Sometimes a first novel appears and there is tons of praise, and it turns out
to be a real treat, like The Life of Pi. Sometimes a first novel appears to a frenzy of hype, and you
get something as awful as The Historian. Now comes The Kite Runner, a first novel, floating in on a tsunami of positive praise. I am happy to report that in this instance, all the praise is justified. This
is a terrific book.
The Kite Runner reads like an unflinching autobiography, though it is a work of
fiction. But so much seems authentic that the events that occur in the life of Amir must have some parallels
to that of Hosseini (the author.) Amir is the son of Baba, a successful business man in Afghanistan. Baba
is wealthy, well loved - he has big parties and is always helping out the locals - for example, Baba designs
and builds an orphanage in Kabul. Amir is Baba's only child, his mother died giving birth to him, Amir has no
brothers or sisters. Growing up alongside Amir is Hassan, the son of Ali the servant. Hassan also has
no mother, because she ran off to become a singer after giving birth. Baba and Amir are Pushtun's, but Ali
and Hassan are Hazara - which apparently are second class citizens in Afghanistan. (How can people tell just
by looking what tribe/nation/religion you belong too? I always wonder how the Shiites and Sunnis know who to
kill, or the Protestants vs the Catholics in Northern Ireland. But I digress.) Despite the fact that the
servants are Hazara, Baba has a big heart and treats them well. Indeed, Baba pays for plastic surgery to
repair Hassan's harelip. Amir and Hassan are friends, and play together, though Hassan is also Amir's servant -
preparing his breakfast or getting the clothes ready for school. Sometimes Amir treats Hassan badly, using his
superior position to embarrass or mistreat Hassan, nevertheless, Hassan always displays the utmost loyalty and
affection for Amir, which makes Amir feel worse.
The first third of the story introduces us to Hassan and Amir in their childhood. We
learn about their interaction with each other, and with Baba and Ali. It is very well written, not in a flowery
prose fashion, but in straightforward text that makes you care for the characters you meet. I read the whole book
in three days. The novel is set in 1975, when Amir is 12, he enters into a kite fighting contest. Hassan is the best
kite runner in the city - the purpose of a kite fight is to cut the string of your opponent - the untethered
kite will then fly off until it comes to earth - and Hassan has the knack of running to where those kites will land
and retrieving them. The outcome of the kite fighting contest has unexpected sad consequences, and forever alters
the friendship between Hassan and Amir.
The middle part of the book describes Amir and Baba's harrowing flight to America. The
Russians invade Afghanistan in the 1980s, and soon civilians are fleeing the fighting. After a harrowing journey,
Amir and Baba find themselves in San Francisco. Baba, formerly a great business man, finds himself an auto mechanic.
Amir goes to college to study creative writing. On weekends, they work at a flea market trying to make a few
extra dollars. Everything in America is so different from Afghanistan. It is at the flea market that Amir first
lays eyes upon Soraya, the beautiful daughter of an ex-Afghanistan general.
The final section of the book concerns Amir's return to Afghanistan during the time
of the Taliban. It is brutally described. The suffering of the people is extensive. It really makes you appreciate
how good we have it here in the West. Amir's journey is not a happy one, there is great sadness, and more
pain and some really heartbreaking moments. Riveting reading. This book is just great.
On the last page of the Kite Runner is an ad for Hosseini's next novel about Afghanistan,
called Dreaming in Titantic City. Can lightning strike twice? Can there be another
novel as good as The Kite Runner? I will definitely check it out.