Set primarily in Afghanistan, Kabul-born Hosseini's poignant debut novel follows the complicated relationship between young Amir, his wealthy merchant father, and Hassan, his best friend and the son of his father's servant. After failing to defend Hassan against a brutal assault, guilt-ridden Amir escapes to America -- until a phone call forces him to return home. Hosseini smoothly adds Farsi words to his clear, plot-driven prose; at one point, Amir's enemy eerily foreshadows the slaughter of a persecuted ethnic minority: ''I'll ask the president to do what the King didn't have the quwat to do. To rid Afghanistan of all the dirty, kasseef Hazaras.'' The Kite Runner offers a moving portrait of modern Afghanistan, from its pre-Russian-invasion glory days through the terrible reign of the Taliban.