July 2008 - Vol. 21

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead Trade
400 pages

Note: This novel can be disturbing for some readers due to adult themes and violence. Parents should read the book before recommending it to young readers.

The Kite Runner

reviewed by Jon Wilson

Khaled Hosseini is an American physician who was born in Afghanistan. His first novel, the bestselling The Kite Runner, is set in both countries, telling the story of the boy Amir, who was also born in Afghanistan before coming with his family to the United States. The book explores Amirís relationships with his father and his best friend, Hassan, the son of the household servant, Ali. As a boy, Amir betrays Hassan in an attempt to win his fatherís approval, and he spends the next several decades of his life full of guilt and regret. Then, after he has built a life as a writer in America, the now married Amir is summoned back to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to attempt to rescue Hassanís orphaned son. The book concludes with this effort at redemption.

While the story is not particularly complex, it engages several quite different themes. Amirís relationship with his father, Baba, is tortured and difficult. He feels that he never has his fatherís approval, and the description of his early years feels hauntingly realistic. This dynamic affects his relationship with Hassan as well, since Hassan, raised as part of the household, receives more affirmation from Baba than Amir does. In addition, their friendship also introduces the theme of ethnic tension, in this case between the privileged Pashtun (Amirís family) and the Hazara people (Ali and Hassan). With Amirís and Babaís emigration to the US, the book shifts to explore the immigrant experience. Hosseini paints a convincing and moving portrait of the Afghan community in Californiaís Bay Area. Finally, in the last part of the book, Amir struggles with issues related to his marriage, his and his wifeís inability to have children, and the possibility of adoption.

All of this makes for a gripping and emotional novel. Taken alone, many of the aspects of the novel are compelling and realistic. In addition, the reader gains a better understanding of the recent history of Afghanistan, which many of us feel the lack of. From a literary perspective, however, the novel as a whole begins to feel like a spool of string wound too loosely, or perhaps just wound with too much string. In the midst of the shifts from Afghanistan to California, then back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, the novel begins to lack a sense of coherence and unity. In the end, The Kite Runner feels more like three novels than one. But since they are all very enjoyable novels, one isnít inclined to complain.

[Jon Wilson is a coordinator of Word of Life, a member community of the Sword of the Spirit. He and his wife, Melody and their four children live in Ypsilanti, Michigan, USA.] 

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