The Kite Runner

The Kite RunnerI first read The Kite Runner almost two years ago. But as I prepared to lead a book club discussion on it last week, I realized that though I had blogged about a local lecture by author Khaled Hosseini, I never actually discussed the book itself. Numerous critical reviews have endorsed this remarkable novel, so rather than offer yet another plot summary, let me just explain one of the reasons I appreciate it.

This story taught me more about Afghanistan than any history book could. Like many of my generation, I knew very little about this country until 9/11, so I was familiar only with television images of Taliban soldiers beating burka-clad women for speaking too loudly in the marketplace. I had no idea that in the late 60s and early 70s, the country was significantly Westernized, the citizens wearing jeans, driving Mustangs, drinking Coke, and watching overdubbed American movies at the cinema. One of my favorite paragraphs describes Amir’s reaction when his father sets him straight about his favorite actor:  “Hassan and I were stunned. Dazed. John Wayne didn’t really speak Farsi and he wasn’t Iranian! He was American…we saw our favorite Western, The Magnificent Seven, thirteen times. With each viewing, we cried at the end when the Mexican kids buried Charles Bronson—who, as it turned out, wasn’t Iranian either.”

Yet racial and gender issues were as complicated in Afghanistan as they were in the U.S. during those years. The protagonist’s mother, until she died in childbirth, was a humanities professor at the university. I didn’t know women had ever held such distinguished roles in a Middle Eastern society. But the culture maintained a double standard, ostracizing women who had demonstrated questionable morals while dismissing such behavior among young men as normative. Even well-respected women were “kept” by their husbands, a mindset that prevailed in the community of Aghan exiles in the U.S. which Amir eventually joins.  Amir believes that his mother-in-law, who gave up a singing career to please her husband, loves her new son mostly because: “I had relieved her of the greatest fear of every Afghan mother: that no honorable khastegar would ask for her daughter’s hand. That her daughter would age alone, husbandless, childless. Every woman needed a husband. Even if he did silence the song in her.”

A class structure existed in Afghanistan in which ethnic Hazaras continued to be looked down upon, and sometimes persecuted, by Pashtuns. Hazaras functioned mostly in subservient roles, enjoying playmate status with Pashtun children until they became teenagers and class distinctions had to be reckoned with—much the same as black and white children in the U.S. This racism, combined with Amir’s childhood struggle to relate to his father, sets the stage for the main conflict of the novel.

As the story advances we get a first hand account of the Russian takeover and then the rise of the Taliban, radically altering the Afghan national identity. The Taliban oppression and cruelty was made even more severe to me compared to the imperfect but relatively harmonious prior decades.

So the story is a great history lesson, and one that has stayed with me because it is told with humor, tenderness, and irony. It is one of few books that deserve their #1 New York Times bestseller status. As I told my book club group on Friday, I consider this among the top 5 novels I’ve read, ranking up there with the untouchable My Name is Asher Lev and Too Late the Phalarope.

Many of you have read this book by now, perhaps multiple times, and maybe even blogged about it. But it’s so good you still want to talk about it, right? So please leave a comment about an aspect of the book you particularly appreciate. What character did you develop the greatest affinity for? Did the history surprise you? How does this compare to other favorite novels set in a different culture?

08. January 2007 by Mindy
Categories: Reviews | 17 comments

Comments (17)

  1. Oh yes, Mindy! This book burrows its way deep into the pysche. It is *that* powerful. Like you, I found it so helpful in portraying modern life in Afghanistan and life in an Islamic culture.

    I still haven’t reconciled how someone who doesn’t claim to be Christian can so perfectly portray forgiveness and humility like Hosseini did with Hassan.

    My husband occasionally, out of the blue, says, “I miss Hassan.” We just finished Barchester Towers, a Trollope book with a dean as protagonist, Mr. Harding, who is wonderfully winsome in his humble contentment. Curt looked at me and said, “Now we have Hassan and our dear Mr. Harding.” It is a tribute to The Kite Runner that we take possession of one of its characters.

    One of my favorite passages is the scene with the old beggar in Kabul who had taught at the university with Amir’s mother. Amir is thirsty for details, any remembrance, of the mother he never knew. The beggar tries to come up with something but his memory is shattered and he can’t remember. I lost my mother when I was 10 and I can relate to the desire to talk to those who knew her and can fill in gaps of my knowledge.

  2. I read this book over a year ago, and blogged about it here. Yes, I thought it was quite powerful and a great history lesson. Has the author written published anything else yet?

  3. This was a wonderful review Mindy. I read this last year and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. I was just so moved by the friendship and love that Hassan had for Amir despite everything they’d gone through.

  4. Carol, I love the way you put it about taking possession of one of the characters.

    Sherry, his next book is tentatively titled “Dreaming in Titanic City” about two Afghan women, and scheduled to come out early this year. Also, filming starts this year on a Kite Runner movie. See http://www.afghanzone.com/The_News/Latest_News/Interview_with_Khaled_Hosseini_author_of_%22Kite_Runner%22/ for more info.

    My book club agrees with you, Iliana. We spent much of the discussion talking about this relationship as well as that between Amir and his father.

  5. Mindy–This sounds like my kind of book! Of course I’ve heard all the great reviews, but I do love to learn about a culture or something when I’m reading, so this will give me an added push to read it. Also, I want to read it before the movie comes out.

  6. In addition to the education about life in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and the rise of the Taliban, I have continually thought about the message of redemption and hope that ran throughout the book. It’s at the top of my list of favorite books and is one I plan to read again and again.

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  8. This is one of my all-time favorites. I picked it up initially because of my interest in the Persian-speaking world: I taught English to Afghans in Pakistan for two years in the ’90s, and more recently my husband and I spent two years in the former Soviet Central Asian republic of Tajikistan. Upon commencing reading, however, I was immediately swept up in Hosseini’s story itself–and his characters. I read Kite Runner shortly before taking a class on Folklore and Literature, which gave me the opportunity to examine the parallels with Western and Persian folk traditions that turn up in the narrative. It was a fascinating study. I won’t go into here, but I’m planning to write a blog on the topic in the near future.

    I appreciate your site–I’m always looking for reading recomendations, and I like your tastes.

  9. Amanda, I’d love to hear more about your folklore study—please leave a link here when your post is up!

  10. Mindy,

    I’m late on the bandwagon, but I just finished reading your own copy of the book which you loaned to Diana. (FYI: I did not crease any pages… I share your book-care mania). While I agree with others about the lifting of the curtain on a piece of foreign culture and history, the inner thoughts and choices of the characters, particularly those of Amir, are what haunt me most. This is because I see my own tendencies, fears, poor choices and repercussions reflected. I am looking forward to finding someone to sit down with a cup of coffee and talking about the book in person. For tonight, I will continue to mull and sift in solitude!

  11. Let’s do that next time I’m in Philly, Karyn! So glad you found the book provocative.

  12. And in case anyone reading this thread missed my more recent posting of the movie trailer, go here:
    http://mindywithrow.com/?p=258

  13. Hey mindy, I’m so relieved to find someone who loves this book as much as I do. I have talked about this book to my friends and family but they have yet to read and understand this powerful novel.
    I am currently doing a report on this novel. The theme that I am trying to emphasize is the power of friendship and fate. This theme is clearly evident in The Kite Runner, but I am having trouble finding another book with the same common theme, to try and compare the two. Any suggestions?

  14. Jese, the first suggestion that pops into mind is Chaim Potok’s The Chosen, which besides focusing on the friendship of two young men that are destined for different lives, also has in common with Kite Runner the setting of religious fundamentalism (in this case, Orthodox Judaism). Thanks for the question. Glad to meet another reader!

  15. The Kite Runner is a beautiful novel to read and to know the Afghan culture but the film made on this novel doesn’t refect the true spirit of the book written by Mr. Khalid Hussaini. The novel centeres on the life of a Pashtun family and their Pashtun friends. The film made on the novel never shows any body speaking Pashto, the main language of the ethnic Pashtuns. The main Character, Baba, Amir’s father speaks Iranian Persian, which looks very very odd.

  16. Thanks for your comments on the film, Aman. I have not yet seen it, but look forward to doing so. I wonder why the director made these language decisions–if anyone finds an article or interview that addresses Aman’s complaint, please leave a link here.

  17. “The Kite Runner” an awesome book, great attention to details. Every single page made me cry, laugh, warmed up my heart with love, and made me angry… I cried non-stop throughout the book.