Crime and punishment in Afghanistan


Just finished reading Khaled Hosseini‘s novel The Kite Runner, on which a lot of hype – proudly reproduced on the cover – has been heaped:

“Powerful…haunting.” (New York Times Book Review)
“Moving and unexpected.” (The Denver Post)
“Riveting…unforgettable.” (Newsday)
“Evocative…and genuine.” (Chicago Tribune)
“Extraordinary.” (People)

Let’s see to what extent this hype might be deserved…

The book tells a story of friendship, cowardly betrayal and atonement Dostoesvky might have been proud of. This story, told in a language that is both realistic and poetic, and the characterization of its tortured protagonist – 1st person narrator Amir – and his childhood friend and servant Hassan are indeed very moving.

The portrayal of Afghanistan during the last peaceful days of the monarchy in the 1970s at the beginning of the novel, seen through the eyes of young Amir, is its strongest part and comes off as thoroughly genuine. Once Amir and his father have left Afghanistan as a consequence of the Russian occupation in 1979 – in an adventurous escape across Khyber pass in the tank of a gasoline tanker –, the focus shifts to the Bay area of California, with vivid and often amusing insights into the Afghan diaspora. Amir falls in love with a beautiful Afghan exilee at the Afghan flea market, gets married, loses his admired father to cancer.

At the end of the novel, Amir briefly returns to his native country in the late 1990s – for atonement. This last part, which spans only a few weeks and comes off as much less genuinely experienced, seems the weakest to me because there is little the reader is told that goes beyond what was and is known about Taliban-controlled Afghanistan from the media.

No more details than that, apart from the hint that kites, as the title suggests, play an essential role in this novel.

At the plot level, coincidence lends too much of a helping hand for my taste, particularly in the second half, and loose ends are tied up just a bit too neatly.

All in all a book that is riveting as well as haunting in places, while I’m not so sure about some of the other adjectives so liberally dolloped out by the press.

About James Steerforth

I am an author of poetry and fiction, translator and painter who loves to have fun with borrowed feathers.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Literature, Novel, Novelists, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Crime and punishment in Afghanistan

  1. lillianblack says:

    I just read this book for a book club. Some of the ladies speculated about whether or not it was autobiographic because of the author’s “realistic” first person style. When I pointed out how all the plot details dovetail with each other I met with some resistance. It is good to know that some one else felt the plot was a little too tidy.

  2. I don’t know all that much about Khaled Hosseini’s biography, but would suspect that he greatly benefited from first-hand experience when writing the novel. And that’s just fine – there’s nothing one can write about with more authority than one’s own experience.

    He discloses some details on his homepage, which is at

    Amir in the novel studies creative writing and is the author of several novels. To my knowledge, “Kite Runner” was Hosseini’s first novel, and he’s a doctor in real life. So he was obviously doing some wishful writer thinking when he wrote the book 🙂

  3. Tommi says:

    This book has been on my shelve for months. It’s one of the books a new neighbor gave me when she heard that I did a lot of reading. Since then we have learned a bit about each others literary tastes. Initially I scanned it and found nothing in the “writing” that pulled me in. To put that in perspective, my to-read list contains a book of Gogol short stories and a compilation of Sartre plays, among others. I picked Gogol and I’m sure Sartre is next. I know I shouldn’t judge by the cover but I just have too many other books on that same shelf and this seemed so much like a publishers attempt to get something out there about Afghanistan. But I will eventually read it… seriously, I think.

    Nice write-up about it.

  4. I’m sure that the topic helped get the book published and did a lot for sales. I don’t think it will ever be considered competition for Sartre or Gogol. But sometimes it’s all right – and a lot of fun – to eat some apples along with the pears (or the other way round) 🙂

  5. Everyone seems to love this book, and everyone who talks books in idle chit-chat always say, “oh, have you read The Kite Runner? Oh, it’s very good. You should!” This is exactly why I hope to never read this novel. Oh, how anti-establishment of me! Likewise, the similarly praised and talked-about “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Mesued (spelling may be wrong on that name) has fallen into my list of “BOOKS I WILL NEVER EVER READ.” Why am I sharing this with you? Oh, I have no idea!

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