Friday, May 4, 2012

Book review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Description from Goodreads (below) can be found here along with other reviews. Linking up with Blonde... Undercover Blonde for Book Club Friday.

A novel set mostly in Afghanistan. The introverted and insecure afghan narrator, Amir, grows up in Afghanistan in the closing years of the monarchy and the first years of the short-lived republic. His best and most faithful friend, Hassan, is the son of a servant. Amir feels he betrays Hassan by not coming to his aid when Hassan is set on by bullies and furthermore forces Hassan and his father Ali to leave his father´s service. Amir´s relatively privileged life in Kabul comes to an end when the communist regime comes to power and his extrovert father, Baba emigrates with him to the U.S. There Amir meets his future afghan wife and marries her. Amir´s father dies in the U.S. and Amir receives a letter from his father´s most trusted business partner and, for a time, Amir´s surrogate father, which makes Amir return, alone, to a Taliban-dominated Afghanistan in search of the truth about himself and his family, and finally, a sort of redemption. 

This is one of those books that makes it difficult to pin down your feelings. For one thing, the book encompasses over 30 years of the main character's life. That's a lot to cover in one book. And it's not a boring life. I'll do my best.

Instead of likes and dislikes, I have a list of thoughts on this one.

1. For at least half of the book, I found Amir (the main character) to be truly despicable. I really, really didn't like him and saw no good in him. His friend Hassan, however, is good. Good to the core. So good it hurts.

This, I think, makes Hosseini both a good and a bad author. Bear with me as I go into my I-studied-creative-writing zone. On the one hand, he made me care for nearly 400 pages (or in my case, 11 discs) about a character I didn't like. Granted, halfway through I didn't hate Amir so much. But I still thought he was a coward and didn't really like him. I liked his wife, his friends, sometimes I liked his dad. But I never really liked Amir--not until the very end of the book.

It's hard to keep people reading if they don't care about the characters. So this is a pretty great testament to his writing skill.

But on the other hand, no one is singularly good or bad. Ok, I might agree to extreme cases, like Hitler. He was probably pretty much all bad. But characters that are pure good (like Hassan) or pure evil (a character I haven't mentioned yet, Assef, fits this role) is not true to life. It's a characteristic of fairy tales to have a character that is purely good or evil. So I feel like some aspects of Hosseini's writing weren't all that great. A more skilled writer would humanize the bad guy, just a little. (I by no means mean to imply I could do better. Just an observation gleaned from studying creative writing.)

2. The culture represented in this book is fascinating. I have no idea if it is accurate or if it has changed--most of the book does take place before the Taliban took over or in America, and I know the Taliban changed a lot in Afghanistan. But it's incredible to me what heavy roles religion and social status play.

Hassan and his father Ali work for Amir and his father Baba. Baba and Ali (the fathers) grew up together and Hassan and Amir are growing up together. But Amir talks about how he cannot call Hassan his friend. He considers him his brother. But it would be shameful to call him his friend since he is a different religion (race too? not sure) and he is Amir's servant. He talks about how when his other friends are around, he doesn't include Hassan.

I know there are class differences in America and in my life. But, in my sheltered experience, most are not openly acknowledged like they are in "The Kite Runner." Religion can play a huge role, but I've never personally witnessed such persecution as Hassan faces. I am sheltered. I know it happens. But in this realm, "The Kite Runner" truly showed me aspects of life I've never seen before.

There's also a lot of beauty to the culture. It's amazing how Hosseini transports you so fully into Afghanistan and lets you feel like you're really experiencing the culture.

3. I related a lot to the little bit we learn about Amir's mother, who died right after childbirth. Amir learns from someone who knew her that she was afraid because she was so happy. She feared it meant something bad was coming--no one was allowed to be that happy for long. I've felt that way before.

There is a lot more to this book. It's heavily relationship themed. What it means to be a father, son, husband, wife, friend, brother. There's a lot of violence, and redemption is a heavy theme as well.

I liked it. I think. In the kind of way when you don't want to say you liked it because you're not supposed to like when a character dies or bad things happen to good people but it's a beautiful story. It's not happy, so it feels like you're delighting in someone's misfortune to like it.

But I'm glad I read it. I have a feeling it'll stick with me for a long time.

Have any of you read it? I'd love to hear what you thought. Please be careful of spoilers in the comments. If you have anything spoiler-y to say, email me at aestrusz[at]gmail[dot]com instead!


Kate said...

This has been on my list of books to read for so long, and I just haven't gotten to it yet!

But it DOES remind me of reading Three Cups of Tea. (Not so much the story line, of course.) I'm always so amazed at reading about life and culture in places so different from where we live.

Being from the South, I feel we are often misrepresented. We don't all live on farms or have missing teeth or only drink sweet tea or carry a shotgun. But we also DO fit some of the stereotypical molds.

I often just wonder about things when I read books about other cultures so different from my own. Is this truly how things are there? Or is it an overly exaggerated look at their belief system?

This review has definitely moved the book up a few spots on my "To Read" list.

Laura said...

I don't really remember a lot of the details from this book since I read it around 4 years ago, but I remember being reluctant to read it and then really surprised that I liked it so much. I think you're right in saying that it's going to stick with you a long time. That's definitely the case in my experience.

Kyetra said...

I read this book a few years ago. A Muslim friend of mine recommended it because he said that I would understand more about the reasons and why Afganistan got to the point it is at now. He said that it was accurate.
I loved the book. I liked the movie OK but they left a lot of things out that I think were important.

Robyn said...

I read this a few years ago and remember enjoying it-but then I think it got over hyped. I do think I could read it again though

Wiz said...

Wow, great review! I had mentioned last week that A thousand Spendid Suns was really good. You made a comment about a man writing from a woman's perspective and that they didnt usually justify it. I am not a creative writing expert at ALL but did think he did a good job. I loved the Kite Runner too and agree that Amir was a coward and selfish but did the right thing in the end.

Lauren {Adventures in Flip Flops} said...

I definitely know I loved it, but so help me I don't even remember the story. I think I read it 5 or 6 years ago (wow, that's scary!). For those of you who are interested in Middle Eastern culture, one of my very favorite books is Live From Jordan by Benjamin Orbach. He's a Jewish student who visit Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt (don't quote me on all those countries) and does a good job of being fair in his discussions. An excellent, excellent read!

Sinead said...

I read this book while on holiday and it totally leaves you with mixed feelings! Its a great book, well written and moving, but you kinda wish you hadn't read it as its a little disturbing! But great review!

Katrin said...

I have seen that book before but haven't read it yet. But I will definitely check it out!
Abbey, your blog is lovely! I will definitely follow you!

Heather said...

This one was definitely a super hyped book, but I still haven't picked it up!


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