Review: The Kite Runner

After I readThe Map of Salt and Stars, everyone urged me to read The Kite Runner, and even though I’m over a decade late to this party (what can I say? It came out when I was ten), I read it. It’s finally checked off my list.

Everyone was right, of course; Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is as tragically moving as they all say it is. The comparison between The Map of Salt and Stars and The Kite Runner is accurate as well. Joukhadar gives readers an intimate look at the current Syrian crisis through the eyes of a little girl, and Hosseini depicts similar horrors that have occurred in Afghanistan for decades, but from the perspective of a young boy.

The story of The Kite Runner begins in the seventies, with Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan widower, when Afghanistan is still ruled in relative peace by King Zahir Shah. The narrative follows Amir through a childhood tormented by his father’s withheld affection, to his teen years fleeing the turmoil of his homeland, and to his adult life in America where he graduates college, pursues a career, and marries a beautiful Afghani woman.

Rather than detailing the complex politics, factions, and wars in Afghanistan throughout these decades, The Kite Runner focuses on Amir’s personal story; but through his eyes, readers can see the coup that toppled Afghanistan’s government, the numerous forces and sects that fought over the country afterwards, and the wreckage and instability left in the wake of it all. Amir and his father have to flee their beautiful and beloved home to find safety somewhere strange and limiting. As refugees escaping Afghanistan and as immigrants living in America, they witness unspeakable horrors and experience great degradation.

As Amir struggles through the changes in his country and adjusts to a new life in America, he also has to wrestle with his own personal darkness. He has secrets within him, sapping away his life like a cancer. When he was a boy, his dearest friend was the son of his father’s man-servant–a boy named Hassan. No one could be more loving and loyal to him than Hassan, but when Amir is faced with a choice to defend his friend or win something of unspeakable value, he sacrifices Hassan to gain his prize. His choice follows him for the rest of the narrative, ultimately driving him back to the dangers of Afghanistan in an effort to right his wrongs.

While the prose in Kite Runner wasn’t as rich and poetic as that in The Map of Salt and Stars, the writing was incredibly powerful. Hosseini’s use of perspective, his careful attention to detail, and his authentically flawed characters built a gripping narrative that carried me across an ocean and back through time to an Afghanistan I never could have imagined from American news headlines and media images. Hosseini caused me to empathize with and love his characters, but also to ache as I condemned their disastrous choices. His writing was littered with brief, jarring snapshots that highlighted powerful details.
The honesty in The Kite Runner also contributes to its greatness. Terrible things–horrific acts of violence–occur within its pages, and Hosseini doesn’t shy away from them or cover them with glossy honey so he can give his readers a happy ending. He follows through with realistically tragic consequences. However, he doesn’t end his story in the depths of despair; he graciously leaves his readers with just a tiny bit of hope, reaching and tugging towards the sky like a kite.

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