Please note, this post contains spoilers . . . .
The Kite Runner
By Khaled Hosseini
What a book! If you haven’t read it, do. Now! It is such a sensitive, heart wrenching and thoughtful work. I totally loved every page of it.
Having read the Book Seller of Kabul and understanding a little better about the current climate in Afghanistan, this book gives a good insight into what led up to toady. It begins in the 70’s when life, it would seem, was beyond good. The country was flourishing and it’s people working in harmony – to some extent. There are obviously pointers towards the prejudice and judgement of certain human elements at that time, notably the Hazaras, but to me this only seems in line with similar issues within our own country during the 70’s.
In all honesty though, from the little knowledge I have of Conservative Britain, the strikes, the riots, the race issues, Hosseini paints a picture of Afghanistan that makes our county look like the one behind the times. Kabul is a peaceful place where Amir and Hassan can run and play freely; going to the cinema, climbing trees and of course, flying kites. Hassan is the servant son of Amir’s father, Baba (daddy), and together they are almost inseparable, as good as brothers, both without their mums. Other tragic events obviously unfold that separate the two, but politically speaking, the major turning point is when the civil war reigns. I was interested in this thread as it dealt with it in time order as opposed to the reflective version in Book Seller.
Due to the sudden turn in their politics and the sudden advent of war in their country, many Afghans actually welcomed the entry of the Taliban. I thought I had misread this at first, I thought I had got the wrong end of the stick, but no. People actually danced in the streets of Kabul the day the Taliban took control – something from that point on was banished from their lands altogether. But, I suppose it is a reaction many people have felt – Nazi Germany for one. Their country was in a desperate state; A royal coup had exiled the King of Afghanistan, the Soviets entered and brought in another violent regime, civil war continued the downfall once Soviet rule ended, lurching from one aggressive leader to another, there was not a day when gun fire and deaths did not prevail. The Taliban seemed to be the dawn of a new era, a promise of peace and end to violence – no one actually knowing the price they would pay.
The Taliban rule, to me, reeked of everything learnt of Hitler and his regime. Fear was dominant, with confusion not far behind. Double standards, double crossing, violence and threats, Kalashnikovs and innocent bloodshed. It reeked of a country teetering on the edge of a precipice, in one way or another pushing it’s people over the edge. Some escaped and fled, and of those who remained, life changed so much that nothing was recognisable. Nothing.
And through this political mine field runs the story of Amir. He is a tortured soul his entire life, racked with guilt and hurt, unable to rationalise or justify choices he made when he was just a young boy. The day that Hassan had run Amir’s Kite (Kite flying or battles were a common Afghan tradition before the wars, and children would chase the fallen kites in order to keep them as trophies; Hassan was the best!) altered their friendship forever. Amir had always strived so hard to shine in his father’s eyes, Hassan for some reason had always been in favour, even though he was a servant. Amir believed that by winning the competition and retrieving the last fallen kite, he would finally earn his father’s respect and hopefully pride. Hassan, being the best agreed to run for the kite. But he did not return.
After some time, Amir went to look for him and tragically witnesses Hassan’s rape by a violent bully named Assef. Amir simply looks on, simply watches. He does not call out, he does not run for help, he is too frightened of Assef and his knuckle dusters. He hides away and pretends, poorly, that he does not know what has happened to Hassan. Inevitably the two boys drift apart as Amir is too ashamed to be in Hassan’s presence. Both are traumatised yet neither speak out to one another, or to anyone else. Two young boys surrounded with luxury and love, yet horribly alone in their own tormented minds.
Eventually, unable to contend with his own emotions and seeing Hassan, so helpful and kind and courageous, Amir sets him up. Although his father knows the truth, Hassan admits to a theft he did not commit and despite Baba’s protests, they leave his service. Baba is devastated. Amir feels he has lost everything, his childhood, his best friend and his father’s love.
When the war comes, Amir and his father escape to America where they begin a new live. They have a small apartment, hobbies, jobs, school and Amir even gets himself a love life. Their relationship blossoms and a genuine care and respect for one another seeps beautifully from the pages. It builds gradually only for this relationship to be snatched away with Baba’s death.
But Amir is still plagued, and even though he is now married with the desperate, yet dwindling, hope of his own children on the horizon, the past catches up with him. Word of his father’s best friend, back in the old country, reaches him and he has a dying wish – to see Amir. So back he goes, back to a land he has not seen for twenty years, back to the broken bones of Afghanistan. On returning he feels a potential for reconciliation of some form, a way of recompense for his past, a way to be good again. But tragedy has struck, Hassan and his wife had been brutally murdered in the street by Taliban soldiers, leaving a son.
Amir, despite his desperation to run away again, promises his old friend he will redeem himself and goes in search of the boy, only to find him in Assef’s hands. But there is something else about the boy, something Amir had never known. All those years of wondering why Baba favoured Hassan, all those years of trying to be better in his eyes, all those years of friendship, Amir had never known, never been told. Hassan was his half brother. The boy, Amir’s nephew.
I shan’t tell you the final outcome, because I hate it when people do that. But this book is amazing. The sensitivity in which it is written is like no other I have come across. It hits the right mark of sentimentality without it feeling like a cliché. It also deals with the horrific in such a way that you completely understand the anguish and torment without it being vulgar and inappropriate. But as for the end, I will say this, it may not be the happiest book in the world, but it is filled with hope. The ending delivers everything you would want and expect of such a story, deep sorrow yet that sense of forgiveness, the sense that history has stopped repeating itself, the sense that change has brought about a new world, an enlightened world, a world from which good things could spring. A chance to be good again.
This week I am mostly reading “The Island” by Victoria Hislop.