It is March 1981. Amir and Baba are in the back of a truck with several other Afghans on the way to Pakistan. The ride makes Amir sick, and he worries he is embarrassing Baba. Because they can’t trust anyone, they left home in the middle of the night. The rafiqs, or comrades as Amir calls them, have divided society. People turn each other in for money or under threat. The truck driver, Karim, has a business arrangement with the soldiers guarding the road. But when they arrive at the checkpoint, the Russian guard eyes a woman in the truck and says the price of passing is half an hour with her. Baba won’t allow it. The Russian threatens to shoot Baba and raises his handgun, but another Russian officer stops him. After they pass the checkpoint, the husband of the woman kisses Baba’s hand. When they arrive in Jalalabad, where they are to switch trucks, Karim tells them the truck they need broke last week. Baba becomes enraged and attacks Karim for not telling them earlier.
For a week they stay in a basement with other refugees. Amir recognizes Kamal, who looks sickly and depressed, and Kamal’s father. Amir overhears Kamal’s father telling Baba what happened to Kamal that made him so weak. Four men caught Kamal out, and when he came back to his father he was bleeding “down there” (p. 120). Kamal no longer speaks, just stares. Finally, Karim finds a truck to take them to Pakistan. It’s a fuel truck, and the air inside is thick with fumes, making it difficult to breathe. They arrive in Pakistan, but once they’re out of the truck Kamal’s father begins screaming. Kamal has stopped breathing. Kamal’s father attacks Karim, wrestling Karim’s gun away. Before anyone can act, Kamal’s father puts the gun in his own mouth and shoots.
The story jumps forward in time. Baba and Amir are in Fremont, California, where they have lived for nearly two years. Baba, who works at a gas station now, has had difficulty adjusting to life in the U.S. One day, in a convenience store he often shops at, he overturns a magazine rack because the manager asks for ID when Baba tries to pay with a check. Amir wants to explain that, in Afghanistan, everyone trusted each other to pay. That night Amir asks if it’s best that they return to Pakistan, where they spent six months while waiting for visas to enter the U.S. Baba says they’re in America for Amir, who is about to finish high school and go to college. On the night of Amir’s graduation, Baba takes him out for a big dinner, then to a bar where he buys drinks all night. He also gives Amir an old Ford Grand Torino as a gift. In the days after, Amir tells Baba that he wants to study writing. Baba disapproves and says the degree will be useless, but Amir has made up his mind.
Amir describes the drives he takes in his car. He passes through rundown and rich neighborhoods and talks about the first time he saw the ocean. For Amir, America is a place to forget the past. The next summer, in 1984, Baba buys an old van. On Saturday mornings, he and Amir load the van with purchases from garage sales, then on Sundays they set up a booth at the flea market and sell everything for a profit. One morning Baba speaks with a man whom he introduces to Amir as General Taheri. Baba tells General Taheri that Amir is going to be a great writer. General Taheri’s daughter, Soraya, comes over, and she and Amir make eye contact. On the drive home, Amir asks Baba about her. All Baba knows is that she was romantically involved with a man once, but it didn’t end well. Amir falls asleep that night thinking of her.
The first half of the section primarily describes Baba’s and Amir’s horrific journey, first to Jalalabad and finally into Peshawar, Pakistan. It also gives some detail about how Kabul has changed in the roughly five years that have elapsed since Chapter 9. In April 1978, the communist left in Afghanistan overthrew President Daoud Khan. The coup created a split in Afghan society that led to numerous executions and widespread paranoia. Regular Afghans were encouraged or forced to turn in anyone who might be an enemy of the ruling faction. It turned out to be the first in a series of events that led to an invasion by Russia at the end of 1979, plunging the country into even greater turmoil. Baba and Amir flee from this atmosphere and the Russian occupation at the opening of the section.
To Baba, for whom doing the right thing is so important, the loss of honor and decency in Afghanistan is perhaps the greatest tragedy to befall his country. The atrocities described, including the Russian guard’s attempted rape of the woman in the truck and the rape of Kamal that is implied, are examples of how the rule of law had essentially collapsed. Though the war has forced Baba and Amir to leave their home and nearly all their possessions behind, Baba only believes more strongly in the necessity of acting with dignity and doing what is right. As he declares to the Russian guard, decency becomes even more important during times of war. This is in large part why Baba becomes furious at Karim when he discovers that Karim has lied and there is no truck waiting to take them to Pakistan, and it is what motivates him to risk his life to preserve the dignity of a woman he doesn’t even know. To him, he is trying to preserve the honor of not just one person, but of all of Afghanistan. The episode is another instance of the overarching theme of the rape of Afghanistan’s powerless by those in power.
The move to America represents two completely different things to Amir and Baba. In California, Baba feels disconnected from everything he knows. In Kabul, he would send Amir and Hassan to the baker with a stick. The baker would make a notch in the stick for each loaf of bread he gave, and at the end of the month, Baba paid the baker according to how many notches there were. When the manager at the convenience store asks Baba for ID, Baba feels insulted because he takes it as a sign of distrust. He doesn’t recognize that it is a normal question in the U.S. Baba has also lost social status. In Kabul, he was wealthy and respected. In California, he earns low wages working at a gas station. Amir makes a particularly ironic comment, remarking that some of the homes he sees make Baba’s house in Kabul look like a servant’s hut. In the past, Ali and Hassan were the servants, and Baba was the master. Now Baba is more like a servant himself. These differences leave Baba perpetually frustrated. In small ways, he continues trying to reclaim his life in Kabul, like when he buys everyone drinks the night of Amir’s graduation.
Amir also feels disconnected from everything he knew in Kabul, but for him, this disconnection has a different meaning. He sees it as an opportunity for a new beginning, and he thinks of America as a place where he can literally escape his past. Most significantly, it is a place where he doesn’t have to be reminded of Hassan and the rape. The metaphor Amir chooses to describe America is a river. Here, the metaphor has two meanings that are related but separate. First, a river always moves forward. In other words, it is always moving toward the future and never toward the past. Second, the river is a common symbol for washing away sin. In Christianity, for instance, baptism symbolizes purification and regeneration. Amir similarly wants a new birth, free of the sins he committed in letting Hassan be raped and lying to force Hassan and Ali out of Baba’s house.