The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was a discovery. I devoured the book between Birdsong and Catcher in the Rye. Not on purpose. I was certain it was the book I needed to read for January 4th 2017. Turns out it wasn’t. But I read it in less than 2 days.
The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir a young Pashtun boy from Kabul and his best friend Hassan, his father’s young Hazara servant. Against the backdrop of turbulent events in Afghanistan, it tells the story of how one night changed the lives of these two boys forever.
Amir is the narrator and tells his story in the first person, with a candor that surprises from an adult perspective even as he looks back on his youth. It feels a bit like a memoir. Amir doesn’t try to lead us astray or to lie about his temper and character: I guess that’s part of the reason The Catcher in the Rye fell short of my expectations.
Amir tells us he’s an entitled boy – by birth – whose entire purpose is to impress his father and earn his love, sometimes by any means necessary, even lying. But he lacks the virtues his father wants to see in him. On the other hand, Hassan lives to make Amir worthier in his father’s eyes. Still it seems to Amir his father loves Hassan best. As they age, Amir shows that he’s not a very good person even to his best friend: he thinks himself better, pulls harmless yet mean pranks on his friend. Yet together they fly and run kites during the kite event of the winter. The young people fly kites with the purpose of cutting the thread of the others; the last flying kite wins. Then there are the kite runners; every time a kite falls the kids run to grab the kite and bring them home. Another type of victory. And Hassan is the best runner there is in Kabhul.
After the Shah’s government is undone and the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir and his father escape to the USA by way of Pakistan. They leave a life of comfort and ease for a life of uncertainty. Still, the community sticks together and they help each other. Some two decades later, the past catches up with Amir and he returns to Afghanistan to help Hassan’s son, and he learns a number of things about his father, himself and his best friend.
I devoured The Kite Runner. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it so much. It is a rich tale on so many levels. First there’s the background of Afghan culture: how it was, what it became. The details of the kite competition, how the world of children sometimes crosses that of adults but how they never really meet, except when hurt happens. And Hassan is hurt badly.
Second there’s the constant struggle among those who had to leave their home country for another place. They reproduce the culture they know in a place that doesn’t necessarily want them to remain as they were but to adapt to where they arrived. And in the end they realize what they brought with them disappeared.
Third, the relationships between the different characters are extremely rich and powerful. And the fact that the narrator ends up being not such a nice guy in the end, betraying his best friend – not once but twice – and then the child… because he’s scared makes this book very relevant. Can we judge? What would we do?
A fascinating read that I would most definitely recommend.
Have you read it?
What did you think?