The Kite Runner
“It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws it’s way out.” The Kite Runner is the story of the search for atonement by a middle aged man who is smacked by the realization of his errors and the constant reminder that the past catches up with you until you have made amends for your mistakes. Like an evangelist I get the urge to want to distribute this book to everyone I know (and don’t know) every time I read it.
The story unfolds in pre war Afghanistan and is centred around the relationship between Amir, the son of a wealthy businessman, and his servants son Hassan. It takes some vivid imagining to comprehend how Afghanistan once was. The images we see today and it’s recent troubled history make it almost impossible to imagine the idyllic upbringing that Amir and Hassan initially share. Hosseini paints a romantic picture of childhood before taking us through Afghanistan’s transition from a Monarch to a Republic to the destructive rule of the Taliban. The juxtaposition of Hosseini’s original depiction of childhood is made all the more poignant by the fact that this is now lost. “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
The story is narrated by Amir. Despite his evil ways and him being an unlikeable character, this method of narration not only gives a very personal account of what it is like to experience war first hand, but also adds to the anguish one feels when reading about the destruction and devastation which war brings to an individual. It is however far more than a story about one boy’s experience in the war.
It is a richly descriptive story of contrasts: of the rich and the poor, of the master and the servant; of the educated and the illiterate; of the weak and the brave; but ultimately of loyalty and betrayal. The book will reach into the heart of even the hardest of men and is full of lessons on humanity and of the requirements needed for the most basic respect of others.
Cowardice and bravery are recurring themes. At a border checkpoint an exchange between a Russian soldier and Baba, Amir’s father, leaves my heart in my mouth. Baba comes to the rescue of a woman whom the soldier wishes to rape as the price for passing. It is an intense exchange in the most uncomfortable of positions. On the soldier’s theory that war has no shame Baba replies: “War doesn’t negate decency.It demands it, even more than in times of peace”. Moments later in a hopeless position of despair and weakness and at the threat at being shot for intervening Baba says: ‘Tell him I’ll take a thousand of his bullets before I let this indecency take place’
The book is littered with such exquisitely written passages with profound life lessons. A subtle sense of irony pervades the story. But rather than conveying these lessons in a Shakesperean or Dickensian way, Hosseini brings a fresh approach to prose, while maintaining the literary beauty for which his predecessors are so well known. I cannot think of another writer to compare this piece of work with.
It is also easy to relate to the story. We all have situations which we wish we had handled better and its often easier to will them away by filing rather than confronting them. Bullying is a topical issue in many countries and the book addresses the kind of situations that divide people into bullies and victims. We fail to see it as kids, to paraphrase Kanye West: The people highest up have the lowest self esteem, the most beautiful people do the ugliest things. This book would serve a great purpose in school curriculums the world over.
Hosseini gives Amir a voice that suggests he is truly sorry for what he did. Amir also shows an awareness of just how loyal a friend Hassan was by the stories he recalls and the tone he uses in unveiling what happened. Despite this I still felt anger rather than sorrow for this Amir, right up till the end of the book. The author makes you confront the emotions he evokes.
I generally like books for a variety of three reasons: the story line; the style of writing and use of vocabulary; or the knowledge the author imparts to the reader. You will invariably find one, and its not uncommon to find a combination of two of these traits in a book,but in The Kite Runner Khaled Hosseini has managed to master all three departments. This is why I consider this to be my favourite book.