Everyone agreed that my father, my Baba, had built the most beautiful house in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, a new and affluent neighborhood in the northern part of Kabul. Some thought it was the prettiest house in all of Kabul. A broad entryway flanked by rosebushes led to the sprawling house of marble floors and wide windows. Intricate mosaic tiles, handpicked by Baba in Isfahan, covered the floors of the four bathrooms. Gold-stitched tapestries, which Baba had bought in Calcutta, lined the walls; a crystal chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling.
Amir’s description of his house reveals his father’s wealth and implies how much status the size and location of his house give him in the community. His father uses expensive materials, such as marble and crystal, and the house has four bathrooms, which is extravagant. The presence of rosebushes, which need a lot of care, indicates that Baba has servants to maintain the garden. Baba is wealthy and worldly enough to travel to Isfahan, Iran, and to Calcutta, India, to buy items for his house.
There was an old abandoned cemetery atop the hill with rows of unmarked headstones and tangles of brushwood clogging the aisles. . . . 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 sultans of Kabul.” Those words made it formal: the tree was ours.
The carving had dulled, almost faded altogether, but it was still there: “Amir and Hassan, the Sultans of Kabul.”
As children, Amir and Hassan go to considerable trouble to get up the hill near Baba’s property in Wazir Akbar Khan. They push through the clogged paths to get into the cemetery, which is their private, quiet spot for reading and talking. Amir marks the spot as theirs when he carves their names into the tree. Many years later, when Amir returns to rescue Sohrab, he goes to the tree. Although there is destruction all around, the tree is still alive and Amir sees that their names are still there.
he fuel tank was pitch-black. I looked right, left, up, down, waved my hands before my eyes, didn’t see so much as a hint of movement. . . . The air wasn’t right, it was too thick, almost solid. . . . And the stench of gasoline. My eyes stung from the fumes, like someone had peeled my eyelids back and rubbed a lemon on them. My nose caught fire with each breath. You could die in a place like this, I thought.
Russian takeover. Baba eventually finds it unbearable and secretly plans their escape. Baba and Amir leave Kabul in a truck bound for Jalalabad. They continue their journey to Peshawar smuggled in the fuel tank of a truck. The conditions in the fuel tank are almost unbearable, with no light, no air, and the stench of the fuel still present. Amir describes a feeling like a panic attack as he struggles to see and breathe. The horrid conditions show the lengths Baba will go so that Amir can have a better life.
The house itself was far from the sprawling white mansion I remembered from my childhood. It looked smaller. The roof sagged and the plaster was cracked. The windows . . . were broken. . . . The paint, once sparkling white, had faded to ghostly gray and eroded in parts . . . . The front steps had crumbled. Like so much else in Kabul, my father’s house was the picture of fallen splendor.
Now an adult living in California, Amir returns to Kabul at Rahim Khan’s summons. He has his driver take him by the family’s house. The deteriorated condition of Amir’s childhood home is a stark and sad reminder of how much Afghanistan has changed. After years of war, and now under Taliban rule, the wealth and beauty have been largely destroyed.
He was looking through the window at a fenced-in sandbox and swing set in the hospital garden. There was an arch-shaped trellis near the playground, in the shadow of a row of hibiscus trees, a few green vines climbing up the timber lattice. A handful of kids were playing with buckets and pails in the sandbox. The sky was a cloudless blue that day, and I saw a tiny jet leaving behind twin white trails.
Sohrab describes the view from his room at the hospital in Islamabad. He is recuperating after his attempted suicide. The outside scene is tranquil and normal, with children playing in a safe, calm, intact garden setting. This idyllic scene contrasts starkly with the war-torn country that Sohrab has come from as well as the inner turmoil that caused him to try to take his life.