The Kite Runner is the story of strained family relationships between a father and a son, and between two brothers, how they deal with guilt and forgiveness, and how they weather the political and social transformations of Afghanistan from the 1970s to 2001. The Kite Runner opens in 2001. The adult narrator, Amir, lives in San Francisco and is contemplating his past, thinking about a boyhood friend whom he has betrayed. The action of the story then moves backward in time to the narrator's early life in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he is the only child of a privileged merchant. Amir's closest friend is his playmate and servant Hassan, a poor illiterate boy who is a member of the Hazara ethnic minority. The Kite Runner, a coming-of-age novel, deals with the themes of identity, loyalty, courage, and deception. As the protagonist Amir grows to adulthood, he must come to terms with his past wrongs and adjust to a new culture after leaving Afghanistan for the United States.
The novel sets the interpersonal drama of the characters against the backdrop of the modern history of Afghanistan, sketching the political and economic toll of the instability of various regimes in Afghanistan; from the end of the monarchy to the Soviet-backed government of the 1980s to the fundamentalist Taliban government of the 1990s. The action closes soon after the fall of the Taliban and alludes to the rise of Hamid Karzai as leader of a new Afghan government in the wake of the events of September 11, 2001.