Book Review: ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini

Posted: 22 June 2015 in Book reviews
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Centred in 1970s Afghanistan, this gripping tale of atonement follows Amir as he learns to overcome himself, his culture, and atone for, and forgive, the mistakes of the past.

As children, Amir and Hassan were practically inseparable. The fact that they came from different ethnic groups didn’t seem to matter. At least not until they became teenagers. Amir would read stories to Hassan and tease him because of his ignorance. As they grew older, Amir began to be ashamed of his friendship with Hassan, but Hassan was ever loyal regardless of how Amir treated him.

Despite their societal differences, the one thing that united the boys was their love for kites. Hassan was arguably one of the best kite runners in all of Kabul. In the winter of 1975, this love of kites would ultimately change the course of their lives. The boys entered a competition and won. So Hassan ran to retrieve to last kite for Amir as a trophy. When he took too long, Amir went searching for him. When he found him, Hassan was being harassed by the neighbourhood bullies Assef, Kamal, and Wali. He knew he should have helped him, but his embarrassment of being friends with a Hazara kept him in the shadows to witness his ‘friend’ be raped.

In his shame, Amir did the unthinkable and betrayed Hassan even further, but his father forgive the child. Ali, Hassan’s father, couldn’t live with the shame and despite Baba’s, Amir’s father, attempts took Hassan and left. Then in 1981, Baba and Amir fled the now Soviet controlled Afghanistan to the USA. Life mellowed out for the two and they lived a good albeit simple life. Amir graduated from school and University, got married, and even got a novel published. Then he receives a summons to Pakistan from an ailing old family friend Rahim Khan. He said, ‘There is a way to be good again.

And so Amir flies to Pakistan. There he learns of the fate of his childhood friend Hassan. In the terror of the Taliban rule and their extermination of the Hazara, Hassan had married and had a son. He and his wife were later murdered. Over the years, Hassan never gave up his bond to Amir regardless that an ocean and life stood between them. But a secret had been kept from the two boys. They were brothers. As the pieces fell into place, Amir was enraged. Come to find, Rahim also knew about the rape and Amir’s cowardice. To atone for this, he requests Amir go to Kabul and rescue his nephew Sohrab from the Taliban. Save him and be good again. His cowardice attempts to best him, but he knew what he needed to do. And so he went. He went to Kabul to reopen past wounds and finally repent and find closure.

My Thoughts

This book is by no means an easy read. Yes the words flow off the page, but more like a torrent of turmoil as opposed to a rollicky adventure. It is raw and gripping. My sister had a difficult time reading it because of the reality of it. And the rape of course. But to me that reality adds to the impact of the story. It may be horrible, but it is real.

The Kite Runner is beautifully written. I loved it. I had seen the movie years ago (as I am prone to do) and knew I needed to read it. Khaled expertly paints a revealing picture of Afghanistan and the protagonist Amir. The words draw you in and linger with you long after you put it down. Largely because it strikes a nerve with themes that most people can resonate with: family, childhood mistakes, atonement, etc.

One thing that amazed me was the description of 1970s Afghanistan. The only knowledge I had of this war torn country was the bullet-riddled buildings and the terrorism that emanated from it. I never would have guessed that it had once been so beautiful. Funny how extremism can turn beautiful things ugly. Also interesting to learn that Russia had infiltrated the country first and then left it in ruins. It was nice to see that this country was once a beautiful place and not always the way it is now.

The characters in the story are also well crafted. The relationships between Amir and Baba, Amir and Hassan, and Hassan and Baba, are so complex and tragic. In truth, Amir is a horrible person, but no one is exempt from atoning for the mistakes of their past. All Amir wanted was to be loved by his father, for Baba to be proud of him. He wasn’t strong enough to do what he knew was right. Who hasn’t been in that same position? That’s what makes Amir and Hassan so tragic. They are in each some part of all of us. Hassan in turn exemplified everything most people aspire to. He was strong, forgiving, loyal, brave, and unwavering. In some ways, some of these qualities might seem like weakness, but they aren’t. He is the type of person we should all aspire to be.

Despite the sensitive material, this book is no doubt a must-read. There is a beauty in the truths it portrays, that we are all worthy of a second chance, that it is never too late to do what is right. So give this book a read and hopefully it’ll open your eyes as it did mine. Enjoy 😉

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