Transition, There Flies a Kite
(A Book Review of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini)
Khaled Hosseini’s powerful debut novel, The Kite Runner, is a heart-breaking story of an unlikely friendship; of a father and son’s strained relationship; of the wispy memories of youth lost; of a strife-torn country’s rich culture and history; and the horrific realities of war. All of these are the thread that bind and interweave this elaborate tapestry of a novel. But what lies at its heart is the resonant theme of redemption and forgiveness: of facing past sins courageously and making amends.
Set primarily in Kabul, Afghanistan, the novel begins as Amir recounts his earliest memories of life “during the last peaceful days of the monarchy.” Amir is born into privilege. As the only child of a prominent businessman, Baba, Amir has access to education and all others wealth can provide. Hassan is the motherless son of Ali, Baba’s long-time servant, born to a life of servitude and scant prospects. Aside from this, Hassan belongs to the Hazara ethnic group whom upper-class Pashtuns look down upon. Amidst the backdrop of their increasingly agitated country and the inhumanity of its rigid class system, Amir and Hassan’s friendship grows.
Afterwards, during a kite-flying tournament comes the pivotal part of the novel. What should have been Amir’s moment of triumph instantly changes as a heart-wrenching incident shatters their already fragile friendship, flimsy as the kites they fly together. Eventually, Ali and Hassan are forced to leave Baba’s employment and household not the least of which was Amir’s doing. The succeeding guilt haunts Amir with a wound he’ll secretly bear for years to come.
The invasion of the Aghanistan by the Soviet Army and the ensuing change in the political climate compels Baba and Amir to run for the relative safety of Pakistan. As refugees in America they rebuild their lives where they come in contact with other Afghans who fled. Just as Amir contentedly leads a life in a country entirely not his own — earning a college degree and marrying a fellow Afghan — an ailing family friend calls and offers him a chance to correct a past wrong.
Published in 2003, The Kite Runner received generally positive reviews while Hosseini was given awards and recognition as a first time novelist. As the trade paperback edition of the book came out a year later, it became the fortunate product of word-of-the-mouth buzz as friends, family and reading groups eagerly shared Amir, Hassan and Baba’s tale. A variety of factors combined to create this interest. Readers, particularly from the West, knew so little about Afghanistan especially after the 9/11 attacks, were memories of this incident are still fresh. But what seemed to be its most important aspect is the fact that Hosseini crafted such a gripping read.
Although the novel is fictitious, the information about the political, social, and cultural system of the Middle Eastern country provides a stark contrast to today’s headlines regarding Afghanistan being the hotbed of terrorist cells. It enabled readers to see and feel the atrocious reign of the Taliban and a glimpse in a post-Taliban Afghanistan as they rebuild their country.
A coming-of-age novel, The Kite Runner is about finding one’s place in a world of turmoil and transition. It explores the difficulties of a child developing an adult relationship with his parents, especially when this relationship is strained. At the same time, it examines human’s capacity for good and evil — represented by Amir — and its link between sin, forgiveness, and atonement. This appealed to its broad spectrum of readers as Amirs struggles over these universal ideas. The book also touches on topics of religion, philosophy, and social awareness. The novel is a humanizing text that broadens the reader’s understanding of the world in which they live in.
Simply put, The Kite Runner is a compelling story told in an immediate and gripping way. Hosseini’s use of flashback and flash-forward with a seemingly linear timeline, circling around significant events, revealing information sparingly and layer by layer, makes for an effective narrative technique. It then creates suspense drawing the reader in while readers relates to the characters. Hosseini’s characters possesses flaws and shortcomings we ourselves experienced and gone through that they seem to leap out of the pages to affect, touch and connect with us. The author’s deceptively simple prose and stylistic devices — the insertion of Afghani words, his sentence structure and pattern, the use of rhetorical figures, as well as his subtle use of foreshadowing and innovative use of symbolism — elevates the novel from popular to literary fiction to the extent of being considered a modern-classic.
As Hosseini implied, true evil occurs when good people allows it to happen. To set things right lies in humanity’s capacity for unconditional love, acceptance and kindness to eradicate the scars of cruelty. Forgiveness presents limitless possibilities, like the blissful flight of a kite in a boundless sky.
Published by Riverhead Books
(Trade Paperback, April 2004 Edition)
Read in: March 8-21, 2010