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The Kite RunnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime…”

Set in Afghanistan during the 1970’s, ‘The Kite Runner’ is an insightful novel that spans three decades of the life and customs of a people and a country that have tragically become synonymous with terrorism. The story opens on an Afghanistan very few of us know or even care to remember; at a time when its streets and people were not ravaged by the mania of religious extremism and war; when it was (believe it or not) a country of prosperity and liberal thought.

Growing up in the midst of this is our narrator Amir with his odd family made up of his father Toghfan Aga, a bear-like man who is among the wealthiest and most respected public figure in Kabul. With them live their faithful servants, Ali and his young son Hassan, who have served the family for many generations as well as Toghfan Aga’s business partner and closest friend, Rahim Khan.

This is the tale of Amir and his friendship with Hassan, and how the tragic events of one fateful day drives these two motherless boys apart. Guilt-ridden Amir is destined from that day forth to carry the immense burden of his betrayal, all because he did not have the courage to stop the things he saw in happening in a dirty alleyway.

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek…  Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years. 

Amir’s lack of courage is something his father is aware of, to the point that Baba Toghfan sees him as an embarrassment to his bloodline and treats him as thus. This however doesn’t deter Amir from yearning for Baba Toghfan’s approval. As Amir covets his father’s love he becomes more and more jealous of Hassan, whose every gesture and deed wins the approval of Baba Toghfan. The seeds of jealousy coupled with that of Amir’s growing ‘meanness’ against his Hazara playmate come together in a terrible event that mirrors the break-up of Afghanistan itself.

Normally I would not have picked this as a read, but as it’s part of the A-level curriculum it was required reading. The novel deals with themes of sacrifice, loyalty, father-son relationships, betrayal and eventual redemption. All the characters have their own secret sins and regrets, and as the novel progresses time manages to unearth even the most deeply buried ones.

It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it.  Because the past claws its way out.

Critically speaking the story is well-structured, but there is a certain divide in the narrative that seemed to also cut my interest level in half, which comes precisely when war erupts in Afghanistan and Amir has to leave for America. The excitement and tension that Hosseini had built up and managed to sustain suddenly lost its fizz.

It’s a cruel thing to say, but I suddenly stopped caring about the characters. I would have loved it if the narrative had gone for a complete change at that moment and swapped over to Hassan’s point of view. The moment would have been ripe for such a switch, and we would have also seen everything that goes on in Afghanistan after Amir and his father run away. It would have been interesting to have stayed in the line of fire and to have witnessed some of Hassan’s/ Rahim-Khan’s feelings as I still have a lot of unanswered questions about those characters.

However, it is a good text to study at A-level, as there are a lot of bridges between concepts, ideas, symbolism etc that makes it a fertile text to use in that respect. I was instantly struck by the references to trees and decided to do a little googling. To my surprise quite a few people also picked up on the messages Hosseini was giving through his strategic use of trees in the text. There was also the concept of sacrifice that married well with the custom of the ‘Qurban‘. Hosseini explored the theme carefully and I was very impressed with how he was trying to explain the subtle complexities of this Islamic tradition by making it a focal point.

Despite its’ failings as a story, I can’t wait to teach this text from a critical perspective. We all have our biased views on Afghanistan, so it’ll be wonderful to step outside ‘known’ authors and experience the literary re-birth of a country ravaged by war and censored by religion that can barely be called ‘Islam‘. ‘The Kite Runner’ is an important text on many levels and I believe Hosseini has better stories to tell in the time to come.

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