In April 1978 Afghan President Daoud was murdered in a communist coup. The new communist government nullified the constitution, banned all Islamic rites and traditions and launched an intensive modernisation program. A resistance movement was born and the country plunged into civil war. In December 1979, Soviet military units marched into the country in the mistaken belief that they could quickly quell the unrest. However, it was the era of the Cold War and Western powers were keen to ensure the Soviets did not extend their sphere of influence. They armed and financed voluntary resistance armies made up of Afghans and Arabs, known as Mujaheddin. The ensuing war in Afghanistan lasted ten years, at the end of which the USSR admitted defeat and left.
A civil war raged on between the Afghan communist government and the Mujaheddin. The government was finally overthrown by the Mujaheddin which were mainly non-Pashtun factions who joined forces and formed the Northern Alliance. Its most powerful leader was Ahmed Shah Massoud. In September 1996 the Taliban, mainly Pashtun from the South, took Kabul from the Northern Alliance. The Taliban were particularly cruel to followers of Massoud. He was murdered, almost certainly by thmembers of al-Qaeda, just two days before the September 11 attacks of 2001.
The Taliban (‗Talib‘ is Arabic for ‗Islamic student‘.)
The Taliban emerged in 1995. They were thought to come from Sunni Muslim Pashtun students, intellectuals and disaffected mujaheddin (holy warriors). They were trained in madrasses (conservative Koranic schools) in Pakistan and ready recruits were found among the refugee camps on the Pakistani border. The Taliban is committed to fundamentalism, to implementing Sharia law and preaches basic Koranic values. When they took Kabul, strict Islamic law was immediately imposed, girls‘ schools were closed and women ordered to cease working. The sixteen decrees
broadcast on Radio Sharia in September 1996 outlying the prohibitions of the Taliban VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 5
included female exposure, playing music, shaving, kite-fighting, gambling, dancing at 5 weddings, playing drums and having British or American hairstyles.
In 1997 a Taliban offensive aimed at capturing the north of the country failed and anti-Taliban counterattacks on Kabul intensified. A civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance continued, but by the end of that year the Taliban controlled 90% of the country. They killed 4000 Shi‘a Hazaras at Mazar-i-Sharif following its capture on 8Aug 1998. In Jan 2001 Taliban officials cracked down severely on dress codes for women and imposed regulations which forced men to wear beards. The Taliban also virtually eliminated the huge production of opium. Despite worldwide protests, the Taliban forces destroyed unique historical statues, including the world‘s largest standing Buddha in Bamiyan, some 135km west of Kabul, because they had been decreed idolatrous by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
In late 2001 the Taliban refused to unconditionally surrender Osama bin Laden and his senior al-Qaeda associates to the U.S authorities. The al-Qaeda network was believed to have an estimated 10,000 trained fighters in camps in Afghanistan. The allied forces commenced bombing, their ground forces being joined by the Northern thAlliance. By 5 December, Afghanistan negotiators signed an accord that created an interim government led by Hamid Karzai with the purpose of reconstructing the country which had been effectively destroyed. Taliban guerrillas still remain active in the south of the country. There are also 10,000 US troops stationed on either side of the border with Pakistan. As of July 2005, Australian troops will also be returning to help in the continuing work of reconstruction and peace-keeping.
An excellent summary of life under the Taliban and particularly the effects on women and girls is found in Behind the Burqa: Our Life in Afghanistan and How We Escaped to Freedom. Chapter 21. (See references)
; ‗Here they came. In all their glory.‘ (p. 228). What impressions does Hosseini
convey to the reader about the rule of the Taliban and the effects on Kabul?
(References pp. 238-9, 243, 246-68, 275)
The word ‗hazar‘ in Persian means thousands. The Hazara, who have predominantly Mongoloid features, are thought to be descended from Genghis Khan and his hordes of Mongol warriors who swept through the region in 1221-2. They were originally thSunni Muslims until they converted to the Shi‘a Islamic faith in the 16 century.
Hazaras claim two million in Afghanistan and an equal number in Iran and Pakistan. The Hazara heartland is Hazarajat (a mountainous region in central Afghanistan that incorporates the provinces of Baniian, Ghor and Oruzgan and parts of other provinces.) The main road from Kabul to Heart skirts the Hazarajat region. (In the novel, Rahim Khan goes to Hazarajat to find Hassan. p. 188)
Today the sole economic activity of the Hazara in rural areas is farming and animal husbandry, often through seasonal employment. From the early 1960s, 30-50% of Hazara males have moved to urban areas and become servants.
The Taliban took discrimination against the Hazaras to new extremes, seeing them as heretics and resenting the active role of women in Hazara society and the way they dressed in bright, full skirts, with bangles and earrings and with their faces uncovered.
5 A Seierstad, The Bookseller of Kabul, Virago, London, 2004, pp. 84-7
VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 6
In Aug 1997 after the Taliban captured Kabul, they blockaded Hazarajat, cutting off all four access roads in an attempt to starve to death the one million Hazaras who lived there. Then in 1998, there was the killing spree in Masar-I-Sharif.
; The lower status of the Hazara class is a theme throughout the book. Ask
students to find all the references Hosseini gives and write up a profile from this
information. Look carefully at the descriptions of conditions in which the people
live. (pp.8, 22, 24, 38, 68, 73, 92, 197, 246 are examples).
; To analyse the Hazara sense of worth, look up descriptions of the shed in
which Ali and Hassan lived and to which Hassan insisted on returning with his
wife and son.
; Find and list the comments made by Hassan about the Hazara.
; Is there an equivalent minority to the Hazara in Australian society? ; Reference is made to the Taliban‘s massacre of Hazaras at Masar-I-Sharif (p.
255) What further details can students find? (See Human Rights Watch report
– Nov 1998 ‗Afghanistan: The Massacre in Masar-I-Sharif.)
; Some Afghani refugees in Australia are Hazara. Further information may be
found through contacting the local Afghani community. A starting place could
be the Hazara Association of Victoria based in Dandenong, contactable on 03
Pashtuns in Afghanistan
‗I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century but the Pashtuns had ‗quelled them with unspeakable violence.‘ (p.9)
‗I remembered something Baba has said about Pashtuns once. ―We may be hardhearted and I know we‘re far too proud, but, in the hour of need, believe me that there‘s no one you‘d rather have at your side than a Pashtun.‖ ‘(p.147)
After the formation of the Afghan state in 1747 by Ahmad Shah Durrani, Pashtuns dominated the country‘s government. In 1893 Britain drew up the Durand Line, which demarcated the frontier between Afghanistan and British India. It meant that seven million Pashtuns live in what is now Pakistan. They are organized into tribes, ruled by consensus at jirgas (councils). ‗By the mid 1970‘s, Pashtuns occupied up to 70% of 6top and middle level positions in Afghanistan‘s civil and military hierarchies.‘
When the Soviets invaded, 85% of the 6.2 million refugees that fled Afghanistan were Pashtuns. Since the fall of the Communist rule, 38% of these people have returned. Today Pashtuns find it hard to reconcile themselves to not having a major role in government after some 250 years of dominance.
‗In Afghanistan, warfare was part of life even when the country was not at war,
particularly among the Pashtun. One of their sayings was ‗Be tame in the city and rebellious in the mountains.‘ ―Fighting was our problem‖, said one of the other men. ―We fight with everything. Afghans are world champion in fighting‘.
All the Afghans I had spoken to said they were fed up with the war yet as a people there was no doubt they often fought for enjoyment. All their legends revolved around fighting and so did their hobbies. It wasn‘t just the obvious ones such as bird-fighting,
cock-fighting and wrestling or buzkaski, the Afghan version of polo and a pre-cursor to
6 A Saikal, Modern Afghanistan. A History of Struggle and Survival, Taurise &Co Ltd, London, 2004 VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 7
the western game, with a live goat (or sometimes the head of Russian prisoners) used 7 as a ball.‘
Description of faces
Hosseini dedicates a lot of attention to the description of faces throughout the novel. Summarise what you learn about each character from the following examples. Why do you think Hosseini regards this information as important?
; The detail about Hassan‘s features and expressions (pp. 3, 10, 39, 40; his
facial surgery pp. 41-44, 51, 63, 71).
; See also Sanuaber‘s face (pp. 7, 194), Ali (pp. 7-8, 99), Baba (p.122)
; Assef (pp.90, 261, 267) ; Kamil (p. 111)
; Amir himself (pp. 258, 269-273, 280, 340)
; Sohrab (pp. 257, 259, 340)
A glossary of terms
The text is full of cultural references, mostly referred to by their Farsi terms: e.g. laaf
(exaggeration), naan (bread), Arg (Royal Palace in Kabul) kochi (nomads from the
northern mountains), Shorawi (Russians), lafz (‗giving word‘ ceremony), ihtiram
(respect), nang and namoos (honour and pride).
; Have students begin their own glossaries of terms, to be added to as they
study the text.
; What effect would it have if they had not been included in the text?
Drawing on personal experience
The issues raised in the novel about relationships and other human experiences are universal and recognisable to most readers. Ask students to respond to the following questions, individually and privately, explaining that these will help them to empathise with Amir and understand important issues in the text. The questions are confronting, so an ideal approach might be to give students a choice, asking them to respond to just one set of questions. Students also need to know that they will not be required to discuss or reveal their responses. And they should feel free to add any other thoughts, memories or feelings, in addition to those specifically asked for.
If it appropriate for your class, you could organise some follow-up discussion, perhaps in small self-chosen groups where students feel free to reveal important aspects of themselves to friends they trust. (Any of the tasks suggested could also form the basis of a student writing piece for the Craft of Writing section of the course.)
; Recall a time when you betrayed a friend in some way and felt ashamed
afterwards. (This could be a minor incident which seemed a major one at the
time.) How did you act then, and why? What happened afterwards? What were
your memories, feelings, regrets and dreams much later on? Did you ever
resolve this dilemma? If so, how?
; Consider your relationship with your father, or the person who has been the
‗father figure‘ in your life. What did you admire about him when you were young?
7 C Lamb, The Sewing Circles of Heart: A Personal Voyage through Afghanistan, Harper Collins, 2002 VATE Inside Stories – Teacher Guide The Kite Runner 8
What do you still admire? Do you recall when you discovered he was not all-
powerful? What happened and how did you react?
; Who has been the most important and influential adult in your life apart from
parents and older siblings? Why? In what ways has this person influenced and
; What do you think it is like to emigrate and go to live in another country? Write
about this if it is your own experience, or talk to someone you know who has
had such an experience. What is most difficult to adjust to? What do people
miss most about their former homes? (A group of students might get together
to compose a series of more precise questions before an interview with an
Immigrant to Australia.)
Story of Rostum and Sohrab
The Shahnamah or ‗The Book of the Kings‘ is an epic poem written by a Persian poet
Firdauisi (933-1020). It is full of heroic tales of Ancient Persia and is regarded as the encyclopaedia of the 1000 years of pre-Islamic Eastern culture, thought and history. It has had a profound influence on Western literature, similar to that of Homer and has many similarities with the great Greek epic texts, including its treatment of the Oedipal triangle between a mother-father-son.
Sohrab and Rostum is the most tragic episode in the Shahnamah where the son
Sohrab has been on a life-long search for his father but is mortally wounded by him in the field of battle, and dies after the knowledge of his sonship is established. It then explores Rostum‘s grief and self-recrimination.
; Some students could further investigate this story and prepare a report for the
class. A translation of the story can be found in the longer text at:
VATE Inside Stories Title of text 9
Section 3. Running sheet and structure of text
Chapter 1 March 2002
Amir, the narrator, begins reflecting on the call he had last
summer to return to Pakistan.
Chapters 2-9 1960s up to 1975
His childhood in Kabul; the significant players introduced:
Hassan (their servant‘s son), Baba (his father), Rahim Khan (his
father‘s friend and business associate), Ali (Hassan‘s father)
3 Baba‘s character.
4 Background to Baba and Ali; Amir‘s love of story reading.
5 The Republic happens, 1973; altercation with Assef; Hassan‘s
6 1975 The kite-fighting season. Preparation. Amir's hopes.
7 The kite-fight and its aftermath. th 8 Trip to Jalalabad. Amir‘s 13 birthday party.
9 Setting up Hassan and Ali‘s departure.
Chapter 10 March 1981
Amir and Baba smuggled out of Afghanistan. Baba‘s altercation
with the Russian soldier. Kamal‘s death
Chapters 11-14 1980s to June 2001
Life in America: education; Baba‘s work and health;
meeting and marrying Soraya; Baba‘s death
11 Graduating from high school in 1983. San Jose flea market and
12 Courting Soraya. Baba‘s illness
13 ‗Giving word‘ ceremony, the wedding. Baba‘s death. Attempts to
have a child
14 Phone call from Rahim Khan in June 2001
Chapter 15-18 June 2001
Flight to Peshawar. Reunion with Rahim Khan and hearing his
story. Hassan‘s letter. Decision to go to Kabul.
15 Arrival in Peshawar and catching up with Rahim Khan. News of
16 Rahim tells of his life since 1986 and bringing Hassan back to
Kabul. Sanuabar‘s return to Hassan‘s life. Sohrab‘s birth.
17 Photo of Hassan and Sohrab. Hassan‘s letter to Amir. The truth
18 Decision to return to Kabul.
Chapter 19-22 Journey with Farid to Kabul. Meets the beggar. Locates the
orphanage. Meets and fights Assef.
19 The trip from Peshawar to Jalalabad. Meets Farid‘s family
20 Trip into Kabul. Meeting the beggar who knew his mother.
Reaching the orphanage.
21 Visiting his home in Kabul. Ghazi Stadium.
22 Meeting Assef. Fighting Assef. Sohrab and Amir‘s escape
Chapter 23 Peshawar.
Treatment and recovery from injuries. Rahim Khan‘s letter.
Departure for Islamabad.
Chapter 24 Islamabad. Seeking permit for Sohrab‘s travel to U.S. Sohrab‘s
Chapter 25 Sohrab‘s recovery. Departure for U.S. Reunion with Soraya and
March 2002 Final kite run
VATE Inside Stories Title of text 10