Thursday, March 09, 2006

Guest Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

It gives me great pleasure to welcome my friend and fellow blogger,
Hello, Melissa as a guest reviewer to this blog!

Here's her wonderful review for,

"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini

Pub. Date: April 2004

Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)

When you go to a movie theater to see a serious drama, you often find yourself squirming in your seat. Cringing, drawing your knees up to your chest, burying your face in your hands. The Kite Runner had me doing all these things, only I couldn’t block the pictures I saw in my head with my hands. All I could do was clutch my head, flop the book down on a table, and turn on the TV to something inane like “The Price is Right.”

I will admit that this is my first attempt at a formal book review, and I’d like to thank Lotus for the opportunity and honor of reviewing for her blog (that I highly respect). Reading a book KNOWING that you’ll review it later is different than just curling up and barreling ahead; I tried to take notes and dog-ear pages. I don’t know yet whether it made the book experience any more or less enjoyable. So while I’ll TRY not to include any spoilers for those of you who have not yet read this, I can’t guarantee it. Feel free to critique me.

Most of us have spent a good part of our lives hearing about Afghanistan in the news. It has been a war torn, poverty stricken, third world country ruled by many different factions over the course of the last three decades. I never understood much about the plight of this country, but this novel takes us from an earlier time in Afghanistan, when it was still a monarchy in the 1970’s, up through the pre 9-11 months, when an entirely NEW war would ravage their land. I now have a great understanding and sympathy for these people, and will never again see a newscast about Afghanistan the same way. Hosseini has done a great service to the country of his birth to bring attention to its situation.

I’m having a hard time trying to boil the plot down into just the main points so as not to spoil the book. The story centers around Amir and his father, Baba. In the beginning, Amir lives a privileged life in a wealthy part of Kabul, complete with servants: Ali and his son, Hassan, in a hut in the back yard. Amir and Hassan are as close as they can be, but are separated by great chasms of class. “…history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara. I was a Sunni and he was a Shi’a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing.” This quote encapsulates many of the overlapping themes of this novel: family, religion, class, tradition, brotherhood, nationality.

(a current photo of wazir akbar khan, the neighborhood in which amir and hassan were raised)

The beginning of Afghan strife is when a bloodless coup topples the existing monarchy in 1973. Hosseini describes Amir’s point of view: “…the shootings and explosions had lasted for less than an hour, but had frightened us badly, because none of us had ever heard gunshots in the streets. They were foreign sounds to us then. The generation of Afghan children whose ears would know nothing but the sounds of bombs and gunfire was not yet born.”

Hassan and Amir take part in a kite-flying competition in Kabul, and after it is won by Amir, the turning point-- in the narrator’s viewpoint-- takes place. The rest of Amir’s life is plagued by a terrible secret shame he witnesses and tells no one, mostly to “win” the affections of his father who also has a soft spot for Hassan, the son of his servant.

Baba and Amir struggle to migrate to America, leaving the estranged Hassan and his father behind in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion. Their new life takes flight, but Amir is constantly shadowed by his guilt over what happened that day of the kite flying contest and the events that ensued. In 2001, Amir is summoned back to a very different Afghanistan than the one he left behind by a friend of the family promising Amir a chance to make things right.

That REALLY BRIEF and bland synopsis is the only way I can think to tell of the book without giving away any of its secrets. Typically, you can see a book’s plot points coming from a mile away, but the surprises in this book are real. Amir’s struggles to emerge from the shadow of his powerful father and his crushing guilt take him on an incredible journey through life, but particularly back to the land that he still considers ‘home’ after many years away. At the time he returns, the Taliban is in control of the country, and much of it is unrecognizable to the now man who grew up there. The danger is palpable as Amir faces demons both real and imagined, both from his childhood and from the present.

Hosseini’s prose and narrative style are enlightening, especially considering that he is and internist by trade and an author in his spare time. His evocation of thoughts, feelings and actions is some of the best I have ever read. Sometimes a book told in a first person narrative as this one is has a preachy, ‘state the obvious’ tone. Hosseini never ‘talks down’ to his reader like this, and I really appreciated it.

I was blown away by this story, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a book that will grab them from beginning to end and teach them much about Afghan culture, history, religion, relationships, and class systems. It forces you to walk Amir’s path with him until the resolution, and by then you are breathless. There is a film in production based on this book, and I can only hope that the director doesn’t flinch from the hard realities and gut-wrenching themes and make it a predictable formula Hollywood tear-jerker.