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The Kite Runner | Study Guide

Khaled Hosseini

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The Kite Runner | Chapter 20 | Summary



Chapter 20 opens with Amir and Farid driving to Kabul. Along the way Farid points to mud-hut villages and reveals that most inhabitants are either dead or in refugee camps in Pakistan.

When the car finally reaches Kabul, Amir understands why Farid had warned him that Kabul is not the same. Despite knowing this Amir is still shocked when he sees that his birthplace is filled with rubble and beggars. Unlike the old days the beggars now are mostly children. Some sit in their mothers' laps, but hardly any are with an adult male.

Amir asks Farid to pull over so that he can take a quick walk. When a pickup truck approaches them Amir gets his first look at Taliban soldiers and notices they are stern-faced, bearded, black-turbaned young men, with rifles slung on their shoulders. One of them, who also has a whip, sees Amir and holds his gaze.

When the truck drives off Farid hisses at Amir for staring. An old beggar confirms that he might as well "poke a rabid dog with a stick." He explains: "They drive around looking. Looking and hoping that someone will provoke them. Sooner or later, someone always obliges. Then the dogs feast and the day's boredom is broken at last and everyone says 'Allah-u-akbar!' And on those days when no one offends, well, there is always random violence, isn't there?" Amir learns that the beggar was once a professor at the university where his mother also taught. He asks the professor about his mother and says he would like to continue the conversation later.

At the orphanage the director does not let them in until Farid assures him that they are not with the Taliban, and Amir reveals that he is the half-uncle of Sohrab. Inside they walk through grimy hallways, plastic-sheeted windows, and mattress-less beds for about 250 barefoot, barely clothed, hungry children. Amir learns that many of the children are here because their fathers were killed in war and their mothers can't feed them because the Taliban forbids women to work. What's worse is that these children are the lucky ones. Every day the director has to turn away mothers who beg him to take their children.

To buy food for the children, the director accepts cash from a Taliban official. But in return he allows the official to take a child. When Farid hears this he pins the director to the floor and strangles him. Amir tries to pull him off, but Farid insists on killing the man who sells children. Not wanting to be a passive witness to a murder, Amir keeps a physical grip on Farid and tries to calm his anger by telling him that the children are watching. Farid turns and sees the children holding hands and crying.

When the director regains his breath he reveals that the Taliban official took Sohrab a month ago. When Amir asks who the official is the director tells them to go to Ghazi Stadium tomorrow and look at halftime for a man in black sunglasses.


This chapter confirms the purpose revealed in the previous chapter. Even the only detailed memory Amir has of his mother is overshadowed by the Taliban. The old beggar Amir and Farid meet used to teach poetry at the university, and he remembers how Amir's mother used to sit and talk with him after class. One rainy day she admitted that she was scared because she was so happy: "They only let you be this happy if they're preparing to take something from you." At the time she was talking about being happily married and very pregnant, and her use of "they" referred to some unnamed higher powers of the universe; since the reader knows that she died in childbirth her words are eerily prophetic. But "they" could also refer to the Taliban, whose initial appearance was celebrated but now is a source of terror.

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