The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
The Kite Runner is a powerful and moving novel set in Afghanistan and America. The narrator, Amir, is the privileged son of Baba, a rich businessman, member of the influential Pashtun tribe and Suni Muslim, who tells the story of his friendship with Hassan, a low-caste ethnic Hazara and Shi'a.
Hassan is the son of Ali, servant to the household. The two boys, who are both motherless, are brought up together in this all male environment. They were fed as infants by the same wet-nurse and Ali tells them as children that there is a brotherhood between people who fed from the same breast, "a kinship that not even time could break." The class difference is, however, always present and as
Amir is driven to school every day in his father's large American car, Hassan stays at home with Ali to cook and clean the beautiful and opulently furnished house. Life for Hassan and Ali is lived in the servants' quarters - a mud shack in the garden.
Hassan is a loyal companion to Amir, a troubled boy, who deeply feels the loss of the mother who died while giving birth to him and who desperately seeks the approval of his father. Amir would rather stay at home and write stories or read the books from his late mother's library than play football or the boys' games that Baba would like to see and Baba's obvious affection for Hassan irritates Amir. Though the boys do everything together and Hassan's loyalty is unfailing, Amir uses his status to exert power over Hassan. For example, Hassan loves to hear the Afghan folk tales that Amir reads to him but it is always when it suits Amir and it never occurs to him to teach Hassan to read them for himself.
Finally the day comes when Amir can make Baba proud of him. The boys enter a kite-flying tournament where the winner is the boy who can cut down all his opponents' kites. Amir wins and Hassan says that he will run and find the last kite and bring it back as a trophy for Amir. What happens next will haunt Amir for he rest of his life.
Meanwhile the political situation worsens. The last few peaceful days of the monarchy are over and the Russians are moving in on Afghanistan. Those who are able, and wealthy enough, flee the country and among them are Amir and Baba. They end up in San Francisco where, Amir, now a writer, is constantly haunted by his past. When events take him back to Afghanistan he hopes that he can finally redeem himself.
Amir's return to Afghanistan is the most powerful part of the book. The country is unrecognisable after 30 years of conflict. The Taliban roam the streets exerting their awful tyranny on the Afghan people. Housseini conjures up amazingly powerful images that are reminiscent and as menacing as the Thought Police in 1984 or the Nazgul in Lord of the Rings - except, in this case, they are not metaphorical.
The story takes a turn here and becomes a little bit of an adventure story, but is no less powerful or moving.
This book leaves one felling a terrible sadness for the Afghan people, who, for the last almost forty years have suffered at the hands of foreign invaders and their own people - and that is only their recent history. In The Kite Runner Khaled Husseini brilliantly tells their story within a story.