Tuesday, August 16, 2011

93. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner (2003; 391), could easily pass as the best non-African authored book I've read this year, if not for 1984. The novel tracks the life and friendship of two individuals, Amir - the son of a Kabul merchant - and Hassan, the child of their servant, Ali as they grow in the affluent suburb of Wazir Akbar Khan District of Kabul. As their friendship unfolds, the history of a land that has been plagued by local and international wars unfolds. In fact, it is this very wars, leading to the overthrow of monarchs and governments, that dictated how the friendship between these two individuals went. Yet, the precursor of all the events is the age old tradition or practice of discrimination based on physical features.

Amir has slim face and nose and is a Pashtun so is considered to be aristocratic, worthy of ruling the land and Hassan his friend has a moon-shaped face, slit-eyes and a Hazara so is cast to be a servant forever. With only a year separating their births, Hassan - the younger - and Amir continued the friendship between Amir's father, Baba, and Hassan's father, Ali. Yet Ali and his son Hassan knew their place in Baba's household, always keeping to their hut and coming to the main house to only to serve. Though Amir plays with Hassan he actually does not consider him to be his friend; yet the latter is absolutely loyal to the former. 

Everything changed the day Hassan won the Kite championship. Hassan - an experienced kite runner - decided to bring Amir the last kite he cut that gave him the title to be kept as his trophy. When Amir followed Hassan and saw what Assef and his two friends were doing to Hassan, he stood aloof. Afraid. Did nothing. Saw the chance to claim his father's sole attention. And took it.
May be Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay to win Baba. Was it a fair price? The answer floated to my conscious mind before I could thwart it: He was just a Hazara, wasn't he?
Amir's inability to redeem himself led to more problems and complications. Later, accused of theft, Ali and Hassan left the Amir's household.

After a series of political upheavals and revolutions Baba and Amir moved to America. Living a fulfilled life in America, Amir received a call from his father's partner Rahim Khan offering Amir the chance 'to be good again'. This call took him back to Afghanistan through Pakistan to correct a past wrong; to uncover family secrets; to identify who he really is and if all his life has been lived in lies. 

Behind all these is the story of a country that was changing from a peaceful, stable, economically active country into a country whose name would forever remain synonymous with war, shari'a, death, foreign invasion and more. Khaled Hosseini traced the history of Afghanistan from the 1960s when the country was ruled by a monarch to the period of American invasion and the overthrow of the Taliban. Beginning with a fully-running country where religion is not a problem, the story ended with a country in ruins and desolation; a country where common food is the preserve of the elite rulers and their bootlickers; a country where people are stoned to death for not wearing the hijab. All because individuals and countries always think that they know what is best for this country. From the overthrow of the King, the entry of the Mujahideen, the Russians, the Alliance troops, the Taliban and finally the Americans, Khaled Hosseini shows how each of these groups and countries contributed to the ruins within which Afghanistan finds itself today.

Written in the first person, without unnecessary flamboyancy, Khaled has written a book that would remain with the reader for a long period of time. This is a story that teaches a lot and opens eyes. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see more than the current Afghanistan we know and want to know how the Afghanistan we now know came to be. I look forward to reading his A Thousand Splendid Suns.

17 comments:

  1. I have this & a thousand splendid suns on my bookshelves, to be read,so this is a timely post, thanks. Also thanks for help with the poetry links.

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  2. I thought it was a very powerful and moving book when I read it as well. Glad to see you also liked it.

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  3. This was a very striking book, and I remember being on the edge of my seat when I read it. I am so glad that it also stuck you so deeply. I think it may be time for a reread sometime soon.

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  4. Zibilee I guess this book would make any person feel emotional. It's undulating and the moment you feel like the problem is solved another comes up.

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  5. I've heard a lot about this book but I'm yet to read it. Nor have I read fiction set in Afghanistan. Might be time to change that. Thanks.

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  6. You'd love this book Kinna. It is written in a very raw state. The most interesting part is the thoughts of Amir about Hassan. It's so real that you might think the author is somewhere in the pages.

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  7. What a nice of recommending a book to me? Have also heard a lot about this but not given it enough attention.

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  8. thanks Geosi. A good book is easy to promote

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  9. Ah! I love the raw and unadorned narrative in this book! I also liked a thousand splendid suns... Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Thanks for the review. I would love to read this book. Any idea where I can get a copy? I've never read any fiction on Afganistan and I am sure this will be a good place to start to let me know the people and their history

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  11. @Celestine... I don't know where you are. If you are in Ghana you can check the Silverbirds lifestyle shop. Though I've not seen one there yet they once in a while are able to get some of these books. Mine was sent to me by a blogger friend, Amy.

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  12. I read this book when it first came out and found myself quite moved by it. Hassan's experience on that fateful day just broke me. I found Amir to be weak & undeserving of his good fortune many times along the way. Informative look into life in Afghanistan; very engaging!

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  13. @MissBwalya: I agree. Amir deserves not the goodness that came his way. Perhaps things might have been different had his father told him the truth but then you need not to be good only to blood relations especially when the other has done all good there is to do for you. I listened to the author's allegorical interpretation on Hassan's fate on youtube. The symbolic relationship is just as bad.

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  14. Hosseini writes well, almost breezily despite such heavy subject matter. I enjoyed the book, and I'm sure many others will as well. One caveat: I liked it without loving. This is the kind of book that might be spoiled for some by overhype.

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