The Kite Runner is set initially in Afghanistan, and it’s a tale of father and son and of betrayal and forgiveness. Amir, the protagonist and narrator, is the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, while his best friend, Hassan, is a Hazara and a servant. I learned from reading the book that the Hazaras are an ethnic group within Afghanistan and that they are looked down upon because they are Shi’ite Muslims rather than Sunni and because of their ethnicity and poverty. Because Amir and his father do not understand one another and because family secrets poison the atmosphere in their home, Amir escapes into a world of books. He also spends a lot of time playing with his servant/friend Hassan, and it is Hassan who defends Amir when the two encounter bullies or other difficulties. Amir, writing this story from the vantage point of adulthood, is ashamed of the way he used and depended upon Hassan, and he is especially ashamed of one incident that happened when Amir was twelve years old and that, he says, changed his life forever.
“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” So Amir begins his story. The rest of the novel is a sort of quest for atonement and forgiveness. Even though others forgive Amir for his weakness and cowardice as a twelve year old boy, Amir canot forgive himself until he is called upon to do something dangerous to atone for his sin. Even when he gets himself almost killed in a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, Amir cannot remove all the consequences of his misdeeds. He can only live with what he has done and try to see glimpses of hope.
This novel is Dr. Khaled Hosseini’s first, and it was number seven at Amazon when I checked tonight. Pretty good for a first time novelist. His description of growing up in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and before the Taliban features boys running the streets freely, hurling pebbles at passing goats, and kite-fighting. Kite-fighting was a popular sport in prewar Afghanistan, and Amir and Hassan work together to become the best kite flyers in the city. Hassan has a further talent: he is the best kite runner, hence the title of the novel. A kite runner retrieves the fallen kite of an opponent, and his reward is to hang the kite, or perhaps many kites, on a wall as a trophy, a reminder of his triumph. Hassan runs the kites–and gives them to Amir, and then he is called upon to give much more than just kites. Later, Amir must repay Hassan’s courage and selflessness with matching courage.
Another significant role reversal takes place in the novel, too. In Afghanistan, Amir’s father, Baba, is a strong man, respected, even beloved. Amir feels he can never live up to his father’s reputation nor his expectations. When the two men immigrate to the United States, Amir slowly becomes the strong one. He says of his father that he liked the idea of living in America, but actually living there gave him an ulcer. Amir seems not to realize that his strong, self-sufficient father is now dependent on him. Such changes do happen so slowly that we are surprised by them. Hosseini does a good job of showing this transition from boy to man as it occurs—in fits and starts, almost imperceptibly.
Excellent novel, highly recommended. This one and Acts of Faith are both on my A list for this year. I’ve been blessed to read several good recently published fiction books lately. Are the selections from the publishers improving? This book would make a great movie, but it may be too politically incorrect for Hollywood. The Muslims in the book are a mixed lot, some good, some bad, and the Taliban-types are totally evil.