Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Book Review: The Kite Runner

Kahled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a wonderful book. It's the story of a close-knit Afghan family from Kabul. It follows the family from before the 1979 Russian invasion of Afghanistan, through twenty years of exile in America, and back to the Taliban's hell on earth in 2001.

The story begins in the 1960s, when Afghanistan was a relatively peaceful developing country. The author initially focuses on the friendship between Amir, a wealthy Pashtun boy, and Hassan, his Hazara servant. Although such a friendship is unlikely in the class-conscious and sectarian Afghan culture, Amir and Hassan share a close bond. Hosseini beautifully captures their days spent roaming Kabul, going to the cinema to see American and Pakistani films, playing "Cowboys and Indians", and flying kites. Just below the surface, however, there is tension. Amir is the more privileged of the two, but he is jealous of Hassan. Without understanding his own actions, Amir rejects Hassan. Shortly after, the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir's family escapes to America, and the two friends are apparently separated for good.

Hosseini devotes the "second act" of the book to Amir's exile in California's Silicon Valley. This part is also compelling and wonderfully told, but the "third act" is the most memorable. In 2001, the now 38 year old Amir is summoned back to Afghanistan. He secretly re-enters his country, sees the destruction wrought by twenty years of war, and bears witness to the tyranny of the Taliban. It's a heartbreaking and terrifying passage, but Amir sees it as the only way to redeem his past.

Although the story focuses on Amir, it is filled with fully realized Afghan characters including Amir's father (or Baba), his friend Hassan, his "uncle" Rahim Khan, his wife and in-laws, and many more. I think the book gives you a real appreciation of traditional Afghan culture, the tragedy of the Russian invansion, and the ruthless reign of the Taliban.

The Kite Runner is a story of personal redemption, but it is also unmistakably an allegory for the redemption of Afghanistan itself. Having read the book, I am proud of the role America played in ousting the Taliban and hopeful about the country's future. Salaam Alaykum, Afghanistan. Peace be with you.

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