Courtesy of Khaledhosseini.com: The Kite Runner is a novel about friendship, betrayal, and the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of their lies. Written against a history that has not been told in fiction before, The Kite Runner describes the rich culture and beauty of a land in the process of being destroyed. But with the devastation, Khaled Hosseini also gives us hope: through the novel's faith in the power of reading and storytelling, and in the possibilities he shows for redemption.
This is likely the truest blurb I have ever read. In a word, Wow. Just Wow. This book was beautifully stunning in its narrative, in the author's obvious love for his homeland, and his obvious distaste for what has become of it through violence; yet his love of the land and its culture shine through to the end. It is a story about love, forgiveness, redemption, sorrow, betrayal, hope, as well as the loss of all the above - good and bad.
The book takes us from Amir's journey from 1960's Afghanistan, westernized and capitalistic, to the current days of the Taliban, oppressive and violent, and just post 9/11. It is the story of Amir and Hassan. Amir is the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan is the son of their lifelong servant. The two boys are raised as brothers, as were their fathers. Yet Amir, driven by a sense of inferiority and indifference from his father, feels the need to show his superiority toward Hassan, and does so in many small, subtle ways. Hassan is one of those truly good people who never rises to the bait, and only seem to want the best for Amir, and to want to be his friend and enjoy their time together.
The year they are twelve, something horrific happens to Hassan, that Amir may or may not have been able to stop. He hides his involvement, and carries the guilt with him throughout his life. He feels so guilty, in fact, that he drives his lifelong friends away from their home together. Hassan and his father leave, adding to Amir's guilt.
Amir and his father escape and emigrate to America during the war with Russia. We see what life was like for Afghan immigrants in the 70s; those who were wealthy and well known in their homeland reduced to pumping gas and selling garage sale rejects at a flea market to make money. But the Afghan community is a close-knit community, much like most immigrant communities. Their pride in who they are, and their customs remained strong, even as they miss their old life. Their desire to build a better life for their children was strongly felt. Amir's father, in one scene, told him, "I'm doing this for you." Powerful, full of love, and yet, more fuel to the fire of guilt? His wealthy businessman father, who lived like a king in Afghanistan reduced to pumping gas. Baba never presents it this way to Amir, however, and the two regain some of the closeness that Amir so craved in Afghanistan. Amir soon meets a woman and falls in love.
I loved getting a look at Afghan culture - not the one that we see on the nightly news, but the one told with such love and affection by Hosseini. There is such love and respect among the generations, even as the younger generations sometimes wish they could roll their eyes and the intergenerational understanding goes awry.
The guilt that drives Amir his entire life sends him back to Afghanistan when he receives a call from an old friend telling him "There is a way to be good again." Once there, he begins a journey that takes him through old childhood haunts, old childhood enemies, and old childhood nightmares. He learns of a childhood based on a large lie that throws him completely for a loop.
Hosseini tells a gripping tale, an immensely sad tale. Just when I thought the darkness and sorrow would come to an end, he dropped me into its grip once more. Amir earns the opportunity for redemption through Hassan's son, Sohab. Once again, each time I though that Amir and Sohab would have a happy ending, Hosseini ripped it out of my hands. Yet he never managed to make me lose my sense of hope for this family. I felt buffeted by the wind, yanked back and forth, emotionally drained once I finished. An amazingly powerful book. Hosseini has a second book that we immediately went and bought: A Thousand Splendid Suns. When I asked Bob how it was (he's reading it first), he answered, "As good as The Kite Runner, and even sadder." Wow. Just, Wow.
Buy The Kite Runner here, and get A Thousand Splendid Suns here.