The Kite Runner
Premise: In Kabul during the 1970s, Amir befriends Hassan, the Hazara son of his father’s servant, and they spend their days kite fighting. Whilst Hassan idolises Amir, Amir becomes jealous of the fact that his father treats Hassan like a second son. Following an incident with an older boy called Assef (who has a taste for violence), the relationship between the two boys becomes strained due to Amir’s sense of guilt and cowardice. He commits an act of betrayal that haunts him as he moves to America and pursues his dreams of becoming a writer. With Afghanistan plunged into turmoil, Amir eventually decides to return in order to right the wrong that he did his childhood friend.
When we watch the evening news and see long-running conflict and suffering in other countries, it is easy to imagine that what we are witnessing has always been the case. Therefore, it is wonderful that “The Kite Runner” starts in a pre-conflict Kabul where children can be children and adults can hold relatively liberal views. We are introduced to the colourful, chaotic world of the city. A sense of culture shines through in Hosseini’s descriptions and the way he portrays the various traditions (such as the kite fighting sequence) helps transport us into the picture that he is painting. It is not all completely rosy, however, and there are tensions below the surface that explain the issues that bubble up later in the book. Notably, there is a friction between the different ethnic groups and the absence of women in Amir’s household foreshadows the way that women will become hidden away behind bourkas etc. during the Taliban regime (which is something that Hosseini explores in more detail in “A Thousand Splendid Suns”).
This is a novel with great emotional impact. There is the love and anger of Amir’s father. There is Amir’s jealousy, the way his sense of guilt builds up inside of him. There is a melancholy to the middle section when Amir and his father have moved to America and a real sense of trepidation about his return to Afghanistan. Hosseini has a way of writing that really brings these various emotions to the fore. As the narrative shifts forward in time and through different locations, you can’t help but feel invested in the story. You find yourself being impressed or disappointed with the protagonist, wanting him to succeed in his writing career and willing him to make the right choices in life. It is, then, a gut-punch of a novel but, luckily, it ends on an optimistic note. You feel that there is hope for Amir and the other characters as the story comes to a close. And there is equally a sense of hope that Afghanistan might someday return to something resembling the carefree playground that it was at the start of the novel.
Other books on the theme of guilt: “Atonement” (Ian McEwan), “The Reader” (Bernhard Schlink)
Other novels by Khaled Hosseini: “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, “And the Mountains Echoed”