Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini's debut novel is simply a remarkable achievement. I suspect that most readers of The Kite Runner come to the book knowing relatively little about Afghan history prior to what has happened there during the last three decades, beginning with the Russian invasion and ending with the American ouster of Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan's Taliban government. Hosseini begins his story in the early 1970s, prior to those events, and describes an Afghani lifestyle that was soon to be destroyed and replaced by a culture of repression and warfare that dominates to the present day.

Amir, the son of a powerful Kabul businessman, considers himself to be a coward. And, for the most part, he is correct. He senses that he is a disappointment to his father and has largely resolved himself to the fact that he will never please the man. But his father's affection for Hassan, the household's servant boy and Amir's best friend, is a painful and constant reminder of the distance between himself and his only surviving parent.

Despite their differences in religious beliefs and social status, and the fact that Hassan is Amir's servant, the two boys grow up more like brothers than anything else. Hassan becomes a fiercely loyal best friend to Amir, someone who protects him from the city's bullies and looks out for him in every way possible. Amir, on the other hand, can never really forget that Hassan is a servant boy and a Hazara, a minority loathed by the dominant Afghani culture for its differences in religious beliefs and physical appearance. When one day faced with the chance to save Hassan from being humiliated and physically abused by his tormentors, Amir's courage fails him and he runs, leaving his friend to his terrible fate.

Amir, unable to live with what he's done or to face Hassan again, compounds his lack of courage with a scheme that is destined to forever change the lives of everyone in his household, a scheme that comes to haunt Amir himself more than anyone else. Even a new life in San Francisco with his father after fleeing the Taliban takeover of Kabul is not enough to erase the guilt that Amir feels, and when offered a chance to do some good for Hassan and his family, Amir somehow finds enough courage to return to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to offer his help.

Khaled Hosseini tells his tale of Afghanistan's tragic history through the eyes of its people, citizens who are living ordinary lives with everyday problems and who are largely content with their world. His characters are sympathetic and believable, and their experiences and reactions to what has happened to their country give the reader a better understanding of life in that part of the world than any history book or news magazine will ever offer. The same can be said for Hosseini's depiction of the close-knit Afghan immigrant community that has settled in San Francisco, a group he describes so compassionately and so completely that he leaves his reader with a good feel for what the immigrant experience is like in a world influenced by today's politics.

The Kite Runner is one of those rare novels that it would be a shame to miss. So don't.

Rated at: 5.0

14 comments:

  1. This one got a 5/5 from me as well...great book!

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  2. I really enjoyed this book as well. Considering that I thought the protagonist was a spoiled little creep half the time and still cared what happened to him and his family, it was a great book.

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  3. Joy - I don't know why I waited so long to read this one.

    Carrie - He was definitely a creep, but I suppose that's what made him so fascinating. Even at the end of the book I wasn't totally sure how i fell about Amir.

    Bybee - I think you'll be happy that you did.

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  4. Glad you loved it too, Sam! I can't wait to read the next one!

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  5. I've read it, Amy, and in several ways, I actually prefer it to The Kite Runner, but both are absolutely excellent.

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  6. I loved The Kite Runner and was excited to see the trailer at the movies the other night when I went to see Becoming Jane (it is coming out sometime this fall. I can't wait to see if it is as wonderful in film.
    Stephanie
    www.thewrittenword.wordpress.com

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  7. I will definitely want to see the movie, Stephanie. Do you know where they shot the film, by any chance?

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  8. I didn't miss it, but unlike everyone else, I barely felt more than neutral about it. I think it's an important book, for obvious reasons. But I didn't enjoy it more than average, if that makes sense?

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  9. Glad you liked it - I thought Hosseini's writing was fabulous. Have you read A Thousand Splendid Suns yet? Great review of this book.

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  10. I'm happy every time someone reads this book. It is, indeed, remarkable. Absolutely remarkable.
    SmallWorld

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  11. Dewey, I think I understand what you're saying...is it that the subject and content are important but the writing style didn't work particularly well for you?

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  12. Thanks, Trish. I read the second book first and liked it almost as much as I liked this one. They both offer fascinating glimpses into a world that I never knew before.

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  13. Gotta agree with you, Sarah. Both of his books are special.

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