I must start this review with an apology to all my friends who have been on at me for years to read this book. Why has it taken me so long? I’ve no idea, but I’m so glad that I did eventually pick it up.
The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a Sunni Muslim growing up in Afghanistan in the 1970s. Following the death of his mother during childbirth Amir is raised by his father Baba with the help and companionship of their Shi’a Muslim servant Ali and his son Hassan. Amir struggles with the complex nature of his relationship with Hassan who is both servant and friend, and the socioeconomic culture he faces as one of the privileged class. In a bid to prove himself to his father Amir becomes fixated on winning the Kite tournament, and his faithful companion makes it his mission to chase down the final kite for him. But in the aftermath of the tournament when Amir is unable to find the courage to defend Hassan against a group of bullies it sets off a chain reaction that leads to guilt, lies and betrayals. Flash forward and at the age of 18 Amir and his father are forced to flee Afghanistan due to the changing political climate. They make a new life for themselves in America but the memory of Ali and Hassan remains. Years later Amir is forced to return to his homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend Sohrab and in doing so must face the demons and decisions of his youth.
From the opening paragraphs I was transfixed with this story. Hosseini has a beautiful way with words and a rhythm to his writing that whisks you away from your everyday life to the countries, cities and homes of his book. For as long as I have known of Afghanistan it is has been a country I associate with war. A place where strict rules are imposed by the Taliban and in more recent years a broken country trying to rebuild. It was therefore eye opening and moving to read of the Afghanistan Hosseini knew. He paints his pictures through the things we can sense, taste and smell. His attention to detail in describing the landscape, the impact of the changing seasons, the colours of the kite tournaments, and the food all create a colourful and vivid picture for us. The sharing of food is clearly an important Afghan custom as it features so much in the book. You can almost taste the naans, stews, pomegranates and lamb kabobs that punctuate Amir’s story. Although fiction I feel in reading The Kite Runner I have a better understanding of the country.
The character of Amir is completely and utterly open to us as he narrates his story. Throughout we are privy to his thoughts and feelings, both as a child and as the adult reflecting on his story as he writes. The event which causes the breakdown of his relationship with Hassan is harrowing and heart breaking, but it does not come as a surprise. We know from the tone at the beginning of the book that this is the moment Amir will not act, this is the turning point in his life, the sin he feels he must confess and atone for.
For the first two thirds of the books there is a noticeable absence of female figures. Both Amir and Hassan are raised by their fathers with the only other constant in their life Rahim Khan best friend and business partner to Amir’s father Baba. Despite this I felt a presence of women in the book. Amir has a strong likeness to his mother; he is creative and emotional and struggles with the expectation of his father to be more like him. Hassan is also surrounded by the echo of the mother who left him and his father. He is disparaged for being Hazara, ridiculed for his cleft lip and taunted for the immoral actions of a mother he never knew and yet still misses. The strongest female in the book is by far Amir’s wife Soraya. She is steady, intelligent and compassionate, and although Amir does not immediately confide in her it is her presence in his life that gives him the strength needed to return to his homeland and right a wrong.
The Kite Runner is an epic tale, spanning continents and decades, of friendship, loyalty and love. A book to be cherished along with the little lost boys at the heart of it, Amir, Hassan and Sohrab.