Summary and Analysis Chapter 20



Amir is shocked at what he finds when he finally returns to Kabul. Everywhere he looks he sees "rubble and beggars." Amir notices that there are no trees. They were cut down for two reasons: the first, to provide fuel in the winter, and the second, to prevent snipers from hiding in them. When a Taliban truck passes by, Amir makes the mistake of making eye contact with the men. Farid admonishes him as soon as the truck passes. A beggar confirms that Farid is giving good advice. Amir ends up giving the beggar some money, and he quotes a line of poetry from Hafez. This man used to be a professor and taught with Amir's mother. He shares a story with Amir, telling Amir that his mother liked almond cake with honey.

The beggar provides directions to the new orphanage, and Farid and Amir find it. Initially Zaman, the man who runs the orphanage, claims to not know Sohrab; however, Amir is insistent, describes Sohrab's previous life, and admits that he is the boy's half uncle. Zaman opens the door and meets with Amir and Farid.

Zaman admits that a Taliban official arrives every month or two with money and takes a child, usually a girl but sometimes a boy. Farid is outraged at this confession and attacks Zaman. Farid begins to strangle Zaman, and the only way Amir can get him to stop is to tell him that the children are watching. Zaman tells them where to find this Taliban official — the one wearing black sunglasses — and asks Amir and Farid to leave.


One of the most highly criticized passages in the novel is Amir's chance encounter with a beggar who once taught with Amir's mother at the university. The author attempts to address this by having Amir state that neither he nor Farid even comment upon what "most non-Afghans would have seen as an improbable coincidence." But his explanation is unsatisfactory. At least Amir realistically admits that he never saw the beggar again. The beggar clearly exists to demonstrate how many have fallen and suffered under the Taliban, but this character could have achieved this purpose without the unlikely coincidence of having known Amir's mother. Other critics contend, however, that the information is necessary because it completes the symmetry with Hassan, whose mother physically returns.

Unlike the episode with the chance beggar, the scene at the orphanage is considered quite realistic and altogether necessary. Again, the difficulties of life under the Taliban regime are exposed. Zaman symbolizes those who must make impossible choices, sacrificing one for the sake of the many.