The last time I tried to read the Kite Runner I made it as far as page 41 which ends with the line “…that was the winter Hassan stopped smiling.” at which point I decided that the rest of the story was clearly downhill from there, decided to cut my losses and went in search of something jollier. It was, dear reader, an error of judgement. Well, actually it wasn’t – this really is a grim book, the antithesis of jolly – but it is beautifully written and properly tugs at the heartstrings and I’m really glad that I have, now, properly read it.
It follows the story of Amir, a young Afghani boy, who is the son of a highly respected, indomitable man. Over the course of the book we see how living up to his father’s hopes always seems to bring out the worst in Amir, a sensitive soul without a violent bone in his body. Alongside Amir’s relationship with his father, a lot of the book centres around Amir’s relationship with Hassan, a servant in the house but who very much takes the place of a younger brother. The book explores the ties that bind the boys together, tackles loyalty, bravery and kinship and ultimately considers whether it is possible to redeem yourself from a really bad decision made against a friend. The decision in question forms the fulcrum of the novel and it is fascinating watching the consequences unfurl throughout Amir’s life as he tries to reconcile his conscience with the decision he made.
The book provides a lot of fantastic insight into Afghani life – I know it sounds stupid but it hadn’t really occurred to me that that there would be much about kites in the book, but I learnt a lot about the Afghan tradition of fighter-kiting which sounds like a whole lot of fun. We also learn about the formalities that guide family and social relationships and the challenges that brings when society begins to fracture under the Taliban and many people flee to Pakistan or the USA.
This is another of those books that makes you realise how lucky you are to live somewhere safe. Some of the descriptions of life under the Taliban are, frankly, horrifying and the book brings to life some of the awful choices people sometimes have to make when living in that sort of regime. There is an incident in an orphanage towards the end of the book that just makes you want to weep or rage with the horror of the decision the man in charge has to make.
The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that the situation with visas at the end of the book was resolved slightly too simply for my taste. I thought more could have been made of the bureaucratic challenges facing them but that perhaps would have required a much longer and more boring interlude!
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed it – but maybe not one to read when you are looking for something to cheer you up!