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)
“Evocative…and genuine.” (Chicago Tribune)
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.