Summary and Analysis
The preface to Chapter 10 is "March 1981," moving the narrative forward five years. An eighteen-year-old Amir and his father are leaving Kabul in the middle of the night to the relative safety of Pakistan. Amir hints at the changes Afghanistan has endured during the past five years and the terror state it has become. At one of the checkpoints, a Russian soldier demands thirty minutes with one of the female passengers, yet Baba stands up to him. Amir feebly asks his father to sit down. Once again, Amir's cowardice is a source of embarrassment for Baba.
When the truck isn't ready to take them on to Peshawar, Amir realizes he is in a dark basement room with about thirty others. Among those others is Kamal, one of the boys who hung around Assef. Catching snippets of conversation, Amir overhears that Kamal had an encounter with four men who presumably treated him the way Assef treated Hassan. Although the truck that was supposed to transport them is beyond repair, an offer is made to smuggle the refugees in a fuel truck. In order to help him through this ordeal, Amir thinks of a pleasant memory of him and Hassan flying kites.
After they climb out of the fuel truck, Amir sums up the total of Baba's existence in Pakistan: "One disappointing son and two suitcases." Yet the suitcases are not the final image of the chapter. Chapter 10 ends with Kamal's father committing suicide after the death of his son due to the gas fumes in the tanker.
The jump of five years indicates that nothing of major significance has occurred in Amir's personal life between the time he betrayed Hassan and the escape he and his father made. There obviously were major changes in Afghanistan, the details of which are only alluded to here but are made more apparent later in the novel. It is quite significant that when Baba instructs Amir to think of something happy, the thoughts are of a time before the winter of 1975, suggesting that the past five years have not been happy ones. The memory that sustains Amir during the ride in the tank of a fuel truck symbolizes Amir's childhood and innocence. Amir doesn't remember the exact month or even year because a child's sense of time isn't the same as an adult's. But clearly Amir's childhood was better than his young adulthood, and the implication is that it was better than most of his adult life, too.
The episode with the Russian soldier reveals the complexity of Baba's character. What he is unable to demonstrate toward his son in compassion, decency, and understanding, he shows toward a total stranger. Baba has a code of honor, of righteousness, of virtue, and of strength. He believes in bravery, honor, pride, decency, and understanding. All of these are the marks of a hero, and that is why many other characters in the novel consider Baba to be a great man. But being a great man does not make one a great father, and most of the reader's knowledge of Baba has come from Amir's skewed perspective. Baba is also caught in a cultural quagmire, not being able to identify Ali and Hassan as anything more than loyal servants, even after all they have experienced together. And although Baba had purchased many things for Amir, his simple advice in the fuel tanker to "think of something good" is his greatest show of paternal love yet for his son. Clearly, Baba is also a morally ambiguous character.
The detail about the two suitcases is significant because although their lives in Afghanistan were extremely different from one another's, the only difference between Ali and Hassan's leaving of their longtime home and Baba and Amir's leaving is one suitcase. Ali and Hassan had one suitcase when they left in the rain; Baba and Amir had only one more than that. Both sets of fathers and sons are forced to leave their home through no fault of their own.
The episode about Kamal and his father is important for a number of reasons. It not only symbolizes the volatile nature of power and those ruling Afghanistan, but also demonstrates that when power shifts occur, those who are the abusers may become the abused. Some critics contend that this is an example of divine justice, while others point out that the leader and instigator — Assef — is not the one who suffers, thus illustrating that the minions and servants suffer for the decisions of those in power. This, of course, is another parallel to the relationship between Amir and Hassan. The relationship between Kamal and his father also provides a contrast for the relationship between Amir and Baba. The love Kamal's father has for his son is so intense — and perhaps his own personal sense of guilt so great — that when Kamal dies, his father is unwilling to go on living and kills himself. Baba is either not willing or not able to demonstrate that level of intense emotion for his son.