The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
(Riverhead, $14.00) ISBN 1-59448-000-1
*****
Although first published in 2003, The Kite Runner is out in most bookstores because it is being used in schools and is popular with reading groups. It is a riveting look at a man who grew up in Afghanistan and clearly shows the horrors of a war ravaged country. While the romance is slim and a G rating is earned in that arena, this is not a book for the faint of heart. The very savagery of some of the scenes demonstrates the reality of living in the Middle East and violence is detailed in graphic terms.

Amir grew up in a fancy house in Kabul, with his father, Baba and two servants, Ali and Hassan. Ali was Baba’s servant and they had grown up together in that capacity. Hassan was Ali’s son but was best friends with Amir as well as being his servant. Amir’s mother had died giving birth and Hassan’s mother had left her son and husband shortly thereafter. They had had the same wet nurse. Their bond was strong, yet Amir realized that there were subtleties to their relationship that were part of the culture. He and Hassan played together unless there were other friends there. Then Hassan was excluded. Hassan and Ali were of the Hazara tribe, the lowest in power.

Amir loved Hassan and yet he resented him. Baba seemed to hold Hassan in high regard and Amir was often jealous. It didn’t help that Baba seemed to be reserved with him, not being interested in anything Amir was interested in. Amir loved to read and write stories. Baba wanted Amir to play soccer, but Amir was a klutz. Amir was determined to make Baba proud. The one thing Amir was good at was kite fighting. This was a tournament in which one tried to be the last kite flying and then be the one to recover the second to last kite as it fell to the ground. Amir could fly the kite and Hassan was the runner. But on the day they won the big tournament, Hassan was confronted by the local bully and raped. Amir saw it but was too scared to stop it. This lack of courage impacts his entire life.

The story takes place in Kabul and Pakistan, San Francisco and then back to Afghanistan from the early 1970’s to the present day. It follows Amir’s flight from Kabul after the Russian takeover, his building of a life in America and finally, his return to make good when he discovers that Hassan’s son has been orphaned and is alone in Kabul. There is love when Amir finds his wife. There is heartache when Baba gets cancer and dies. And there is horror when Amir discovers all that is different in Kabul under the rule of the Taliban.

The imagery is vivid, bringing alive the sights and smells of a culture that is not familiar to most of us. The use of Farsi words at times is distracting, but helps in cementing the difference in the cultures. This is a true look at human nature and one’s mans’ struggle. I found myself refusing to put the book down, despite the emotion of angst many scenes pulled forth. There are glimpses into the psyche of a people who are proud and yet reeling from all they have had to endure. It is a glimpse in a culture that has been in the news for many years and has impacted all of us. Yet it shows clearly that underneath the culture we are similar in many ways.

The characters are vibrant and come alive. Even minor characters like a beggar in Kabul who just happened to have known Amir’s mother many years ago is written so that the reader can visualize him and his situation.

The front of the book has quotes from previous reviews in magazines and newspapers. Often I find these to be good press but not completely descriptive of the book. Not so in this case. “Riveting” and “Extraordinary” do describe this story.

--Shirley Lyons


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