It’s no secret that the events of our childhood greatly affect us. For some people, certain events leave such a deep scar that they carry the burden into adulthood. Others discard the burden along way. In Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, the protagonist Amir carries the burden of his childhood regrets throughout much of his life. It’s not until mid-adulthood, when he receives a call from an old friend, that he begins to let go of the burden.
The story opens with an adult Amir considering the call he had received. It then jumps to the beginning, to Amir’s childhood and to a peaceful Afghanistan of kite-flying winters and summer afternoons spent with friends. The tale, relayed by the adult Amir, follows his development while hinting at the unrest brewing beneath the surface of Afghanistan.
Amir is born into an affluent family. His father is a merchant in Kabul and belongs to the ethnic majority, the Pashtuns. Amir greatly admires his father and tries hard to please him. Unfortunately, his efforts go unnoticed. As such, he has a strained relationship with his father. Though his father provides for him, Amir wishes he had more of his attention. It’s just the two of them—Amir’s mother died during childbirth—and the house servants.
Most of Amir’s days are spent with the servants, Hassan and his father, who are like family to Amir and his dad. Hassan is Amir’s best friend and just as Amir greatly admires his father, so does Hassan highly regards Amir. Often Amir is teased and criticized by other boys for his friendship with Hassan, who is a Hazara, a despised ethnic minority class. He is also teased for his sensitive ways—he is not an abrasive boy and is not as rambunctious as other boys are. Despite such treatment by his peers, Amir doesn’t stand up for himself, and when placed in confrontational situations with the other kids, it’s often Hassan who defends him.
“A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”
Often the two are treated like brothers by Amir’s father. However Amir is jealous of the affection his father shows Hassan. Though he is ashamed of feeling this way, it’s hard for Amir to avoid being jealous when his father rarely praises or spends time with him. One day, Amir receives the opportunity to impress his father. Hassan suggests Amir enter the annual kite tournament. But the day proves fateful. As Amir wins the tournament and gains the admiration and affection he has longed for, the bonds of his friendship with Hassan weakens for when Hassan needed Amir to intervene and protect him, Amir chose instead to hide. The events of that day will forever haunt Amir and affect the choices he makes.
The kite tournament is also a turning point for the country. It is then that the Afghanistan of Amir’s childhood begins to disintegrate into political unrest. Neither Amir and Hassan’s relationship nor the state of the country will be as it was before. Amir’s guilt at not fulfilling his duty to protect a loyal friend causes him to drive Hassan and his father away. In turn, the increasing political unrest in Afghanistan drives Amir and his father to seek asylum in the United States. They live comfortably, though not as affluently as when they lived in Kabul, and Amir develops from a teenager into an adult and even marries. Up until he receives the call mentioned at the beginning of the story, Amir has carried his burden—the knowledge of what had happened to Hassan and the truth of himself, that he had stood by and done nothing when his friend needed him most. The call was a bid to return home, to Afghanistan, for a chance at rectifying his wrongs, a chance at atonement.
The Kite Runner was often recommended to me and always I would shy away from it. Everyone told me that the book is emotional and since I hate crying, I tend to avoid emotional reads. But I’m glad I gave in and read The Kite Runner. And I agree: This story will have your emotions spiking especially since it’s easy to see one’s self reflected in the protagonist. It might not be a mirror image, but we can all relate to the emotions he feels, his insecurities, and his selfish thoughts, which he is later ashamed for considering.
The Kite Runner pulls you in from the first word and its grip is tight. Readers will find it hard to stop reading the story for long and when done, they will sit in shock, awe, grief, or all three. Some readers, like me, might breeze through the book because it’s hard to leave it for long. I even had to sneak peeks at the story while working. My mind would revert back to it when not busy with a task. Others might work through the story at a slower pace. As stated before, it is emotional but also graphic and some readers may need to take a break after reading such unsettling scenes.
I was one of those who was in awe by the novel’s end. First the awe was because Hosseini was a surgeon before becoming a writer and I wondered how long did he have this story in him and what propelled him to write it when he did and not earlier, or later. I was in awe of how captivating the story is and at the strong lure of the narrator’s voice, which beckoned me to stick with him as he relayed his tale. For some reason, that voice reminded me of Janie in Their Eyes Were Watching God and the narrator in One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Next it was the trials and errors and salvation of the protagonist. For a good bit of the novel I disliked Amir. Since the novel is narrated by Amir, we’re stuck in his head and privy to his thoughts and emotions whether or not they are selfless or selfish. And Amir is a flawed human being like us all so often his thoughts were selfish.
“For you a thousand times over.”
Amir’s faults are ones we are all guilty of at some point in life. Though what angered me was when he hints at taking advantage of Hassan’s love and loyalty to him. Hassan is completely devoted to Amir and that scares Amir because of the responsibility such devotion carries. At times Amir tests that devotion, especially after the kite tournament’s events. To me, those tense moments of Amir’s when he balances on the edge of becoming a tyrant hints at the capacity within us all to become monsters and how strong the lure of power and dominion over others is. Amir wanted to see how far he could push Hassan. But he felt ashamed of his actions later because Hassan’s openness and honesty made Amir face the wrongness of his actions. The same goes for when he tries to belittle Hassan’s intelligence because he’s illiterate. Again Hassan’s honesty and innocence shames and humanizes Amir.
The Kite Runner also made me think of fantasy novels like The Lord of the Rings. Now, this may be an odd comparison but I find The Kite Runner similar to such stories because of how Amir is and the magnitude of the situations he faces. Amir is an antihero. He is not strong or brave or has any other outstanding qualities. Actually, he was a bratty little punk growing up. To me, his childhood burden is a curse that hangs over him as he progresses through life and affects him in adulthood by making him and his wife unable to bear children much as they would love to have one.
As with most antiheroes, Amir is not held in high regard by the person he admires the most so he develops a low sense of self. I guess his quest begins when he and his father emigrate from Afghanistan to the U.S. I believe it’s the events of that journey as well as later receiving the respect of his father and caring for him that prepares Amir for his journey back to Afghanistan and readies him for a fight with the antagonist in the story—Assef. Maybe I read too many fantasy novels but I imagined Amir’s fight with Assef as a hobbit facing a dragon. Though the biblical fight between David and Goliath may be a closer comparison.
There’s much to admire in Hosseini’s creation and what I’ve already pointed out are just a few. Another is how Hosseini portrays Afghanistan. I am not familiar with the country apart from what is shown in the news, which is never an appealing picture. Afghanistan is always shown as a country of strife and unrest, a place that most Americans associate with terrorism. But Hosseini shows that the country was not always that way and for a time there was a moment of relative peace. He shows us a bit of the culture of the land and introduces us to the social dynamics between the Pashtuns and Hazaras. I like how the trajectory of Amir and Hassan’s relationship was placed to mirror the country’s decline. It’s as if a story of Afghanistan was being told through their relationship.
Amir’s story is influenced by various other stories. Hosseini draws on many elements that affect and shape an individual’s identity—family, friends, culture, politics, environment, etc. As such, the Shahnamah, an epic poem by the Persian poet Ferdowsi, is of great significance, most notably Amir and Hassan’s favorite story of “Rostam and Sohrab.” When I realized the similarities between the story of Rostam and Sohrab and Amir’s life, I began to wonder how the idea of The Kite Runner came about. What did Hosseini start with first: the Shahnamah or the idea of two boys’ “doomed friendship”? The foreword of my 10th anniversary edition gave some insight but not enough.
And that’s another thing with reading The Kite Runner—you can’t help wondering how Hosseini went about developing the idea for this story. This is one of those stories that will stick around after you’ve done reading. For a few days I was unable to read or watch much else. Scenes from the book would replay in my mind and I was a bit obsessed with unraveling what it was about the book that captured and held my attention so I began researching the elements of great storytelling, which didn’t yield what I wanted to know. But after some reflection on this and other captivating works I’ve read, I’ve decided that a great story is one that touches on all aspects of human experience. It’s a story that speaks true to all who encounter it.
That’s what The Kite Runner accomplishes and that’s why it’s such a great read. I highly recommend it.
Quotes from the book:
“War doesn’t negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace.”
“Baba loved the idea of America.” [I think the same goes for many who emigrate to the states. I same went for me.]
“It may seem unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”
“Soraya. Swap Meet Princess. The morning sun to my yelda.”
“…it always hurts more to have and lose than to not have in the first place.”
“…time can be a greedy thing—sometimes it steals all the details for itself.”
“I feel like a tourist in my own country.”
“The desert weed lives on, but the flower of spring blooms and wilts.”
“A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer.”
“Quiet is peace. Tranquility. Quiet is turning down the VOLUME knob on life.
Silence is pushing the OFF button. Shutting it down. All of it.”