Monday, May 14, 2007

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

There's a cliche about the train wreck -- it's so horrible yet so fascinating you can't look away.That's how I found The Kite Runner, which had many disturbing elements in it, episodes that were difficult to read because of the oppression and "violence of the wicked" -- very often violence against children -- and because of the sheer sadness of some of the passages. Yet the book drew me in with its poignant but matter-of-fact prose; its eye-opening look at life in war-torn nations; its touching moments of faithful friendship, and the heart-rending quest for a father's praise.

The story is set in Afghanistan, and the narrator is Amir, who relates how his carefree boyhood was destroyed, first by a personal sin, then by war violence which forces Amir and his father to escape their home to Pakistan, and ultimately come to America, where they try to make a new life in California. Though seeing the violence and oppression of Afghanistan's invaders was terrible, it is his own sin that hangs like a dark cloud over Amir. In his quest for gaining the love and pride of his adored father, Amir makes a choice that hurts (to say it mildly) his most loyal friend and servant, Hassan. Amir's guilt over this becomes a disease that ruins his friendship with Hassan and changes the course of both their lives. As an adult, Amir is given the opportunity to redeem himself of his boyhood failure. He must see if he can claim for his own the courage, faithfulness and integrity that he always admired in his father and in Hassan.

The Kite Runner is moving and often painful. Of course, there are some bright spots: happy memories of a carefree childhood that crop up throughout the book; a new and ardent love that springs up further on in the story; and evidence of Amir truly gaining the respect of his father. But the heaviness never really lets up, because not only are the violent scenes distressing (although it is rarely in-your-face violence, the language is simple and evocative and unmistakable), the presentation of all these lives in the grip of Islamic ideology is saddening as well. On the one hand are the Islamic jihadists; but on the other you have the sympathetic characters like Amir, who must live with guilt, because there is no blood redemption, no sacrifice of love on their behalf by Allah, no salvation by grace. Allah may eventually forgive his followers, but they, like Amir, must earn their own redemption.

I'm glad I read this book, because it is so well-written, and because it showed a way of life that is foreign to me, but that is normal for so many people around the world in Islamic and war-torn countries. However, I would recommend it only to mature and discerning readers.


At 5:53 PM, Blogger Rose said...

This was a fascinating read for me, too. I too cringed at all the painful parts, but it was well-written and interesting. The plot deepened as I went along, and it turned out to have more twists and turns than I would have expected - I just thought it was a basic coming-of-age memoir, only set in a foreign country.

It really opened my eyes to the situation in Afghanistan, although it was hard to understand why there was such prejudice between the Sunnis and the Shiites. (sp?) It seemed both racially and culturally motivated - very sad.

It was hard for me to identify with the narrator, because I didn't like him very much. I kept wishing for things to improve, but they didn't. Even the redemption message was kind of depressing.

Gripping story, though, and very educational about the plight of this war-ravaged country.

At 1:13 PM, Blogger Queen of Carrots said...

This was an excellently-written book, both at the plot level and at the word level (and it's so rare for an author to do both!)

I did find the working-out-your-own redemption message to be dreary. We often look at books that portray the hopelessness of a world without God--but a world where God has never come himself is not so very much more hopeful. We humans have made far too big of a mess of things to ever fix it on our own. Even if Amir could confront the evil in his own heart, he could do nothing to change the evil in the hearts of others--or even alleviate its effects. Some wrongs are too deep for humans to fix. That is why we need a savior.


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