Khaled Hosseini,
The Kite Runner
(Riverhead, 2003)

Khaled Hosseini's debut novel, The Kite Runner, is an incredible achievement in fiction writing. Set in Afghanistan against a backdrop -- the fall of the monarchy, the Soviet invasion, the exodus of refugees, the rise of the Taliban -- that hasn't been previously detailed in fiction, Hosseini's story is so riveting, so breathtaking that it is simply unforgettable. Its compelling story, coupled with its broader themes of friendship, betrayal and the price of loyalty, will certainly allow the piece to stand the test of time.

It isn't a wonder the book managed to spend years on bestseller lists.

It all begins in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan and Hosseini's hometown. There, two young boys, Amir and Hassan, form an unlikely friendship -- society has taught them both that they are too different from one another to ever allow a friendship to blossom between them. Amir comes from a wealthy and prominent family, while Hassan is the son of the servant to Amir's family. Hassan is also a Hazara, or put another way, a member of an ethnic minority shunned in Kabul. Even so, Amir and Hassan are inseparable, spending a bulk of their time pulling pranks and flying kites, a popular activity among the youth in the area.

Disaster strikes one day, however, when Amir witnesses arguably the most unfortunate of crimes, but decides it better to watch the incident unfold in shock instead of pursuing its end. Following an invasion, Amir joins his father in fleeing Afghanistan, a perfect opportunity, Amir thinks, to rid his mind of past demons. But as Amir soon realizes, you can't escape the past without proper atonement.

Though The Kite Runner is, in a word, beautiful and one of the best examples of a coming-of-age story, it also is considerably graphic and at times very difficult to take. Some characters are violated, many others are killed as the novel covers more than Amir's mere childhood and exile of his home country in turmoil. It follows him, actually, through adulthood, and the decisions he makes that ultimately shape who he becomes and how he deals with his regrettable past.

It's all too frequent that the only Afghanistan news we read about in the States is related to violence and war, to the point where we've completely lost sight of its true identity. Though still unforgettably tragic, The Kite Runner is at least more personal than the news stories and humanizes the brutalities its people have faced, whether it be from an invasion of Soviets, the Taliban or the United States.

review by
Eric Hughes

5 July 2008

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