I want to write a review that is unwieldy with munificence, so great is my love of this novel. I’m almost 70 books into my year, and am already going to call The Kite Runner the best thing I’ll read in 2016.
Set mostly in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, this book follows the maturation of a Pashtun kid named Amir and his best friend Hassan, a Hazara boy. Amir’s mother died in childbirth, so he was raised by his father, who he affectionately calls Baba. Hassan is the son of Ali, who grew up with Baba, and is a member of the Hazara, who almost seem like an Afghan version of India’s Untouchables: an ethnic group that is the absolute bottom rung in the hierarchy. Baba is fairly liberal, however, and treats Ali and Hassan as though they were family. In fact, he clearly cares a great deal for Hassan, which causes a considerable amount of jealousy in Amir – who never gets the affection from Baba that Hassan seems to. This conflict serves as a central motivating factor for much of the novel.
The story takes place over approximately 30 years, and follows Amir to the United States. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot, but I will say the themes of redemption and forgiveness play heavily throughout the book, with family and Afghan culture permeating the entire sory.
I can’t quite place why this book was so affecting. It was a well-told story, and hit all the right notes, but there wasn’t anything particularly amazing in it. Last year Moby Dick had a similar impact on me, and that was almost exclusively due to it’s rich and layered language. Hosseini is certainly a superb writer, and he told a great story, here. But the language itself was fairly low-key. Maybe it was the characters. They felt remarkably human – multi-dimensional and complex. There were times when I didn’t think I was going to like Amir – I mean, I truly feared that I would detest him. But, Hosseini ended up turning things around and made me sympathize with him. He’s a troubled kid, and he makes some costly mistakes that have a lasting impact on him. His motivations were completely believable, and felt perfectly at place in the world we’re shown.
The Afghanistan of The Kite Runner is lovingly depicted, and the loss of that country to the ravages of war (first by the Russians, then the Taliban) is truly heartbreaking. It was never a wealthy land, but it was rich in other ways. The Afghanistan Amir grew up in may be gone forever. At one point, late in the book, Amir, now an adult, returns to Taliban-ruled Kabul and no longer recognizes the city he grew up in. The smells are completely different, and the people less welcoming. There’s a palpable sense that he is now a tourist in his own land. I almost felt that way, as well, so enmeshed had I become in the story. The deprivations and austerity of the Taliban certainly weren’t revelatory to anyone who’s followed the news over the last 15 years, but to have them contrasted so vividly with the Afghanistan of Amir’s childhood left a lasting image.
I honestly don’t have a great deal to say about this book, because I don’t want to give away any of the key plot points. But when you read it – and you really should – have some tissues handy. There are moments here that are emotionally devastating.
Reviewed once before, no star given.