Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
Thus begins The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel; a tale spanning Afghanistan in the seventies to its part in the Twin Towers, passing the Soviet invasion and Taliban rule along the way. The story involves the narrator, Amir, trying to gain his father’s respect by attempting a triumph in the local kite fighting competition. Hassan, his friend and servant, helps him but a life-changing event, for which Amir blames himself, occurs which sees their lives take different paths. When the Soviets attack Amir and his father flee to America via Pakistan where they begin a new life. Amir grows up, graduates, marries, but the thought of his guilt sees him return to Afghanistan, now under Taliban rule, in order to trace Hassan and to right the wrongs of that day in 1975.
Despite the first chapter, a page at most that could be cut, the book begins nicely and sets the stage. Kids play, Islam encourages regular prayer, and the village teems with life. The story continues and we learn about the Hazara, the lowly Afghans used as servants, and how Amir’s playmate, the hare-lipped Hassan, is of this caste. Hassan represents everything the narrator wishes he could be: brave, honourable, and willing to stand up for himself. When Amir needs something, Hassan provides, when Amir is in trouble, Hassan takes the blame, and when Amir is bullied Hassan takes the beating.
It is during this time that Hosseini is at his strongest which, in my opinion, is still rather weak. His characters are alive in their own environment, the play between them is realistic, and the dialogue is nicely garnished with a sprinkle of Farsi. We are also invited to sample Afghani culture as we tour houses and schools, sample the food, visit the cinema, and smile during the kite fighting competition. The only problem here is that the description is so matter of fact that it seems the narrator is listing what he remembers without commenting on any emotional impact it may have caused.
In much the same way that the Soviet attacks caused a downhill surge in the quality of life, the book takes a tumble. Amir’s life in America is a section of approximately seventy pages which, thinking back, seems tagged on. It was as if it were written once the novel was complete and tucked in the centre simply to lengthen the text. Nothing that happens here bears any relation to the rest of the story with the exception of the characters and where the ending is located. I wonder, perhaps, if this part were added to make it not so completely foreign to the mainstream American market.
After the American section the novel doesn’t improve. Amir returns to Afghanistan to right his wrongs and the story becomes more of a catalogue of Taliban atrocities than the emotional narrative it could have been. Eventually, after a series of ridiculous coincidences, the story returns to America where it, thankfully, concludes.
I found the narrator to be too perfect in his recollection of times gone by. Every detail is rendered with incredible certainty, including dreams where he’s not quite coherent, and the descriptions are without sentiment. Nostalgia has never been so dry. Cliché is used prolifically within the narrative although the middle aged Amir does make light of this. He doesn’t, however, seem to realise that his own life story has graced so many movies and books already that, despite being the only Afghan protagonist I know, he is already hackneyed.
The Kite Runner is not a book that I can recommend and I disagree with the critics that are quoted as saying the book was “emotional” when it was so cold that it would take more than a poppy field ablaze to melt its boring heart.
May 31, 2007