THE KITE RUNNER by Khalid Hosseini
(a book review by Mark R. Leeper)

Khalid Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and today lives in California as a physician and now a novelist. In fact, THE KITE RUNNER (ISBN-13 978-1-594-48000-3, ISBN-10 1-594-48000-1) is his first novel, it was adapted into a popular film, and he has now written a second novel, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS which itself is in the early stages of production as a film.

THE KITE RUNNER begins as the story of the relationship of two boys. Amir is a boy of Kabul whose father, a wealthy merchant, owns a nice mansion with servants. Hassan is the son of Amir's servant. The two boys are inseparable. They seem apart only when Amir goes to school and Hassan returns home to for the household chores of a servant.

For sport Amir flies kites competitively and is becoming very good at the sport, attracting local attention. His servant Hassan is his kite runner. That means Hassan chases after the rival kites that Amir has decapitated. Hassan dotes on Amir, which bother Amir a little. Amir also tells stories that enchant Hassan. Together they face the local bullies who terrify them both.

The day of a great kite competition comes and Amir has a great victory. Hassan runs to get the loser's lost kite. Eventually Amir runs after Hassan and sees him being confronted by the bullies. Amir watches on as his friend is raped. He wants to defend his friend and knows he should, but is terrorized and instead sulks off.

After that nothing is the same between the boys. Amir comes to hate himself for his cowardice and disloyalty. Hassan does not admit to knowing of his friend's betrayal of him, but he almost certainly does. Amir turns his shame into rejection of Hassan.

This is all just the set-up of the story. We will follow Amir through tumultuous years of history for Afghanistan and his father's and his own perilous escape to the United States. His shame at the one action will bring him back to a Kabul under the Taliban in an effort to redeem his life and to recover his self- respect.

There are some minor faults to the book. The character of Hassan is just a little too perfect and it adds a melodramatic feel to the book. Amir did so much worse than betray a friend, he betrayed the wonderful, loyal, faithful Hassan. He denied, if you will, a Christ-figure. This weakens the story. If Hassan had not been so perfect would the betrayal be any more forgivable? Do we need to be just only to the faultless?

Much of the thrust of the book is the contrast of life in Kabul before and after the coming of the Soviet invasion and later of Taliban. The old Kabul under the monarchy is a place of contentment (at least for the wealthy Amir and his family) whose similarities to the West are more apparent than the differences. Kabul under the heel of the Taliban is a place of constant fear, of public executions, of corruption, and of systematized child rape under the guise of religious orthodoxy. It is the place that Amir must go to redeem himself and his self-respect.

As bad as the Taliban is for the men in THE KITE RUNNER, it is far worse for women as we see in the haunting A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS. These are purported to be the first novels written in English by an Afghan. If so they are an enthralling start.

I read in sequence THREE CUPS OF TEA (by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin), THE KITE-RUNNER, and A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS. The three make a very good combination. The Mortenson book is non-fiction and tells of his efforts building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. At least to Mortenson this work is a powerful weapon against the Taliban and other Islamic extremists. His schools give education to the young and with education they can resist the extremists. His book also describes what a virulent evil the Taliban has been for Afghanistan. It also sees that part of the world through the eyes of an American. This has a downside and an upside. The downside is that Mortenson cannot understand the area as thoroughly as someone who was born and raised there. The upside is that he knows how an American would see that part of the world. To Mortenson the area is very alien to his and our expectations. On the other hand in Hosseini's writing Kabul sounds not too unlike the town I grew up in. Each book in the succession expresses more rage and frustration at what the Taliban did to Afghanistan. Together they make a strong case for anything anyone can do to defeat this terrible movement.

My review of THREE CUPS OF TEA:


					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2008 Mark R. Leeper