The Kite Runner is a book that fulfils the promise of fiction, as it awakens a curiosity about the world around us, as well as reflecting on the hard truths of history. The themes are universal, with reference to relationships, the inhumanity of a rigid class system, the horrific realities of war and the price of disloyalty. Khaled Hosseini has certainly ensured a powerful debut.
The novel circulates around life in Afghanistan, through the eyes of our young protagonist Amir. Upper class Pashtun, Amir is fortunate to live his childhood in the comfort of wealth in Kabul, a place blessed with a cultural heritage that values tradition, blood ties and a deeply rooted cultural identity. Hosseini’s depiction of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan is rich in warmth and humour but also tense with the friction between the nation’s different ethnic groups. Amir’s father personifies all that is reckless, courageous and arrogant in his dominant Pashtun tribe. He loves nothing better than watching the Afghan national pastime, buzkashi, in which galloping horsemen bloody one another as they compete to spear the carcass of a goat. Yet he is generous and tolerant enough to respect his son’s artistic yearnings and to treat the lowly Hassan with great kindness, even arranging for an operation to mend the child’s harelip.
During his youth, Amir enjoys many luxuries including education, material comfort and a constant playmate, the son of his father’s long-time servant, Hassan. The political events, even as dramatic as the ones that are presented in ”The Kite Runner,” are only a part of this story. A more personal plot, arising from Amir’s close friendship with Hassan, turns out to be the thread that ties the book together. The fragility of this relationship, symbolized by the kites the boys fly together, is tested as they watch their old way of life disappear.
Throughout the first part of the novel, this relationship is explored, despite Amir’s wealth, Hassan never seems to bear resentment and is, in fact, a loyal companion to the lonely boy, whose mother is dead and whose father, a rich businessman, is often preoccupied. Hassan protects the sensitive Amir from sadistic neighbourhood bullies; in turn, Amir fascinates Hassan by reading him heroic Afghan folk tales. Then, during a kite-flying tournament that should be the triumph of Amir’s young life, Hassan is brutalized by some upper-class teenagers. This incident was the first time Amir is morally tested in his relationship with Hassan. It seems that Amir becomes a victim of his own arrogance, and fails his companion. Hiding behind the superiority of class, Amir chooses the path of less resistance; a decision that haunts him for the rest of his life.
Soon after this, their friendship slowly begins to wither. Whilst Amir tries to deal with his inner conflict and guilt, Civil War begins to ravage the countryand the teenage Amir and his father flee for their safety to America. In California, his father works at a gas station to put his son through school; on weekends he sells second-hand goods at swap meets. Here too Hosseini provides lively descriptions, showing former professors and doctors socializing as they haggle with their customers over black velvet portraits of Elvis. Despite settling comfortably in America and a happy marriage, his past transgressions constantly overshadow everything he does. It is here that he is offered a chance of personal redemption.
Amir returns to his homeland through the request of a family friend, but since Amir left Kabul it has changed from the peaceful 70s to the repressive rule of the Taliban in the late 90s. The streets are lined with beggars, fatherless children whose future is marginalised by poverty: “There are a lot of Children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.” The sweet simplicity of youthful winters spent “kite running” with Hassan seem light years away, illuminated by the boys’ unfettered innocence.
The final third of the book is full of haunting images: a man, desperate to feed his children, trying to sell his artificial leg in the market; an adulterous couple stoned to death in a stadium during the halftime of a football match and a young boy forced into prostitution, all the more frightening as this is all a true reflection of Afghanistan today. When Amir meets his old nemesis, now a powerful Taliban official, the book descends into some plot twists better suited to a folk tale than a modern novel. But in the end we’re won over by Amir’s compassion and his determination to atone for his youthful cowardice.
In ”The Kite Runner,” Khaled Hosseini gives us a vivid and engaging story that reminds us how long his people have been struggling to triumph over the forces of violence — forces that continue to threaten them even today.