Summary: Chapter 22
Amir and Farid arrive at the house where Amir will meet the Taliban official. Farid waits in the car, and two guards lead Amir to the room where he is to wait. Amir thinks to himself it may have been a mistake to stop acting like a coward. The Taliban official enters with some guards. Amir and the official greet each other, then one of the guards tears off Amir’s fake beard. The official asks Amir if he enjoyed the show at the stadium. He says it wasn’t as good as when they went door-to-door shooting families in their homes. It was liberating. Amir realizes the official is talking about the massacre of Hazaras in Mazar-i-Sharif, which Amir had read about in newspapers.
The official asks what Amir is doing in America. Amir only answers that he is looking for Sohrab. The official motions to the guards, and Sohrab enters in a blue silk outfit, bells strapped around his ankles and mascara lining his eyes. The guards make Sohrab dance until the Taliban official orders them to leave. While the official rubs Sohrab’s stomach, he asks Amir whatever happened to old Babalu, a name Assef used to call Ali, and Amir realizes that the Taliban official is actually Assef. Stunned, Amir says he will pay him for the boy. Assef replies that money is irrelevant and not why he joined the Taliban. He tells Amir he was once imprisoned, and one evening a guard began kicking him until the blows dislodged a kidney stone that had been causing him severe pain. He felt relief and began laughing. At that moment he knew God was on his side.
Assef says he is on a mission to rid Afghanistan of garbage. Amir calls it ethnic cleansing and says he wants Sohrab. Shoving Sohrab forward, Assef says he and Amir have unfinished business. Assef tells the guards that if Amir exits the room alive, he has earned the right to leave. Then Assef puts on a pair of brass knuckles. Amir remembers little after that. There are flashes of Assef hitting him and swallowing teeth and blood. Amir remembers laughing while Assef beat him, and feeling relief. He had looked forward to that, and felt healed for the first time. Sohrab told Assef to stop and held up his slingshot, and when Assef lunged at him, Sohrab fired, hitting him in the left eye. Sohrab and Amir ran out of the house to where Farid waited with the car. As they drove away, Amir passed out.
Summary: Chapter 23
A blur of images followed: a woman named Aisha, a man with the mustache, someone he recognizes. Slipping in and out of consciousness, he imagines Baba wrestling the bear. Amir meets Baba’s eyes and realizes he is the one wrestling the bear. He wakes up and discovers he is in the hospital in Peshawar. The people he saw are doctors, and Farid was the man he recognized. Amir’s mouth is wired shut. His upper lit is split, the bone of his left eye socket broken, several of his ribs cracked, and his spleen ruptured. Farid and Sohrab are there, and Amir thanks them both. Farid tells Amir that Rahim Khan has gone, but he left a note.
In his note, Rahim Khan says he knew everything that happened with Hassan. Though what Amir did was wrong, he was too hard on himself. He knows Amir suffered because of how Baba treated him, but there was a reason. Because Baba couldn’t love Hassan openly, he felt guilty and took it out on Amir, whom Baba thought of as his socially legitimate half. But real good came from Baba’s remorse, Rahim Khan says. The orphanage Baba built, the poor that he fed, were his way of redeeming himself. Rahim Khan also leaves Amir a key to a safe-deposit box with money to cover Amir’s expenses. He has little time left, he writes, and Amir should not look for him. The next morning, Amir gives Farid the names of the American couple that runs the orphanage. Amir spends the day playing cards with Sohrab, who barely speaks. Amir decides Peshawar isn’t safe, and when Farid learns there never was an American couple to care for Sohrab, Amir leaves for Islamabad and takes Sohrab with him.
The climax of the novel, in which Amir is finally able to atone for his past, occurs in Amir’s fight against Assef. In another instance of irony, Amir discovers the Taliban official he must rescue Sohrab from is the same person that raped Hassan all those years ago. Yet the bizarre coincidence also creates a situation in which Amir is able to confront the same scenario that was the source of his guilt more than twenty years earlier. From the way Assef touches Sohrab and what he says to Amir, Amir has no doubt at this point that Assef has been sexually abusing Sohrab. Because Sohrab represents a living piece of Hassan, Assef continues a figurative rape of Hassan. But Amir is now in a position to stop this. He can do what Baba always hoped he would and stand up for what is right. As Rahim Khan put it, it is his way to be good again.
In multiple instances, foreshadowing from earlier in the novel is fulfilled in these chapters. In a confrontation with Assef years earlier, Hassan had threatened to shoot Assef’s eye out. In response, Assef said he would get his revenge on Hassan and Amir both. Now, Assef has his revenge against Amir. But Hassan’s threat is also carried out vicariously through Sohrab, who shoots out Assef’s eye as he saves Amir with his slingshot. Representing the idea of an eye for an eye, Assef gets what he deserves. For Amir, the situation means he can now intervene in Hassan’s rape, at least symbolically, by saving Sohrab from further sexual abuse. Though Assef brutally beats Amir, Amir’s goal isn’t to win the fight. The fact that he did not run is what’s important, and as Amir says, in a way he welcomes the beating. It is the punishment he deserved for his actions toward Hassan, but which he never received. It is the reason he feels relief and a sense of healing as Assef beats him, and why he begins laughing.
Amir’s laughter establishes a significant parallel between Amir and Assef. Before he challenges Amir to a fight, Assef tells a story about the time he was imprisoned. He says he began to laugh as a guard kicked him because it ended the pain he suffered from his kidney stone. Amir’s laughing, though stemming from the relief of a different pain, clearly mirrors Assef’s. Moreover, while Amir is in the hospital recovering he describes a dream in which Assef tells him, “We’re the same, you and I. You nursed with him, but you’re my twin.” (p.307). In fact, the novel establishes a few similarities between Amir and Assef. Both Amir and Assef are Pashtuns from wealthy, well-connected families, and they shared similar upbringings. They represent a particular part of Afghan society, namely the ruling powers. In his note to Amir, Rahim Khan even tells Amir that Baba thought of him as the socially legitimate part of his life, the part that inherited wealth and with it a freedom from punishment, which made Baba feel guilty.
Hassan, on the other hand, represented the poor and oppressed part of Afghanistan. He was the illegitimate boy whom Baba wanted to love but could never love publicly. In this context, Amir and Hassan act as the different sides of their country—the rich and poor, Sunni and Shia, Pashtun and Hazara, powerful and powerless—who are nonetheless still children of the same father. In allowing Assef to rape Hassan, Amir became complicit in the domination of the powerless by the powerful. Only by intervening on behalf of Sohrab, essentially sacrificing himself as Hassan once sacrificed himself for him, does Amir redeem himself. He takes a stand against this domination, and in doing so he is left with a split upper lip, recalling Hassan’s cleft lip. In Hassan’s case, his cleft lip acted as a kind of mark of his position in society. For Amir it is a symbol of his sacrifice, and it signifies the union of Afghanistan’s two halves. Through Amir, Khaled Hosseini subtly suggests that if Afghanistan is to atone for its own guilty history of violence and discrimination, it must redeem itself through a similar stand and a similar sacrifice. It is the way for Afghanistan to be good again.