Thursday, 14 March 2019

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – Book Review

Publisher’s write-up:

‘Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that it to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.’

This was a book suggested to me by a friend of mine seven years ago because of my ‘far from mainstream’ taste. It is also to do with the fact that the story was based out of Afghanistan, a place that most of us know more through international media than stories from the locals.

Coming to the plot, it was about the Afghan past catching up to now successful US based writer, Amir. He grew up in Kabul before the Soviet invasion, with his father and his best friend, Hassan, the son of his father’s domestic help, Ali (of Hazara ethnicity). Unlike the traditional Pashtuns, Amir was more interested in writing and storytelling. It was Hassan who particularly enjoyed Amir’s stories as the former was illiterate. Amir’s father was not encouraging of this hobby but was encouraged by his business partner, Rahim Khan. The big event in Kabul for young boys was the Kite flying festival – where one flies the kite and the other retrieves a kite that falls (known as The Kite Runner) lending the book its title. While Amir and his father moved to the United States after the Soviet Invasion, he had left behind a past in Afghanistan which he did not want to be reminded of, until one day, he is summoned by Rahim Khan to visit him in Pakistan.

This is the second book that I am reading from an author with a Pashtun background and similar to the previous (I am Malala), the book brings out the gradual change in the society over time. Amir grew up during times of relative peace and his father while not rejecting religion, rejects fundamentalist notions and believes ‘mullahs’ to be the biggest threat to peace. At the beginning of the plot, it was normal for them to watch films in Farsi or Hindi, in Tehran or Peshawar. However, this eventually changed with time with the Soviet invasion followed by the Taliban takeover and this change was brought out well and in detail.

The character of Amir was interesting, considering he was not the normal superhero protagonist. He had no extraordinary abilities and his expertise in the kite flying festival was also largely attributed to Hassan. He is also not someone who faces his problems and prefers to stay away from them as much as possible. These traits make it difficult for any reader to develop a particular sympathy for Amir. However, the author was successful in keeping the reader engaged with Amir till the end of the story.

I also appreciate the author taking you through different timelines, the plot grows with Amir; who happens to be growing up when Afghanistan’s fortunes were going downhill. If the reader is not from South Asia, The Kite Runner is not just an amazing story told to you but also a book that gives you a glimpse of Afghanistan’s history, the divisions in the society and the culture at large.

The plot had however slowed down when Amir and his father moved to the United States and remains so till one gets to the final third. The final third, while it was interesting with Amir’s convictions and memories challenged at every moment, parts of the action sequences could be equated with an Alistair MacLean novel – unbelievable and sometimes, beyond logic.

There were instances were Pashto was used for an entire phrase (though the author provided translations in most cases). Since I speak a closely related language, it was substantially intelligible but it could have been difficult for other readers, at times, even annoying.

On the whole, I would say that The Kite Runner is a book that I decided to read long ago, but waited for long. Notwithstanding that, I would say that it was worth the wait – it was a complete package, the story of a boy growing up, amidst crisis, get of it and then the past comes back to get you.

Considering that, I would award the book a rating of nine on ten.

Rating – 9/10

Have a nice day,

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