The Kite Runner: A Story of Friendship, Love, Betrayal, Loss and Hope
I received the book ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini as a gift a while back, but was slow to begin reading it as I was unfamiliar with Khaled Hosseini’s works and was unsure about how engaging the book would be. Of course, I knew that it was a bestseller, but over time, I have come to realize that not all bestsellers are to my taste and a few have left me dissatisfied at the end. However, that is not the case with ‘The Kite Runner’. Once I began reading it, I was intrigued, and the book remained engrossing up to the very end. I can now add one more name to my list of favourite authors and am looking forward to picking up the two other books by Khaled Hosseini, ‘A Thousand Splendid Sons’ and ‘And the Mountains Echoed’.
About the Author Khaled Hosseini:
Khaled Hosseini is an American author and doctor, whose country of birth was Afghanistan or the erstwhile Kingdom of Afghanistan. He was born in 1965 in Kabul when King Mohammed Zahir Shah, ruled over Afghanistan, and lived the first eight years of his life in the Wazir Akbar Khan locality, much like Amir his protagonist in ‘The Kite Runner’. He too flew kites with his cousins during that period of his life. His father was a government diplomat due to which the Hosseini family travelled the world. His mother was a schoolteacher who taught Farsi. Paris was where they resided when in 1973 a surprise bloodless coup ended the monarchy and Afghanistan was declared a republic. The family was thus unable to return to Afghanistan due to the ensuing civil war and the Soviet war that followed it and sought asylum in the USA in 1980. Khaled Hosseini completed his education in the USA and was a practising doctor in California before he became a successful writer. However, he has likened his occupation as a doctor to an ‘an arranged marriage’, something that his parents wanted more than he did.
The Kite Runner The Storyline:
Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ is a beautifully spun narrative of the life of Amir, an Afghani boy, as seen through adult Amir’s eyes, and the course that his life takes after the monarchy in Afghanistan is overthrown and the country has been declared a republic.
We can divide the book broadly into three sections. In the first, Amir tells us the story of his childhood friendship with hare lipped Hassan, how inseparable they both were as children, how they had both nursed from the same breast and were like brothers, and how one incident, an act of cowardice and betrayal irrevocably changed both of their lives.
Hassan is the son of Ali, the servant in Amir’s home, is uneducated, unable to read and write, and belongs to the Hazara clan whose people suffered oppression and persecution at the hands of the dominant Pashtun clan members. Hassan has a simple mind and a pure soul and his love for Amir is unconditional. ‘For you, a thousand times over’ is what Hassan says to Amir at an important stage in the narrative and it is a phrase that recurs through the book. To me, it is a very poignant one. It is symbolic of the depths of Hassan’s love and loyalty to Amir. He is ready to do Amir’s bidding at any time and at any cost. Amir describes him as being incapable of hurting anyone. However, Amir does not reciprocate Hassan’s feelings and innate goodness. As we, the readers are made privy to the deepest, darkest recesses of Amir’s mind we see the green-eyed monster coiled and lurking. You may wonder what about Hassan, a lowly servant’s son could provoke jealousy within young Amir’s heart. Well, Amir hungers for his father’s love and is envious of the father-son bond that Hassan and his father Ali share. In Amir’s eyes, Hassan is better than him at almost every physical activity and he also senses that his own father pays a tad too much attention to Hassan and treats him almost like ‘the son that he never was’. Amir wants to evoke a feeling of pride in his father toward himself as he feels this will make his father love him better. To this end, he decides to win that year’s kite-flying tournament, in which he and Hassan have regularly participated over the years, Hassan being his kite runner, running to capture the kites whose strings Amir cuts with the string of his own kite. His father was an avid follower of the tournament and had expressed a desire to see his son win. He does win the competition and momentarily attains a place of pride in his father’s eyes but at a huge price that leaves an indelible mark on his life going forward.
The second section of the book leads us through adult Amir’s life as a citizen of the USA, where he and his father seek refuge after the monarchy in Afghanistan is overthrown and the Russians take over the country, and how that incident in 1975 in Afghanistan still haunts him. In the third, we follow Amir as he journeys back to Afghanistan and Kabul as a kind of atonement for the sins that he had committed as a child. He embarks on the journey unwillingly, is tricked into it, but later undertakes it willingly and goes the extra mile to make things right again. The book ends on a hopeful note, not a happy one.
Right from the start, Khaled Hosseini creates a sense of doom and of an impending tragedy in ‘The Kite Runner’. An incident is constantly alluded to; something that happened between two boys, two friends leaving one with a deep remorse; something that happened ‘on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975’. This builds up the suspense as to what the incident could be and creates a sense of drama. Amir who narrates most of the story to us talks about how the past can be buried but always finds a way to claw its way out. When the incident is finally revealed it is unexpected and devastating, to say the least. What happens after is even more painful and one is left quite heartbroken at one point in the narrative. The midsection of the book that tells us about Amir’s adulthood in the US is comparatively tame and has much less drama and pain. Then we move on to his return back to Afghanistan and the book once again picks up the pace and we are taken on an emotional roller-coaster ride by Khaled Hosseini up until the end of the book that provides no happy ending but only a sense of hopefulness. However, even so, I would still tag it as an extremely compelling and fulfilling read.
In a foreword to the 10th-anniversary edition of the book, Khalid Hosseini describes the characters of his two child protagonists as ‘one conflicted, on unsure emotional and moral ground; the other pure, loyal, rooted in goodness and integrity.’ The book tells us the story of a doomed friendship. What it also does is give us a glimpse of what the now war-torn Afghanistan was like before the war began when it was a monarchy and what life was like for its people under the Russian and then the Taliban rule. The book gives one a personal experience, albeit vicariously, of the plight of the Afghan people under the Taliban, who arrived as saviours but in reality were brutal marauders committing crimes in the name of religion. I was actually surprised to read about Afghanistan’s progressive monarch under whose reign the country had thrived. The book has succeeded in getting me interested in looking up the history of Afghanistan. I was also struck by the similarities between Hindi and the Farsi language that is spoken in Afghanistan. The Author makes liberal use of words from Farsi thus giving the narrative a realistic feel. All in all the entire book proved to be a great emotional read!
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