Summary and Analysis
Chapter 23 is divided into brief episodes, which indicate Amir's slipping in and out of consciousness. Initially, his sense of time is distorted, and he is continually fading in and out. Mixed in with his periods of consciousness is the dream of Baba wrestling a bear; the dream changes and Baba merges with Amir.
The man with the Clark Gable moustache is Dr. Faruqi, who tells Amir that he is in a hospital in Peshawar. Among other injuries, Amir suffers from a ruptured spleen, seven broken ribs, a punctured lung, lacerations, and a fracture of the eye socket bone. Amir's jaw will be wired shut for six weeks.
As Amir remains conscious, he realizes where he is and recognizes Farid and Sohrab. He notices an old man who enters the room, looks at all the patients, and then exits silently. Farid tells Amir that Rahim Khan is gone, but Rahim Khan had left a letter and a key. In the letter, Rahim Khan admits that he knows all that had happened during the running of the kites. He also explains that Amir was a physical representation of Baba's guilt; that is, although Baba loved both Hassan and Amir — his two sons — he was unable to demonstrate openly his love for Hassan. Baba viewed Amir, the legitimate son, as a physical manifestation of the ability of the upper class to act without retribution. Baba saw himself in Amir. And just as Amir longed for physical punishment from Hassan under the pomegranate tree, Baba longed for his own punishment, something he would never receive. The letter talks of the need for forgiveness. The key is to a safe-deposit box that contains a significant amount of money that should cover Amir's expenses. Finally, Rahim Khan asks Amir not to try to find him.
As Amir is recovering, Farid encourages him to leave Peshawar as soon as possible; this triggers Amir's memory of the silent old man, who may be a spy for the Taliban. Farid suggests moving to Islamabad in order to buy some time and remain hidden from the Taliban. Amir asks Farid to find John and Betty Caldwell. Amir and Sohrab play cards to pass the time.
Amir's plan is to leave the hospital, get the money from the bank, and drop Sohrab off at the orphanage run by the Caldwells; however, when Farid arrives, he tells Amir that the Caldwells never existed. Thus, Sohrab travels with Amir to Islamabad. During the ride there, Amir dozes. While he sleeps, he remembers various incidents and events from his life. The images flash quickly from one to another, and the final image is the memory of Rahim Khan saying "A way to be good again."
Amir's equating himself with Baba is an indication that Amir finally feels like a son his father can be proud of. Amir's ability to stand up to Assef — his own personal bear — marks a change in Amir's perception of self. He is no longing living in the shadow of Hassan or his father; rather, he is a man who is making his way in the world.
The injury to Amir's lip is like a harelip, an obvious parallel to Hassan and the connection between the brothers. Many critics are disappointed with the author's writing in this section, contending that the fragment, "Like a harelip" is both unnecessary and heavy-handed because the explanation that the impact cut the lip "clean down the middle" provides the necessary imagery for readers to make the connection. The repetition of "clean down the middle" followed by the fragment "like a harelip" seems to indicate that readers will not or cannot make the connection on their own.
The letter from Rahim Khan serves as a direct thematic statement: "True redemption is . . . when guilt leads to good." The good to which Rahim Khan refers initially seems to be Amir's rescuing Sohrab from the orphanage. The true intent of the statement is Amir's decision to parent Sohrab. Rahim Khan's letter is also a statement about faith, God, and forgiveness. All three of these are important thematic topics in The Kite Runner, and their impact on Amir are made clear in the subsequent chapters.
The chapter ends with a collage of images, all relating to Rahim Khan's statement to Amir, "There is a way to be good again." The word "again" indicates that Amir was indeed good at one time, and in order to be restored to that state of grace, the implication is that Amir must do something to atone for his sins. And rescuing Sohrab is only the beginning, not the end, of what he must do.