Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Kite Runner: A book review

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner (New York: Riverhead Books, 2003), 371 pages.

Several years ago a friend suggested I read this book. After finally getting around to it, I wonder what took me so long. The Kite Runner is beautiful yet painful, hopeful yet ominous. Set in the United States and Afghanistan, the novel tells the story of Amir and his childhood friend Hassan, as well as Amir and his father’s story as they escape the nightmare that followed the Soviet invasion in the late 70s and built a new life in America. Hosseini explores themes of childhood friendship and betrayal, the relationship between sons and fathers, and the dangers of an excessive religious state. Through it all, the reader experiences the changes in Afghanistan over the past four decades.

Amir, whose mother dies at birth, is a privileged child. He is a Pastun, one of the ruling tribes of the country and a Sunni Muslim. His father is rich and proud and Amir grows up never being able to live up to his father’s standard. He finally does something to gain his father’s praise, the winning of winter kite fight (where hundreds of boys fight with their kites till only one kite is left). But unfortunately, on the heel of that victory, due to fear, Amir fails to come to the rescue of his friend Hassan, who is brutally raped by another boy because he’s of a different tribe.

Hassan, the son of Ali, Amir’s father’s servant, is a Haaras, an ethnic minority of Chinese descent. They are also Shi’a Muslims, so Hassan’s oppression is two fold. He is both an ethnically and religiously a minority as well as being poor and illiterate. Yet Hassan is fiercely loyal to Amir, which only inflames Amir’s shame. Finally, Amir concocts a plan to drive Hassan and Ali away from his family. Soon after that, Amir and his father flee to Pakistan and later as refugees to the United States where they start a new life. Now poor, they work hard. But through it all, Amir’s guilt and shame haunts him. In the end, this drives him to return to Afghanistan, following the take over of the Taliban, to rescue Hassan’s son. On this trip, one see’s the brutality and the hypocrisy of the Taliban, as his old childhood nemesis is a Taliban official.

Shame can destroy us and can also drive us to do good deeds, as Hosseini shows. Shame finally forced Amir to face up to his fears and to risk his life to save the son of Hassan. Shame also drove Amir’s father to build an orphanage (that was destroyed in the fighting). We’ve all felt shame and also betrayal, although hopefully not to the extent of those experienced by Amir and his father in Hosseini’s novel. Although there is much pain in this book as evil is exposed, even in the characters we love, Hosseini also shows that redemption is possible. I strongly recommend this book. I listened to an unabridged version on Ipod, but then brought the book and read large sections of it. Hosseini is a talented storyteller.

For other book reviews by Sage, click here.

For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.


  1. Man, this sounds like a great book. I am going to check my university's library for it. Thanks for this post.

  2. I saw this book for sale at our local Starbucks and the movie comes out next month. I'd like to read the novel first now that you've reviewed it. Thanks!

  3. You've just reminded me that I have a book to finish reading. Have a great weekend Sage :)

  4. That was an excellent book. I thought it was fascinating how he wove parallels between the main character's life and the fate of Afghanistan.

  5. Quite a complex book with its parallels of the rape of a country through the civil unrest and military instability of the middle eastern regions represented.

    And bringing the plotline to California sharpens the ability to identify with some of the themes.

    I'm not sure who has won the kite at the end.

    Here today via Michele.


  6. I read this not long after it came out, and I enjoyed it very much. Now I want to read his newer book!

  7. This sounds like a great read. It's almost Christmas, and I'll have time to read for pleasure for one whole month.... before the crunch of the dissertation returns. Perhaps I'll check it out! =o)

  8. Joe, you'll love it

    Scarlet: I, too, will have to see the movie when it comes out

    What are you reading Mistress?

    Diesel, he is a great storyteller and does a great job of tying it together and placing it into history

    Rashbre--yes, the contrast with California does work well

    Kenju, I will read his new one too

    Jaded, wow, look at your new pic! Good luck with your disertation--you'll be rather limited in reading while you read what will begin to appear to be the same stuff over and over again!

  9. I remember coming here and commenting. Whatever happened?

    I read this sometime in December last year. One book which stays in mind long after. In few sections, one can draw parallels between India and Afghanistan.

    Yesterday, I bought Hosseini's 'A Thousand Splendid Suns'. Will get around reading it soo enough.

  10. Sounds like a must read Sage. I almost said good, but honestly it sounds disturbing- in the sense that one needs to read for awareness and understanding. I will have to add to my iPod for workouts.

    Finally made it for fall photo ops, stop by and check out the colors of our local hiking areas.

  11. Gautami, I'm not sure what the problem is (you said the same thing about the "guest-map" I assure you, I'm not trying to censure your writings! :) I do plan to read "A Thousand Splendid Suns" too.

    Kontan, nice pics, yes the book does have hard places to get through with difficult subjects, but it's a worthy book to read.

  12. sage - I too listened to an audible version of this book, and honestly, I could not do a better review of the book than you have done. I also have the author's latest on my iPod, but have not listened to it yet. (Still listening to Ulysses!)

  13. This is one of my favorite books of all time. You did a great job reviewing it.

  14. I hated Amir. The only reason why he went to get Hassan's son was out of guilt for not standing up for Hassan when he should have and Amir was thoughtless through out the book. Who says to a orphan that they will send them back to an orphanage for just a little while and doesn't expect him to react against it? Who sees that the boy is troubled after that and doesn't do anything to make it better and just assumes he will eventually come around? Amir's arrogance throughout the book was aggravating. I definitely won't be seeing the movie but I wouldn't mind reading Hosseini's newest book.

  15. Diane--I too will probably listen to 10000 Suns on Ipod, my next book I'm starting is Crime and Punishment, which is one Dostovesky that I've not read!

    Thanks Mercy Maid and stop by again.

    Murf, I didn't hate Amir, I felt sorry for his inablity to act, to do what was right. He was a coward and his honesty about was painful.

  16. I liked Crime and Punishment alot (the only Dostoevsky I have read)

  17. diane, I haven't read all Dostoevsky's work, but my favorite all time novel is The Brothers Karamazov. I've also read "The Idiot" and "Notes from the Underground" and some his short stories--but this was all years (decades) ago.

  18. I have looked at this book as a choice several times because of the good reviews and I just don't think I can get through it but the author's lastest one about the wives of the same husband...something splendid suns...that one I do want to read.