The Kite Runner
Author – Khaled Hosseini
Genre – Literature
One of the best stories I have read in the last decade, made me cry, cringe and get nostalgic. And like my favourite fictions, interspersed with actual episodes from a tumultuous period in Afghan history and society.
The protagonist is Amir, a Pashtun Afghan who is forced to move out of Afghanistan with his father when the Soviets take control of the country. He settles in US and marries an Afghan emigrant there. But then, to redeem for an act of cowardice when he was still a kid in Kabul, he goes back to the country (then under Taliban) to save his friend’s son.
Like all great literature, while the storyline is simple, the sub-plots carry deep themes rich in emotions and understanding of human nature. There are complex themes of the relationship between father and son, between friends (Amir and his servant-friend Hassan, who is later also revealed to be his half-brother), of guilt and attempts at redemption (Amir sees his friend Hassan get raped but fails to prevent it; later takes great personal risk to go back to Taliban infested Afghanistan and save Hassan’s son); of ethnic differences (between Pashtuns/Sunnis and Hazaras/Shias, with the latter considered inferior and often oppressed); of poetic justice (Kamal is an accomplice in Hassan’s rape but is himself raped later… and multiple such ironies) and of soft romance styled in a conservative society (Amir’s attempts to woo his wife even when not allowed to talk to her in private).
The characters can be simple like Hassan, “pure, loyal, rooted in goodness and integrity… incapable of hurting anyone”. Or really complex like Amir’s Baba (father) who was highly influential, with very strong liberal values and a courage to speak his mind, but also hid till the end that Hassan was his illegitimate son. As an instance of the complex father-son relationship, the protagonist says, “most days I worshipped baba with an intensity approaching the religious. But right then I wished I could open my veins and drain his cursed blood from my body.” While the book is popular for the guilt and redemption theme, I personally found the father-son portrayal very strong and could even relate to it. My own father has been like many other middle-class fathers from small cities who had struggled to be where they are: extremely strong set of values, liberal to the core, a loud distaste for religious fundamentalism, a clear influence on the people around him, helping whoever would need his help… And yet, at the same time, hard headed and can easily come out as stubborn.
There are also many passages that give us a sense of déjà vu. In our own lives, we have had similar experiences. Like It’s wrong that… you can bury the past, because it claws its way out. Or Irrespective of your guilt for past behavior, there is always a way to be good again. Or I see Him (God) here, in the eyes of the people in this (hospital’s) corridor of desperation. Amir’s feelings are laid bare as he battles between being the idealist and the pragmatist; as he does things most of us do, but knowing fully well they fall short of gold standard behavior. One can easily relate to them.
Why should you read the book: Because it is a moving, unforgettable story that will stay with you for years. The portrait of Afghanistan from its glorious days to the ignominy of Taliban will be intellectually appealing and moving. And the rich emotions, themes and characters, – of love, betrayal, guilt, fear, tradition – will remind us of the ebb and flows of life, it will intoxicate and inspire.