The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Page Count: 371 pages
By Lynne Bevan DeMichele
(UMCom)—Khaled Hosseini’s heart searing novel, The Kite Runner, is set in his troubled homeland of Afghanistan. In the story of Amir, Hosseni gives us an ethical parable rich with the timeless themes of love, guilt, fear and the need for redemption.
Afghanistan is a distant world, one we only glimpse in the daily news. Reading this book, Afghanistan becomes palpably real.
"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."
From this opening paragraph of The Kite Runner, you find yourself behind the eyes of Amir, born of the privileged Pashtun caste in 1970s Kabul. His childhood in Afghanistan’s capital city is delightful. And—best of all—Amir’s every waking moment is shared with his best friend, Hassan. Nursed by the same woman since birth, they are as close as brothers—with one essential and inherently painful difference. Hassan is the son of one of Amir’s family servants. He is Hazzara, considered a lowly class in contemporary Afghan society. Hassan is gentle, unfailingly loyal and adores Amir, telling him at one point, "For you anything, a thousand times over!"
Amir’s own most deeply felt desire is to win his rather distant father’s approval—approval which seems always generously given to Hassan. The day of the city’s great winter kite battle provides an opportunity. The sky over Kabul fills with colorful kites and the whole city watches as Amir triumphs, at last feeling his father’s pride. His friend Hassan shares his joy and dashes off to find the defeated kite as a prize for Amir. In the process, we discover what happened at that frozen creek which Amir ruefully recalls in the book’s opening paragraph. It is a moment that changes both boys irrevocably and alters the course of their friendship and their futures.
Soon after, not only personal lives, but that of the country itself, change radically with the Russian invasion and the deposing of the king. For their safety, Amir’s father, whom he calls "Baba," emigrates to the U.S. with Amir. Father and son make a modest new life in Southern California, where the intelligent adolescent grows to manhood and falls in love. Even as he begins his happy married life with Soraya, Amir still carries the shame of that day by the creek back in Kabul. He’s convinced he is "gutless" and tells himself bitterly, "It’s how you were made…." and the memory is buried in his subconscious.
Now a successful writer, Amir’s comfortable life is jolted one morning when he receives a phone call from Pakistan. It’s from his father’s old friend, Rahim, asking him to return and saying, "It’s still possible to be good." The prospect of some kind of atonement moves Amir to fly to meet with Rahim. The old man, now dying, reveals a bitter secret and tells him of a little Hazarra boy, Sohrab, whom Amir realizes he must find in what’s left of Afghanistan. The subsequent journey leads him through a literal kind of hell, yet in the process he also finds the possibility of redemption.
I chose this book wanting to understand something of this anguished part of the world where the story is set. One can pore over histories, news accounts and scholarly analyses for this, but I believe, we can begin to comprehend real human truths only through personal story. Therein lies one of the unique values of contemporary fiction. This story was written by an Afghan, one who lived the story himself—or at least the story’s matrix. The themes of father/son relationships, the imperatives of friendship, the value and impact of culture can be affectingly seen, even if imperfectly understood, in good fiction.
I believe The Kite Runner is truer than any news account or analysis I’ve read about the Middle East. Ever. And it left a mark.
Khaled Hosseini was born and raised in Kabul, Afghanistan, the son of a diplomat whose family received political asylum in the United States in 1980. He is a physician and now lives in northern California. The Kite Runner, his first novel, won top honors last year in the Borders Group Original Voices® Awards, a program honoring emerging and innovative authors.
Lynne DeMichele is a professional writer, editor and former director of communications for the Indiana Area United Methodist Church.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of The United Methodist Church.