September 11, 2001. The date that would change the world forever. The collapse of New York’s most remarkable towers marked the dawn of humanity, going down in history as the most horrifying and devastating terrorist attack the world had ever known, distorting our perception of reality and the people surrounding us. No man would ever be safe. Every muslim would be feared. Every man with a beard would be frowned upon. Tawny skin would equal terrorism. Faith would become our stigma, it would mark our identity and put us „in our place”.
Two years after the dreadful event, with its toll still reverberating across the nation, here comes an Afghan-American author with his sensational debut novel that will transcend all artificial divisions born of racial, religious and class prejudices, a moving tale of friendship, loss, betrayal, and longing for forgiveness.
***this review may contain spoilers ***
Hosseini’s acclaimed work, titled „The Kite Runner”, tells the story of two young boys growing up in 1970s Kabul, surrounded by tumultuous events involving the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy and political upheaval. The protagonist, Amir, is the son of a rich and respectable businessman, living in the Wazir Akbar Khan district with their long-time servants and his son, Hassan. Ostensibly from two different worlds, one Pashtun and a sunni, the ‘worse’ one Hazara and a shia, the two boys are inseparable, together they spend most of their free time, reading stories, playing, flying kites. Both had lost their mothers and fed from the same breast of a nursing woman – now they share “a kinship that not even time could break”.
Amir lives with his father, described as an intimidating, larger than life figure, one of the richest merchants in Kabul, constantly disappointed by his chicken-hearted, mediocre son, who fails to prove his worth. Amir recalls how he and Baba: “lived in the same house but in different spheres of existence. Kites were the only paper-thin slice of intersection between those spheres” and he sees opportunity to impress Baba with his winning the annual kite-flying contest held in their city. He compares fighting kites to a little war and the “prestigious” tournament becomes his own battlefield. The enemy is Amir’s sense of guilt for “killing” his mother, who died giving birth to him, and the prize – his father’s heart.
Yet, it is not the victory that will inevitably change the course of events, but Amir’s act on betrayal, when he – the ultimate coward – does absolutely nothing to save his friend from sexual assault at the hands of local bullies.
Many years later, now a successful writer in America, with a beautiful wife and idyllic life, here’s our ‘hero’, making my gorge rise with every single turn of the page. That the world’s unfair, I think we all know, and it seems like the author wants to show us that being a good person won’t get you anywhere and being a jerk usually pays off… How many times did I want to kill the protagonist for treating Hassan like his lapdog, for his pathetic jealousy, finally, for his audacity to try to convince Baba to dismiss the servant, to appease his guilty conscience! Fortunately, the world had a lot in store for Amir to make him pay for his sins. Given an opportunity to redeem himself, he comes back to Kabul, now under Taliban rule, and so begins the great quest for forgiveness.
To hail “The Kite Runner” a masterpiece would be an exaggeration, but the bookhas all the qualities of a compelling and rewarding read, even for someone so sceptical as myself, a bitter old lady (the fact that I’m only 27 years old means nothing, trust me!). I really liked the way Hosseini developed each individual character, with Baba being undoubtedly my favourite one, and how skilfully he described the complicated father-son relationship. “Children aren’t colouring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favourite colour” said Rahim Khan, Amir father’s best friend the only person who dared to contradict him. It seems like Baba would like his son to be his spitting image and constantly criticizes him, contributing to his life-long agony of remorse. The father has its flaws too, don’t get me wrong, but at least he makes an effort to rectify his misdeeds, although implicitly. He keeps preaching to Amir about the common denominator of all sins, which he considers theft, dressed up as robbery, killing, cheating, telling lies, you name it. And yet, there comes a moment when the readers and Amir discover that his entire life had always been a bunch of lies, betrayals and secrets… The author managed to create believable characters and their acts feel real, showing how the mistakes of our parents and how the shadow of our past sins will haunt us forever – unless we decide to work up the courage and bury them deep underground.
Hassan stands out among them all as the one truly “good”, pristine clear person, an embodiment of true friendship, devotion and sacrifice – which is exactly why I couldn’t fall in love with him, as my heart broke each time he naively stood up for his hopeless “friend” – too bad the novel is narrated only from Amir’s perspective, who’s account presented the relationship between the boys rather as a semblance of friendship (and in order for him to have the right to call himself Hassan’s friend…it would require some updates in the English language dictionaries). It is shown beautifully, though, how a deeply ingrained humanness may outlast by the omnipresent atrocities of war, and that humanness presented by Hosseini has the face of an inconspicuous Hazara boy, unaffected by the horror of Taliban occupation of Afhganistan. He remains faithful to his conscience and pays the highest price for it.
I’ve already revealed far too many details about the plot, so let the rest of the story speak for itself. In my opinion, the author might have gone a bit overboard dramatizing Amir’s fortune (it really wouldn’t hurt anybody if he spared us Sohrab’s suicide attempt), but deftly avoided gravitating towards soap opera’s narrative structure. Needless to say, a reader unfamiliar with the reality of life in the Greater Middle East/ Islamic world will learn a lot from the book about the local traditions, colourful culture and religious practices of its people. Sadly, “The Kite Runner” also unveils the prevalent violence and unbelievable cruelty, behind the faces of innocent children, harassed, kidnapped and traded on a daily basis. At the very end of the book, and much to my delight, Khaled Hosseini does not resist to punch Americans in the face for their ridiculous obsession with immigration procedures and racial prejudice.
The title of the book pays tribute to Hassan, the best kite-runner among his peers, helps Amir to win, thereby sealing their frienship forever. Flying kites in Afganistan, so I’ve learned from the interview with Khaled Hosseini, is an integral part of growing up in Afghanistan, a kind of a rite of passage. This symbolic meaning is evoked yet again at the very end of the book, in the touching scene, when the protagonist grabs the kite, this time single-handedly, and flies it. He flies it and lets all his fears go, leaving the past behind. For fear, even if deeply ingrained and leading to wrongdoings, can be overcome and does not deprive us of the right to justice. Redemption is not the privilege of the infallible and we should not suffer damnation for our mistakes.
We, people, are kites in need of this special someone that will always be here to lift us off the ground and raise us. Up. To the sky. For Amir, it has always been Hassan – his one and only Kite Runner.
Overall, it is a deep, moving and eye-opening book – not for narrow-minded readers, though – and it has stayed in my thoughts for long, for I’ve been chewing over it for almost two weeks now. Initially I wanted to rate it 4/5, due to certain longueurs and the utterly irritating protagonist, but for having stuck so deeply in my mind, it definitely deserves the maximum note. It was my first and definitely not the last encounter with Khaled Hosseini’s prose.
My rating: 5/5 stars.
Read in: English
Date read: July 2017
PS: Have you seen the movie and would reccomend it?
PS2: I promise to write shorter reviews from now on!