Chapter 1 opens with the words "December 2001." A nameless narrator immediately refers back to the winter of 1975, when the narrator "became what I am today" and obliquely mentions an event that occurred in an alley when he was twelve years old. The narrator then mentions a phone call last summer from a friend in Pakistan, Rahim Khan, and unatoned sins. Going for a walk, the narrator notices kites flying in the San Francisco sky. He recalls Hassan, the harelipped kite runner and list names such as Baba, Ali, and Kabul. The chapter ends with another reference to 1975 and the assertion that the event that transpired in the winter of 1975 "made me what I am today."
The subheading to the chapter immediately sets the time for the present, but the first sentence indicates the narrative technique of flashback. Two different settings are established — San Francisco and Afghanistan — which illustrates the two primary purposes of Chapter 1: to provide exposition and to build suspense. The subheading indicates what the reader presumes to be the present. The narrator, being thirty-eight years old, not only can share experiences from his youth, but also can comment upon them. The narrator asserts "I became what I am today at the age of twelve" and it is up to the reader to determine the relative truth of this assertion. Once the reader determines the accuracy of this statement, the reader will be able to determine the reliability of the narrator.
Suspense is created through a variety of means — the nameless narrator (who is he? what is the gender of the narrator?), the mentioning of San Francisco and Kabul (how are these two places related?), the listing of other characters (who are Rahim Khan, Baba, Ali, and Hassan?), the off-handed mention of kite running (what is it?), and the event from twenty-five years prior (what was it? how did it affect the narrator?). This chapter clearly raises more questions than it answers.
In addition to providing exposition and building suspense, this brief chapter also introduces important themes and symbols. Important thematic topics in The Kite Runner include the price of theft, hubris, the love of child, brothers, the past affecting the present, and the atonement for sins. Some important symbols include kites, a harelip, brothers, and dualities (of life in Afghanistan versus life in the Western World; summer versus winter; lies and truth; and good and evil). As is the case with many novels, readers are not immediately aware of what is thematically and symbolically significant and may not fully appreciate their inclusion in Chapter 1 until re-reading the chapter after completing the entire text.
The chapter highlights two important lines "for you, a thousand times over" and "there is a way to be good again" by putting both in italics. These lines relate specifically to character, plot, and thematic development throughout The Kite Runner. They also encompass the ideas of service and loyalty and, again, the idea of atonement for sins.
Baba and Ali are characters, and Kabul is a city, yet all three are presented in a list. Readers who do not know that Kabul is a city are at a slight disadvantage, but not for long. And although knowledge of historical events in Afghanistan is not required to understand and appreciate The Kite Runner, this information could assist in understanding the text.