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“The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2022

Introduction

Quality literature provides the world with the opportunity to see a single period in time from the perspective of a single individual as they attempt to come to grips with often universal truths. This is often the case whether the author intends it or not, as he or she cannot help but reveal some of the fundamental concepts and assumptions that inform his or her work. When this literature makes it into the hands of people who do not share this same culture, either because the passage of time has served to shift people’s perspectives or the crossing of borders has introduced new thoughts, the reader is able to gain a closer understanding of how others might see the world differently. Almost automatically, a new understanding seems to blossom in which the terrifying ‘other’ of foreign mystique is able to take on new dimensions as a human being equally confused, equally doing his best to discover his proper moral and ethical path in a world devoid of any clear lines. This is the impression received when one reads a book such as The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Such a book invites the reader into a world that may be completely unfamiliar, gives one a chance to understand more about the hopes and dreams of a people, and encourages one to learn more about the history that has shaped this world before allowing assumption and prejudice to reign. After reading the book and exploring some of the histories of the area it covers, it is more likely that an exploration of some of the book’s central themes will be accurately interpreted.

Summary

The story begins when the narrator, Amir, is supposedly 38 years old, and the tale he tells is essentially a flashback over the events of his life that have brought him to this point. Amir reveals the affluent lifestyle he lived as a child in a sprawling mansion with just his father, who was served by a Hazara servant named Ali. Amir’s mother had died giving birth to him, and he always felt his father held that somewhat against him, although it was never explicitly stated. The infant was nursed on the breast of a servant woman who was also hired a year later to nurse Ali’s son Hassan and the two boys, who had fed from the same breast, grew up together on Baba’s property. Although life was sweet, it had its darker elements, such as the near-slave status of the Hazara people, including Hassan, and the cruelty that lurked in the hearts of schoolmates of Amir’s such as Assef. It is Assef who brings about the life-changing event just as Amir is about to win his father’s approval for winning the kite fight. Hassan, as the kite runner, goes to collect the winning kite but is detained by Assef and his friends. Amir finds his friend cornered in an alley just before Assef decides to rape him. Although Hassan had once stood up for Amir in this type of situation, Amir hides behind the wall and then pretends he is unaware of what happened. Because of his guilt and shame, Amir contrives to get rid of Hassan by framing him for robbery. Although this doesn’t cause Baba to send Hassan away, Ali takes Hassan away anyway, and Amir is left alone with his guilt.

After setting up these important foundational elements of his life, Amir relates how his life was turned upside down again when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. Baba and Amir manage to escape the country by traveling to Pakistan and then on to America. They settle in a run-down apartment in California and take up a subsistence-style lifestyle. Amir attends junior college while Baba works at a convenience store. They haunt garage sales on Saturdays and attempt to sell trash things on Sundays at a swap meet. This is where Amir meets Soraya, the daughter of another prominent Afghan citizen made poor by the war. As Amir begins his writing career, his father is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. His last significant act before he dies is he asks Soraya’s father for her hand in marriage to Amir. The newlyweds care for the ailing father until he dies, and then they spend many happy years together as Amir’s career grows and Soraya works as a schoolteacher. Their one regret is that they are unable to have children. This idyllic existence is brought to a close when Amir receives a phone call from his father’s old friend Rahim Khan. Amir must travel back to Pakistan to learn what the dying Rahim wishes to tell him.

When he arrives, Amir learns that Ali had been killed long ago by a land mine, and Hassan had married a woman and moved back to the servant’s hut he lived in as a boy. The couple had a stillborn daughter followed by a healthy son, but Hassan and his wife were killed when they refused to give up Amir’s house to the Taliban. The son, Sohrab, was taken to an orphanage. Rahim charges Amir with the task of recovering Hassan’s son. In the process, Rahim reveals that Hassan is Amir’s half-brother and hints that he knows what happened when the boys were 12. Amir enters Taliban-controlled territory and undergoes a number of trials, including being beaten nearly to death to recover the unhappy Sohrab who has been sold into child prostitution to Assef. Eventually, Amir succeeds in adopting Sohrab and bringing him back to California. Although Sohrab hasn’t talked for a year since his last suicide attempt, Amir has finally managed to make a connection with him through the simple process of flying a kite together and is rewarded with a lopsided smile that reminds Amir of Hassan.

Research

For a reader unfamiliar with Afghan history, the timeline of what is happening in the greater political realm is difficult to follow as it takes place largely in the background of the main character’s awareness. In a novel based in the Western industrialized world, this type of history serves as a form of running timeline for the reader, but when the events are largely unfamiliar, it is easy to lose track of the fact that Amir’s story occurs in the very recent past instead of centuries ago. Discovering the history in a concise presentation of facts, though, emphasizes the degree of confusion that impacted the country during Amir’s childhood. According to BBC News, “Afghanistan’s descent into conflict and instability in recent times began with the overthrow of the king in 1973” (Afghanistan, 2000). This occurred when Mohammad Daoud deposed his cousin, Zahir Shah, and declared himself president of Afghanistan in 1973. During his presidency, Daoud was busy putting down the Islamists, but he truly began losing his power when he attempted to reduce the Soviet influence in his country. Things were already tense between the various political factions when the Parchamite leader Mir Akbar Khaiber was murdered on April 17, 1978. It was this murder that sparked the fires that had been threatening. “Whoever killed him, Khaiber’s martyrdom touched off an unprecedented popular upheaval. More than fifteen thousand angry, slogan-shouting mourners turned out for his funeral procession two days later, an extraordinarily large crowd by Afghan standards” (Cordovez & Harrison 24). Daoud’s reaction only served to inflame the situation, and the communist party managed to take control in what is called the April Revolution. Infighting in the party led to instability at the top, though, and the Soviet Army took control in 1979. “The Soviet occupation, which lasted until the final withdrawal of the Red Army in 1989, was a disaster for Afghanistan. About a million Afghans lost their lives as the Red Army tried to impose control for its puppet Afghan government. Millions more fled abroad as refugees” (Afghanistan, 2000). It was as part of this great flight that Amir and his father left Afghanistan.

Critique

As he tells his story, there are a number of themes that Hosseini weaves through the narrative that arises out of this conflict. However, he doesn’t do it perfectly. One of the book’s strengths is its powerful sense of connection with the young boy who has to come to grips with his inner demons. His insecurities are openly exposed through strong dialogue and well-developed characters whose actions are consistent with these personalities. Hassan is always humble, always loyal, and always grateful for what he has, for example. “Young Hassan, I agree, is an idealized figure, but that seems understandable given that the narrator is Amir. Amir’s guilt, and his discovery of a deeper connection to the boy than he had imagined, seems to call for that approach to the character. It is ironic, too, given that Hassan looked up to Amir in a way that went beyond the master/servant relationship” (Champ, 2008). While this may seem unrealistic in the western world, the extreme racism and persecution carried throughout the book reveal that only at Baba’s house is Hassan able to experience anything like what we would consider a ‘normal’ childhood. Amir himself points out how his first word was Baba to reflect his adoration of his father, Hassan’s first word was Amir.

In spite of these intimate interpersonal details masterfully depicted, there are several weaknesses to the book as well. One of the greatest weaknesses is the lengthy internal thoughts Amir goes through. When he begins to work out his ideas, he leaves very little to the reader’s imagination, filling in every detail that connects one idea to another in such a way that the reader is no longer engaged. This has the tendency to slow the reading and encourage the reader to put down the book. This same tendency can be found in other areas as well, such as when Hosseini feels it’s necessary to connect his meanings throughout the book instead of allowing the reader to discover the connections on his own. This reduces a great deal of the mystery and fun of reading, and the author would be better served by cutting these sections out to enable the story to flow with greater urgency.

Theme

One of the main themes of the book is the theme of self-awareness. Perhaps this is why the reader is willing to read through the sometimes didactic wandering of the narrator’s thoughts. Amir as a boy, is not seen to work through his internal battles too much as his major conflict through most of his young life is his presumption that his father is disappointed in him. However, he remains true to his desire to become a writer in spite of the fact that his father does not seem to be very supportive of this idea. However, when he fails to stand up for the friend who had once stood up for him, this question becomes the defining concern of his life. This is not to say that he has a weak character, however. He proves this as he seemingly seamlessly adjusts to the deprivations of America as compared to his former lifestyle and devotes all his time and effort to help his father eke out an existence with no complaint yet remains firmly devoted to his goal of becoming a writer. Another place where he proves to know and remain true to his own heart is in the way he wins Soraya despite her father’s disapproval in general about their unorthodox behavior. This growing ability to hold firm to his convictions is seen as a result of the lingering guilt he still feels regarding his old friend. In the last segment of the book, when he is asked to place himself in great danger to rescue Hassan’s son, Amir does not fail to do what’s right, which is now fully in character as a result of this earlier development.

Application

A surface reading of this book may make many people determine that it has little or no direct application to modern American life. After all, there is little likelihood that our country will soon undergo the tremendous shifts in power base that were seen in Afghanistan during the time period of this book. However, the underlying themes of development, loyalty, and survival are applicable to anyone anywhere. For my own part, I have been guilty of looking at people from that part of the world as roughly the same ethnic group and all worthy of some degree of suspicion. This is not because I think they are going to do anything specific but because they always seem to be looking at me with anger and suspicion. After reading this book and doing some research, I have a better understanding of the many ways in which the people of Afghanistan and other areas around there are different and suspicious of each other, not only racially but politically and ideologically as well. In addition, the people who I’ve seen selling trash at swap meets might be looking at me in anger, not because they’re angry at me, but because they’re angry about their condition in life right now. They may have been the equivalent of millionaires at home and are now just barely surviving at the level just above beggars. Above all, the irritation I had with the introspective parts of the book revealed to me just how much I fail to really examine my own thoughts, ideas, and impressions of others and myself.

Conclusion

The Kite Runner is a book that offers its readers a great deal of insight into elements of life that we may otherwise be unaware of. This is true in the degree to which the author is able to introduce us to the culture and history of his birth country. Rather than battling with our natural suspicion and avoidance of the subject, Hosseini eases us into the subject by involving us in the intimate lives of two young boys born on opposite sides of a racial divide – something most Americans are still sorely conscious of having occurred in our own south not so long ago. More than just introducing us to his people and the issues they’ve faced as a people, Hosseini makes this personal to us and begins to introduce us to ourselves in the process. His lengthy digressions into his own impressions serve to show us how it’s done and remind us that it’s something that should be done once in a while as a means of staying true to one’s heart. While his character had a constant guilty reminder to keep him aware of his actions and their consequences, most of us don’t need to think about it so consistently and often let it slip. When we suddenly find ourselves drifting far from our intended course or lost in unfamiliar waters, we have a difficult time adjusting because we are not grounded within ourselves. Ultimately, the book teaches us how to know ourselves through learning about others.

Works Cited

  1. .” BBC News. (2000). Web.
  2. Champ, Bob. “Review: The Kite Runner.” Derkeiler. (2008).
  3. Cordovez, Diego & Selig S. Harrison. Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
  4. Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003.
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