The Kite Runner
Reviewed: March 18, 2008
By: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Anchor Books
394 pages, $21.00
“There is a way to be good again.” With these words the dying Rahim
Khan calls Amir to return to the scenes of his youth, decades after he and his
father, Baba, fled the tyranny of the Soviet regime in Afghanistan, 26 years
after the defining moment in Amir’s life.
“I became what I am today at the age of 12, on a frigid day in the winter
of 1975, I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall,
peeking into the alley near a frozen creek.”
It will be many chapters before we readers learn just what Amir was hiding from
that day, what he saw, and what he spent the next several years hiding from.
We will have to learn about the cruelty of the young, about loyalty and betrayal,
and about how one betrayal led to another and then another until Amir was able
to define himself by the wrongs that he committed when he was so young.
“It’s wrong what they say about the past.” Amir tells us on
that first page, “about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its
way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted
alley for the last 26 years.”
About half of this book is set in Afghanistan and Pakistan and, when I was preparing
a novel study for my very last English 12 class I found that the story divided
quite neatly into nine sections.
The first three introduce us to life in pre-Soviet Afghanistan, and lead to
an appreciation that this would have been a difficult place for someone from
the west to understand even before the Soviet regime and the Taliban got finished
with it. These days it’s probably impossible. The author, Hosseini, lived
a recognizable middle class life there, as did his narrator, but Amir’s
life was so different from that of most of his countrymen that we can only nod
later in the novel when his driver tells him that he was always a tourist in
his own land.
In 131 pages we learn of the lives of Amir and his best friend/servant, Hassan.
They are divided by race and culture, by class and status and by the rules of
the land - and by a secret that neither of them knows. Everything leads to the
scene in the alley and to the sins that follow it.
The middle of the book is set near San Francisco, after father and son have
escaped the Soviet occupation and resettled. It is a section about culture shock,
about mending relationships, and about love. It is essentially the section in
which Amir grows up enough to do what he has to do next, even though he doesn’t
know that that is, doesn’t know the secrets he will learn or the pain
he will endure, before that fateful telephone call in December of 2001.
Rahim Khan reveals almost everything to the shocked Amir in Peshawar and sets
him on his quest to recover his honour and save the life of the nephew he never
knew he had.
If life in Afghanistan was strange to the reader when Amir was young, and brutal
when he escaped in his late teens, it is simply insane under the Taliban. In
a novel written by an Afghan native this is perhaps even more believable than
anything you might see on the news.
Most of the final four sections of the book are about Amir’s quest to
salvage something for Hassan’s son, about his own absolution for youthful
sins, and about the vengeance that comes to the man who brutalized both Hassan
and his son, Sohrab.
The Kite Runner is a story about redemption, about how small evils can lead
to larger ones, about how one must, eventually, take hold of oneself and chart
a new course, or be forever lost.
There IS a way to be good again, Believe it.