The Kite Runner is the story of two boys growing up against the dramatic background of 1970s Afghanistan. Amir is the young son of an admired and wealthy Kabul businessman. Hassan, son of their poor servant Ali, is his companion.

The two boys are inseparable, playing together and working as a team, most notably in the annual kite-fighting competition in Kabul.   Yet in an Afghanistan divided by ethnicity, the Hazara underclass to which Hassan belongs does not attend school or learn to read. Hassan lives in the mud hut at the bottom of Amir’s garden.

Yet despite his privileges, Amir above all seeks approval from his Baba (father), who  despairs of his son’s inability to perform to his own standards. Amir cannot play football, has no stomach for a fight and is regularly carsick.   He writes stories, a talent in which Baba has no interest. It is Hassan who seems to have the skills and courage Baba looks for in Amir.

In his determination to win the admiration of Baba, Amir finds ways to humiliate Hassan, who will do anything Amir asks. But he is unable to provoke him and thus assuage his own guilty feelings. Amir’s failure to protect his friend from a vicious attack by three local boys leads to an unspeakable tragedy. Driven by guilt, he commits an act of terrible betrayal, accusing Hassan of a fabricated crime and so forcing Ali and Hassan to leave Kabul.

Amir carries his guilt with him to America, where he and his father take refuge when the Russians invade Afghanistan. Baba and Amir lead a modest life in California, earning money by selling used goods at a flea market.  Amir successfully pursues his dream of being a writer, and marries an Afghan girl he meets at the market.  But just as Afghanistan remains wracked by conflict through the 1980s and 1990s, so he remains haunted by guilt.

It is the need for redemption that finally draws him back to Taliban-governed Afghanistan, after many years of safe life in California, in a final, hair-raising act of unqualified bravery and altruism.