“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”
Amir is the son of a wealthy Kabul merchant, a member of the ruling caste of Pashtuns. Hassan, his servant and constant companion, is a Hazara, a despised and impoverished caste. Their uncommon bond is torn by Amir’s choice to abandon his friend amidst the increasing ethnic, religious, and political tensions of the dying years of the Afghan monarchy, wrenching them far apart. But so strong is the bond between the two boys that Amir journeys back to a distant world, to try to right past wrongs against the only true friend he ever had.
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I broke the golden rule of being a book lover: read the book before watching the movie. To be fair, I was very young when the book first released, and still a kid when the movie came out, so even though I’d watched the movie before, I only remembered bits and pieces of it. The parts that were most clear were the ones about Amir and Hassan, their friendship, and the trauma that broke them. I also vaguely remembered a scene where a man escaped from a building with a young boy. Beyond that, things were pretty fuzzy.
After reading the book, if I had to summarize The Kite Runner in ten seconds, these are still the events that I would focus on and that I believe are integral to the plot. In that sense, the book and the movie are pretty similar. However, that’s where the similarity ends. The Kite Runner novel is far superior to the movie, not because the movie is bad, but because Hosseini’s writing is that good.
What struck me after reading this book was that it didn’t seem like that much had actually happened. A boy had had a traumatic childhood event, came to the United States, returned to Afghanistan years later to rescue his friend’s son, came back home. Bada bing bada boom. One and done.
But objectively speaking, a lot happens. We watch the main character, Amir, grow from a child to a young adult to a man. We watch him fall in love. We see him laugh, cry, hate. The seamlessness of it all is a testament to the flow of the narrative and the masterful way that Hosseini shows not just what changes in life, but what stays the same.
Over time, Amir is continually defined by his desire to be loved by his father and by his guilt over the things that he did and didn’t do to his best friend. While these defining traits are oftentimes the only attributes that save characters from the oblivion of meaninglessness in other novels, they’re the most intricate parts of these characters’ lives for writers like Hosseini. The author digs into the core of who Amir is, the fickle nature of love, the beauty that is forgiveness, and the black hole that is guilt. From the first days that we know Amir, we register him through the lens of all of his flaws and weaknesses, his selfishness and his confusion. There were times when I hated Amir, but even in those moments, I recognized him and his feelings in myself. Because of this, Amir’s discoveries weren’t just revelations for him; they were revelations for me. The narrative truly sucked me into the story and didn’t let go, taking me on Amir’s journey with writing that was nothing short of heart-wrenching.
In fact, it reminded me of Min Jin Lee’s Free Food for Millionaires, one of the first adult novels I ever read and one of my favorites. They’re drastically different in terms of writing style and execution, but they hold the same kind of character development, well-formed supporting cast, and sharp, insightful eye into a perfectly imperfect human society. Both hit me on a personal level, and both increased my scope and understanding of the world.
But I do value them for different reasons. Free Food for Millionaires hit home harder, while The Kite Runner gave me empathy for the people of Afghanistan that I’d never felt before and an eye into guilt.
On the first note, I’ve never known a world without the War in Afghanistan. I grew up hearing the news about it, never unaccustomed to the conflict, to the death counts, to the bombings. I read children’s books about it (think Shooting Kabul). It was terrible, but every newscast and every article might as well have been segments out of history books. The closest I came to Afghanistan was my friend’s military father or mother’s absence when I went over to their house. The Kite Runner helped me to understand what these people have gone through, feel a modicum of their pain, of the lives that were lost and the lifestyles that once were. This is the power of fiction, the kind of “diverse reads” that everyone needs to have in their lives.
On the second note, for all the books that I’ve passed through, I’ll tentatively say that I’ve seldom read about guilt in this fashion. Sure, I’ve seen glimpses of it. I saw it in the regret Jean Valjean faced when the priest forgave him for stealing in Les Miserables and in the flowers Katniss laid around Rue’s body in The Hunger Games. But not guilt like this, guilt that takes over a life because something terrible has occurred and someone could’ve done something to stop it, but didn’t. And it wasn’t just seeing this. It was seeing it in relation to Amir’s religion, his status, his deep longing to be more than what he is for his father. It was seeing it in relation to his own father’s guilt. And it was an entirely new experience that left me rattled.
Overall, this was a truly incredible story. I almost wish that I was more experienced with adult literature so I could critique it more, but I look forward to exploring it further as the years go by. Reading this story reminds me that there’s so many adult books out there to find and savor, and I’m excited by the vastness of the literary world in the same way that I was when I started reading YA. Excited to read A Thousand Splendid Suns next! 4.5 stars.