Saturday, March 1, 2008

1001. The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner photo kiterunner.jpg

I finally got to read this book. It wasn't in preparation for the movie that came out in December of 2007. I have been looking at this book at the bookstore for a significant amount of time, always wondering if I should pick it up to read or not. When I have enough money, I always have these pangs, these questions about books, especially after I read the back page notes, or especially after I hear from someone else that a particular book was a good one.

Of course, there is the flip side to this argument, and there are times when I DO NOT like books that have received a lot of acclaim, but it always comes down to this question: "How am I ever going to discover anything new, anything exciting to read unless, I take the plunge and purchase something on the spur of the moment?"

Well, as it turned out, my sister-in-law let me borrow this book last September, so I went ahead and added it to my TBR (yeah, that means "To Be Read") pile. So, finally in November, I went ahead and read it. Below, you will find my brief synopsis and review of this book. It's nowhere near as literary or as complete as those done by those expert book reviewers -- however, this book review comes from the heart.

Amir is a young boy living in pre-Soviet invasion Afghanistan. His life is one of relative privilege because of the position of his father and because he has servants. Or rather, his father has servants. One of them is Hassan who with his father Ali live in the servants house in one of Kabul's more respectable neighborhoods (not necessarily the most well to do though). For as long as he can remember, Ali has grown up with Hassan and in many ways, Hassan is his best friend and confidant. At the same time though, Hassan, being a Hazara boy, is considered a second class citizen by Afghan society at large. When the heart thinks, Hassan, is Amir's best and closest friend, but there are times when Amir envies Hassan for the attention he receives from Baba (Amir's father).

Amir loves to read Hassan the adventures of heroic characters from different epics. Hassan, as a servant and having grown a Hazara is illiterate. So, these stories become central to Amir's life in the sense that he lives through them. Baba, his father recognizes that Amir will never be strong or courageous enough in the face of a challenge despite the example of the "Heroes" he reads about in his epics. The other important character in the story, the family friend Rahim Khan, gives Amir a notebook, a journal in which he starts writing stories of his own inspiration.

In a way of course, the story of Amir reminded me so much of that of my own life. I, too, was mainly wrapped up in the stories and the heroes I read about. I, too, was more that impressed with the fictional life rather than the life around me. This has an effect on the way a person develops. Not so much because Baba told Amir that he was not courageous, but rather because Amir felt that he did not measure up in Baba's eyes.

This becomes very clear then in the events that unfold in the winter of 1975. Amir and Hassan participate in the annual Kite tournament which involves fighting the other kites, and the person assisting you go after the kites that fall from the sky. This is called: "Running the kites". Hassan is the best "Kite Runner" in Kabul. These tournaments can take a whole day sometimes. During this particular tournament, Amir decides that he will prove his father (his Baba) wrong. He will show him that he can be good at something, that he is courageous. With the help of Hassan, Amir has a successful kite launch and as the day progresses his kite survives. Hassan successfully runs down those kites that Amir knocks down from the sky.

Until Amir's kite and one other are left in the sky. After some deft maneuvering, Amir succeeds in knocking it down, and asks Hassan if he could "Run it" for him. Hassan responds: "For you a thousand times over!" That's what a best friend is supposed to say isn't it?

And It is at this point that everything changes. We are of course going to find out things about Amir Hassan and about Baba that we did not know up to this point. We will eventually follow Amir and his dad to the USA where Amir will get married. But there will always be something hanging over him. Something that will eventually take him back to his beloved homeland, in search of Hassan and in search of redemption.

In addition, we're also treated to a glimpse of Afghanistan through the pre-war years, the Soviet invasion in 1979, the many year of the occupation and struggle by the rebels (through the eyes of those that immigrated to America), all the way to the pre-9/11 Taliban days of decay, decadence and destruction. Sometimes, this sort of glimpse is worth a thousand pictures on the TV screen, because the TV screen can not evoke the passion of the people. The TV screen can not describe the feeling of being stuck inside a fuel truck while being smuggled across the border to Pakistan to avoid capture by the Soviets. Nor does it evoke the terror of watching "half-time entertainment" at a Taliban sponsored Soccer game in Kabul in 2001. The evil that men do can be shown on TV, but I have always felt that the most powerful weapon is still the written word. This is why, our youth today, who do not read, are missing the greater context of what is occurring in the world around them.

Khaled Hosseini weaves a very good tale in his first novel of a protagonist from a part of the world that is little known and maybe little understood. Yet, as different as the religion, or some of the words, or some of the customs might be, the underlying themes remain the same: Love, Forgiveness, Happiness, Guilt and Redemption. It does not matter the strokes of the painter or the paint used. The message is clear. By the end of the book, we come to love these characters, we come to accept their failings and shortcomings because maybe we see similar things in us and we come to believe in their quests. Because just as we're on a quest, every day of our lives, so are the characters in this book. Some of us, do not know the path we're taking, and we wake late in life to find that the journey is at an end, unfulfilled. For others, the purpose is clear. The drive begins early. The road is easy and open. In a way, Amir's father was such a man, and he was much loved by all those who knew him. This is why Amir was "Baba's son" and everyone knew him and respected him for that alone, for all the good deeds his father did, for all the people he helped.

Amir falls to the group in between. His road is not completely clear, yet he knows he has something unfulfilled in his life, something that still haunts him. This is the reason why he accepts the opportunity to travel the road and not be just a passenger on the journey. Whether he displays the courage that his father Baba said he lacked is for you the reader to find out, but it is important to remember that in the journey of life, when given a second chance, those who accept are most often the most courageous, most triumphant winners of all.

I concluded this review, the same way I use to conclude all my reviews in my old book Journal. By giving this book some stars. I'll have to find some appropriate gif or jpg to add later, but for know, this book draws *** (3) stars from me.

(My ratings scale if from 1 to 4 stars. Books I really, really like, get a HUGE star....! Five Stars?)

I recommend it.

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