The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, is a story of betrayal, love, and redemption set in modern Afghanistan. Amir, son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, is best friends with Hassan, the son of the household servant. Amir lacks the courage to defend his friend from the brutality of local bullies; this action and the resulting guilt and shame changes the destiny of both families.
The Kite runner spans over three decades of great upheaval in Afghanistan. We in the West knew so little about this country until the events of September 11th propelled the US to invade and oust the fundamentalist Taliban. There was a monarchy, then a democracy, the Soviets invaded, then they were expelled, the Northern Alliance and infighting among Afghan tribes brought destruction to Kabul, the Taliban – punitive, oppressive order. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion. Most travelled first to Pakistan. Those who could, including in this novel Amir and his father, came to the U.S, where the immigrant story is so familiar – former generals and surgeons working gas pumps to stay alive. All hope is placed on the younger generation to succeed.
Although The Kite Runner is set in this true background of social upheaval, the magic of the novel is in its characters and storytelling. There is great psychological insight and complexity and the arc of the story returns us to its beginning, where Amir must face his past and make amends.
Apparently The Kite Runner is Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, and the first Afghan novel written originally in English. It is an extraordinary accomplishment.
One thing that continued to strike me throughout the story was how I personally wanted to shake some sense into Amir to do the right thing. He is so humanly flawed, when we want him to step up to heroism. That he would even consider leaving Hassan’s son in the care of American aid workers, rather than taking full responsibility for him, is beyond me. But as I mentioned, the book is about redemption, and ultimately Amir recovers his soul and does the right thing. What remains to be seen is whether the boy can recover.