on June 17, 2003
The earth turns and the wind blows and sometimes some marvelous scrap of paper is blown against the fence for us to find. And once found, we become aware there are places out there that are both foreign and familiar. Funny what the wind brings.
And now it brings "The Kite Runner," a beautiful novel by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini that ranks among the best-written and provocative stories of the year so far.
Hosseini's first novel -- and the first Afghan novel to be written originally in English -- "The Kite Runner" tells a heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan, the son of his father's servant. Amir is Sunni; Hassan is Shi'a. One is born to a privileged class; the other to a loathed minority. One to a father of enormous presence; the other to a crippled man. One is a voracious reader; the other illiterate.
The poor Hassan is born with a hare lip, but Amir's gaps are better hidden, deep inside.
Yet Amir and Hassan live and play together, not simply as friends, but as brothers without mothers. Their intimate story traces across the expansive canvas of history, 40 years in Afghanistan's tragic evolution, like a kite under a gathering storm. The reader is blown from the last days of Kabul's monarchy -- salad days in which the boys lives' are occupied with school, welcome snows, American cowboy movies and neighborhood bullies -- into the atrocities of the Taliban, which turned the boys' green playing fields red with blood.
This unusually eloquent story is also about the fragile relationship fathers and sons, humans and their gods, men and their countries. Loyalty and blood are the ties that bind their stories into one of the most lyrical, moving and unexpected books of this year.
Hosseini's title refers to a traditional tournament for Afghan children in which kite-flyers compete by slicing through the strings of their opponents with their own razor-sharp, glass-encrusted strings. To be the child who wins the tournament by downing all the other kites -- and to be the "runner" who chases down the last losing kite as it flutters to earth -- is the greatest honor of all.
And in that metaphor of flyer and runner, Hosseini's story soars.
And fear not, gentle reader. This isn't a "foreign" book. Unlike Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago," Hosseini's narrative resonates with familiar rhythms and accessible ideas, all in prose that equals or exceeds the typical American story form. While exotic Afghan customs and Farsi words pop up occasionally, they are so well-defined for the reader that the book is enlightening and fascinating, not at all tedious.
Nor is it a dialectic on Islam. Amir's beloved father, Baba, is the son of a wise judge who enjoys his whiskey, television, and the perks of capitalism. A moderate in heart and mind, Hosseini has little good to say about Islamic extremism.
"The Kite Runner" is a song in a new key. Hosseini is an exhilaratingly original writer with a gift for irony and a gentle, perceptive heart. His canvas might be a place and time Americans are only beginning to understand, but he paints his art on the page, where it is intimate and poignant.
on August 31, 2003
This is a truly magnificent book! Without a doubt one of the very best stories I have ever read, not just because it is so beautifully written, but also because it is an important story. It takes place during the last thirty years of turbulent history in Afghanistan, and deals with a family and their love for each other and for their country. Author Khalid Hosseini no doubt has drawn heavily on his own life experiences to bring us this story. He was born to a wealthy family in Kabul Afghanistan and came to America as a political refugee in 1980. In The Kite Runner, Amir is the son of a prominent Pashtun family; his best friend, Hassan is the son of their servant man and a Hazara, a much hated ethnic minority. Despite their ethnic differences, Amir and Hassan are close friends throughout their childhood, both of them always mindful of Hassan's servant status. The two boys grow and learn, one of them privileged, the other deprived, both of them secure in the bosom of a prominent Pashtun family, both loved by the patriarch of that family, while the winds of change blew ceaselessly over the Afghan landscape. This story traces the lives of Amir and Baba his proud Father, and of Hassan and Ali his Father and faithful servant to Baba. In July of 1973, the people of Afghanistan woke to learn that while their King Zahir Shah was away in Italy, the Afghan monarchy had been ended in a bloodless coup led by the King's cousin Daoud Kahn. For a while there was peace in their lives but it was not to last. Before the end of that decade came first the Russians with soldiers, tanks and helicopter gun ships, and when they left, came the years of wanton destruction by the countless tribal war lords. This was to be ended, they thought mercifully, by the arrival of the Taliban, who at first brought order to the chaos, but later proved to be the most ruthless of killers. Amir and his Father left Afghanistan when the Russians arrived and came to America to settle in an Afghan community in San Francisco. However, the ties to their homeland and to the family they had left behind were to haunt them for years. One day, Amir received a telephone call from a friend in Pakistan and decided he must return. What he found there was a revelation of the awful changes which had been brought to his homeland and its people since his childhood. Don't buy this book because it is about that part of the world which changed our lives, don't buy it because it is a story about Muslims, don't even buy it because it is in a way a modern "Gone With The Wind" a story of a strong family in turbulent times. Buy it because it is a wonderful meaningful story, beautifully, sensitively written, by a man whose first language was not even our language, but who has mastered it as few of us have, and who has shown an unusual understanding of the workings of the human mind in times of great mental and physical stress.
on October 9, 2003
I read 2-3 books a week, and this is without a doubt my favorite of this year. No, I'll go further: it's one of maybe 8-10 books I'd choose to take to a deserted isle. I've put The Kite Runner directly into the hands of perfect strangers in book stores and said, "Read this one."
In a nutshell, Amir, the son of a well-to-do Afghani , has a best friend, Hassan, who is the illiterate child of Amir's father's long-time servant. Both children are motherless. A horrific event, a secret kept, the loss of personal honor, and a lie come between the boys. From that rift, the story moves forward as Amir and his father emigrate to California, where Amir matures, marries, and becomes a successful writer, but is still plagued by those old sins and lies. Then comes a revelation of still one more long-held secret that sets Amir on a return trip to Afghanistan (now under the worst years of Taliban dominance) to rescue Hassan's child. Author Hosseini doesn't shy from one iota of unpleasantness, and the result is a book with a perfect narrative arc, a sterling story line, unforgettable characters, and and and and... I had the opportunity to meet the author very briefly (just to shake his hand and gush a bit about his extraordinary book) at Books by the Bay in San Francisco and am delighted to report that he is charming, approachable, and thoroughly engaging. He deserves all the accolades that are coming his way.
Buy The Kite Runner. Read it. Then go back to the store and buy 2 more signed 1st editions - one to keep as an investment and one to give to your best friend.
...what a fine book!
on July 26, 2004
This was an excellent book, but it does not deserve the five star average it has received to this point. I'm giving it three stars because despite Hosseini's gift for words, the book had some flaws.
(1) There were certain scenes towards the end that just didn't need to be there. Some scenes reminded me of a Michael Crieghton novel, where the protagonist just barely makes it out of the alligator infested river to find himself face to face with a bear. Hosseini adds these extra scenes to make the symbolism fit into a neat little package, almost to the point where it's artificial.
(2) As per (1) above, because Hosseini needs to get his symbolism into a nice little package by the end of the book, there is more than one unsubstantiated coincidence that seems too good to be true.
Besides these flaws, the book reads easily and the plot is fluid. I also began to deeply feel for the characters and their plight. It was the rediculous coincidences that kept this book from getting 4 stars.
"The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini is one of those marvelous books that opens up our hearts and minds. This book puts a name and face to the people we are helping to free. This is a book at once so magnificent,it is difficult to comprehend and describe. How could we be fighting for freedom in this far off land, Afghanistan, and not understand the people; their heritage, their land and what they lost?
This book transports us to a very different time in the 1960's. Amir and Hassan, friends, raised in the same household, but in different worlds. Amir is the son of a wealthy businessman, and Hassan is the son of the servant, Hazara. There may be a difference in the lives they led, but they became fast friends. Amir would learn to read and Hassan would not. Amir would have the most beautiful toys and particularly kites, and Hassan would be able to help Amir play with the toys and run (fly) his kite. Amir was the spolied son, Hassan was the intelligent and intuitive servant's son. Their lives would intertwine even when separated.
When the Russian army invaded, Amir and his father fled to the United States, California. Amir grew up in a different land, but with the same Afghanistan culture. He and his father became close. Amir married, went to college, all the while wondering what happened to his childhood friend, the one he betrayed.
As time marched on, Amir lost his father to cancer and was summoned to Pakistan to meet with an old family friend. This turns out to be a life renewing event. Amir searches for news of his friend, Hassan. The search takes him back to Afghanistan, to an orphanage, a meeting with a member of the Taliban, a search for his lost city and culture and for a prize he will cherish, for the truth and for the life he regains.
This is a gritty book, the beauty and violence of this country, Afghanistan, comes to life. The customs and food and smells of the city; the desolation of life and the loss of the country to madmen who are running it with only their imagined vulgar needs and wealth in mind that destroys a culture so varied and rich.
We can imagine we are there, and we can share in the sights, the smells, the utter disregard for human life. But we can never know what these people have lost. A book, I will cherish, so will you. prisrob
on August 16, 2004
I wanted to read the book because I'm an Afghan émigré myself, and I was really interested to read my first novel by an Afghan émigré.
The first part of the book, which is about the protagonist's childhood in Kabul, was a like a psychoanalysis session for me - it revived so many long-forgotten childhood memories. Almost with every paragraph, I thought to myself, yes, I remember doing that too!
Then the book turns into a soap opera. They move to the US; struggle with their daily lives; there's the inevitable love story; the father dies of cancer; etc. But with just one phone call from Pakistan, suddenly the story becomes an action drama, the kind you see in the movies, with an implausible sequence of events. The story becomes over-dramatized and filled with clichés. I couldn't stop thinking that Hosseini had making a movie in mind when writing the book.
The background information about the culture and contemporary history of Afghanistan is not bad, but you can get more information if you just watch a PBS special on Afghanistan.
Some of the recent fiction that I have been reading lately includes Saramago, David Foster Wallace, and Houellebecq. Comparing with these writers, it's hard for me not to say that this book is second-rate literature. I'm really puzzled with all these glorifying reviews on this board. I had never written a review on Amazon before, but felt like I should write one for this book since it seemed to me to be overrated.
I really liked the beginning of "The Kite Runner." It was fascinating to read about a close friendship across classes in a country where class and race were so important. Amir is the son of a wealthy Afghani man. Hassan is the son of the family's servant. The two boys had the same wet nurse at birth and they grow up together, spending nearly every day of their childhood together. However, as Amir attends school and lives in a mansion, Hassan lives with his father in a shack on the property and wakes up early to make Amir's breakfast, iron his clothes and clean up after him.
Sometimes their relationship makes Amir uncomfortable. Hassan is obviously his best friend, but he asks himself why he never refers to Hassan as his friend, and why he'll only play with him when others aren't around. At times he is uneasy with Hassan's continuous devotion, as when Hassan agrees that he would eat dirt if Amir asked.
The relationship between the boys is complex and ultimately leads to Amir allowing a horrible attack to be committed on Hassan. His overwhelming guilt at not stepping in to defend his friend leads Amir to withdraw and eventually harass Hassan and his father into moving away.
When Afghanistan becomes unstable due to war, Amir and his father move to America, where Amir still can't get rid of his guilt. Years later he is contacted by a mutual friend, who offers him a chance to right some of the wrongs of his past.
The second part of the book, in which Amir tries to make amends for what he did, was a bit contrived. I did enjoy reading how the country had changed so drastically, but the details of the plot became more and more unbelievable, which weakened my enjoyment of it.
on September 6, 2005
The first 3/4 of The Kite Runner is spectacular -- harrowing and exciting at the same time. I felt deeply for the characters and sensed I understood them well and fully. There are six extremely well-fleshed out characters, each complex and with complex relationships to one another -- due to family, politics and personality. And it is a page-turner, the events captivating even in the midst of multi-layered brutality.
The last section however, about 150 pages, is less interesting. The book becomes predictable to the point of ridiculous coincidences; the characters lack the depth of the first part; it becomes purely plot-driven, and a very major plot flaw is overlooked. At this point it's a matter of waiting for the plot to unfold in the ways it invariably must, given its now [ironically] Hollywood/American style. At times, during this final quarter, the only surprising elements are its sugar-sweet sentimentality. The reading slows down, and there was no more page turning for me, but to get to the end. It would make a fine Ron Howard vehicle.
Overall, it's not terrible and much of it is quite good. But given the final chunk, my opinion is that it's over-praised and its Hollywood-style plot devices toward the end are unfortunately ill-suited to the material. And just to point out: it's an accessible read, not "intellectual" (though I realize that comes out as an insult...it is what it is, fast and easy reading even though the material is polical and brutal).
on January 16, 2004
Reading The Kite Runner, I had the same sensations that must have been felt by the first readers of Twain, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Harding and all the other great modern novelists. This book has and pays tribute to all elements of great literature, and is a marvelous read as well. It examines courage and cowardice; unbounded kindness and elemental cruelty; love, hate; the most cowardly betrayal and the terrible, but finally liberating, karmic retribution; war, peace; madness and nobility of sentiment; mindless fundamentalist religeon and the most uplifting spirituality. Hosseini understands not only the complicated interplay between fathers and sons and the extreme difficulty of forgiving those whom you have betrayed, but the humanity and basic importance of those moments of blinding failure that can sometimes be responsible for creating the truly heroic act and man. This book deserves every accolade that the other reviewers have given it. Buy it, read it and pass it on to those you love. wfh
on December 14, 2005
I was stopped in the elevator the other day, clutching this book, and a woman peeked at it and inquired how it was.
I said it was really good. (At the time I was a little over half way done with it.)
She followed her question with another; asking me, "What is that about again? I forgot."
I responded, quite succintly, that it's one person's perspective/experience of growing up and living in modern Afghanistan. She gave the polite, but not too terribly interested, "Oh. Yea. Thanks." And stepped out and on her way.
I thought to myself, "Wait. It's much more that that."
And so it is.
Let's be painfully honest here.
How much interest can a book about Afghanistan garner? (at least to Westerners)
When I first saw it at the airport here in Dallas, I overheard a person say to someone standing there, "Just read it."
Just read it.
You'll laugh, you'll cry.
You'll be upset and, at times, frustrated.
But most of all, you'll be taken away.
Do yourself a favor.
Just read it.