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Monday, March 8, 2010

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner

By Khaled Hosseini

(4/5 stars)

The structure of this story should be familiar to readers of Charles Dickens, John Irving, or Patrick Dilloway.  It starts off with a young boy who grows into a man and then deals with some of his lingering issues.  The only difference is that instead of taking place in London or New England or Iowa, it's taking place in Afghanistan.

Amir's mother died in child birth, something his father (referred to as Baba) seems to hold against him.  As much as Amir would like them to be close, Baba always seems disappointed in him.  They live in a well-off neighborhood in Kabul in the '60s and '70s, back when Afghanistan was still a monarchy.

Amir's best friend is his servant Hassan.  Hassan is an outcast not only because of his harelip and occupation, but also because he's a Hazara or someone with Mongol blood to give him a more Eastern appearance.  Despite this, Amir and Hassan are as close as brothers, in large part because they suckled at the same breast.

Then after a kite fighting tournament to which the title refers, something terrible happens that creates a rift between Amir and Hassan.  Not long after, they're separated when the Soviets begin moving in, setting off political chaos that remains to the date of this review.  Amir and his father go to America, while Hassan and his father stay in Afghanistan.

Over the ensuing 25 years, Amir becomes a man and finds a wife, but he never forgets Hassan or the moment of cowardice that ruined their friendship.  The only way for him to redeem himself--to be good again as a friend says--is to go back and face his demons.

This is definitely a book that came along at the right time.  With the 9/11 attacks planned by terrorists sheltering in Afghanistan and the subsequent US invasion, the American public was obviously hungry for any insight into Afghanistan and its people and Islam.  And the author doesn't disappoint here.  The problem the US faces, as did the Soviets and British before them, is that Afghans are reckless and not prone to following rigid rules, as Hosseini describes during the kite fighting.  And it has its own melting pot of cultures that to outsiders would seem trivial but to them (as demonstrated by the very different lives of Amir and Hassan) are extremely important.

There isn't a lot I can say negatively about this book.  My main complaint was that the ending was so obvious.  It's the kind of ending where you know what's going to happen 50-100 pages in advance, so you wonder why it takes Amir so long to figure it out.  I won't say what exactly, but if you read the book you might see what I'm talking about.

Other than that I only have a couple of nitpicks.  One is that after Amir gets into his fight and gets his jaw wired shut, he mentions that his voice sounds like Al Pacino in "The Godfather."  I assume he meant Marlon Brando with the cotton stuffed in his cheeks.  Maybe this was intentional to show Amir's incomplete grasp of American cinema.  Or it's an oversight.  Not a big deal, but a little jarring considering "The Godfather" is one of the 10 greatest American films ever so you'd think an author would be able to keep track of who played what character.

The only other thing is I found it a little odd and creepy that Amir romanticizes a woman's unibrow and big nose.  Maybe it helps if you're from Afghanistan on that score.

Anyway, this overall is a good book.  I wouldn't put it up there with Dickens or Irving's best works, but it's close.  Generally though it follows the same pattern of following the main character from pretty much birth to present, so that even though it focuses on a different culture it should seem pretty familiar.  If you're looking for a similar book that's a bit more challenging, check out "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie.

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