Review: “Kite Runner” is Haunting Look at Childhood in Afghanistan

The Kite Runner, written by Khaled Hosseini in 2003, is not a new book, but it’s one that I’m embarrassed to say I hadn’t gotten around to reading until now. Once I started it, though, I couldn’t put it down.

The book follows Amir, who grew up the privileged son of a successful businessman in the relatively peaceful time before the monarchy was overthrown in 1973. The ethnic and religious discrimination that tears apart the country today was strong even then, but Amir was spared. The servant boy who worked in his home, Hassan, was not. While Hassan and his father were treated like family in Amir’s home, they were mistreated in the wider community. This was a challenge for Amir, who grew up with and played daily with Hassan; their friendship was hindered by society’s expectations. When the boys are 12, a tragic incident drives a wedge in their relationship and forces Hassan and his father to leave Amir’s home. Amir is wracked with guilt for the rest of his life, through his family’s escape when the Soviets invade Afghanistan in 1979 and his adulthood in America.

Many years later, a family friend still in Afghanistan contacts Amir, now a married man and published author. That phone call forces Amir to return to modern day, war-torn Afghanistan. He must face the devastation of his childhood homeland and, if he has the courage, right the wrong he committed against Hassan.

The glimpse into the culture and history of Afghanistan was eye-opening, revealing the history and consequences of deeply rooted differences that still divide the country. The book widened my understanding of and empathy for the generation that grew up after Amir, the children who never knew life without gunfire, bombs and war. It helped me understand that no matter how long our soldiers are in the country trying to rebuild it and keep peace, the fighting and intolerance have been around longer. Those differences are not easily overcome.

But even without that historical element, the story of friendship, betrayal, courage and redemption was riveting. Amir is the main character and tells the story, and while he is not always likeable, he is very realistic. He has the petty jealousies of a child, the yearning for his father’s approval, and the cowardice of not speaking up for himself and his friend Hassan. He struggles with the transition to America and with coming to terms with his past.

The story gets its name, The Kite Runner, from the person who outruns all of his competitors to retrieve the last and most valued kite knocked out of the annual kite fighting competition. With kite strings coated in glass, the contest is painful but the winners are granted highest honors. Hassan was Amir’s kite runner, willing to do anything for the person he considered more his friend than master. As a child, Amir could not return that loyalty. To find out if he can as an adult, you have to read the book.

While the book is often heartbreaking, it ends on a hopeful note. I recommend this to anyone interested in historical fiction and global issues. I also think anyone who likes a good story about friendship, betrayal and redemption will also enjoy it. It’s 371 pages and can be a little slow at the beginning, but it’s worth sticking with it.

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