This book needs no introduction. Surely all of you have heard of The Kite Runner, the debut novel by Khaled Hosseini. I was still in middle school when it first came out, and though I’ve heard about it for many years now, I never owned or read the book. In the past couple of years, I decided I should finally get The Kite Runner into my collection. I bought it from Book of the Month last summer – rightfully labeled a “modern classic” on their site! – and was hoping my book club would read it. They didn’t, and the club is now on hiatus, but no matter. Now felt like the perfect time to read it.
|The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini|
|Genre||Historical Fiction; Literary Fiction|
|Setting||Afghanistan; Pakistan; United States|
|Number of Pages||371|
|Format I Read||Hardcover|
|Original Publication Date||May 29, 2003|
The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.
A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.
I was in middle school when The Kite Runner first came out. Somehow, though, finally reading this modern classic made me feel the same way I did when I was sucked into books as a kid. When I was young, I remember becoming fully absorbed by the magic of the books I read. I was whisked away to faraway places and times, traveling great distances through the power of an engrossing story. It has been a long time since I experienced that feeling, and I’m so thrilled that The Kite Runner inspired it. Whether it’s down to the popular writing style of the early 2000s or a special something in the story, I don’t know, but this novel captured my heart from the first page.
Right away, I loved the descriptions of Afghanistan, specifically Kabul, and the main character’s home. I felt transported to a beautiful country I wish I could visit in real life – ideally as it was in this book, set in the early 1970s. The rich depictions and writing style made The Kite Runner feel special, and I had a strong connection with the early chapters of it.
Amir is the only son of a wealthy man, his Baba. His mother died in childbirth, and so Amir’s whole childhood was spent with his dad and their two servants, a father and son of about the same ages. Amir is intelligent and loves books and writing, but he’s cowardly and selfish. His friend/servant, Hassan, is hard-working and uneducated, but brave, honest, and unwaveringly optimistic. Baba treats the two servants like family, yet Amir feels like a disappointment to his dad, always vying for his attention but never getting the love he craves. His father – powerful, strong, and brave – is a stark contrast to his own weakness and literary interests. But Baba’s generous treatment of the servants starts to get under Amir’s skin, and a rift of jealousy and petty anger grows.
Still kids, Amir and Hassan face bullying from some mean rich kids, especially against Hassan, who is part of a marginalized ethnic group. (I’ll talk more about that momentarily.) But the two boys also have their fun together, from making up stories to the Afghan sport known as kite fighting.
Up until now, The Kite Runner has been a pleasant coming-of-age book, but it takes a dark turn. At the annual kite fighting competition, Amir and Hassan are teamed up, aiming to finally win. But that day, a terrible event takes place, something that affects both boys and their families. While the event itself is awful, and my heart breaks for Hassan, the story is told from Amir’s perspective, and so the reader must instead live with his complicated guilt, resentment, and unfair lashing out. As I read, I kept wishing I could step in and tell Amir to be more compassionate, more honest, but alas, that’s not how books work. Instead, the knots grow tighter more tangled until nothing can unravel them.
Fast forward a few years, and Amir and his Baba have fled war-torn Afghanistan to live in California. Once influential and wealthy, their experience as immigrants is drastically different, and something Baba in particular struggles with. But life moves forward, the past becoming buried and ignored as the characters look to new opportunities. Eventually, Amir marries another Afghan immigrant and becomes a writer. They face new family-related despair in America, but also become comfortable and settled.
In 2001, though, the past comes back to bite Amir. What ever happened to Hassan and his dad? Did they ever recover? Did they live happily somewhere, away from the political turmoil and danger? Would Amir ever be able to mend what broke between them? Finally, he is lured back to his home country, decades after he left.
As much as I loved the beginning of The Kite Runner, there was a lot of sadness and trauma in the rest of it. However, while some books with difficult subject matter can feel heavy, almost a chore to get through, this novel retains a lightness, an intimacy, that keeps you moving forward. There are also exciting events that keep the energy up. I wanted to spend all my waking hours reading The Kite Runner, and would have if I didn’t need to keep my job. Because while it has a lot of sad events, it also felt redemptive and hopeful.
One thing I loved about The Kite Runner was learning more about Afghanistan, its culture, and its different ethnic groups. For example, I had never heard of kite fighting, and enjoyed learning about it and its annual tournament. (Fun fact: Though not the main protagonist, Hassan is the title character of this book.) However, other things I learned about are more complex and can inspire outrage at inhumane treatment. Consider this next example:
Hassan is Hazara, a group of Mogul descendents with unique physical features. Hazaras have been oppressed by Pashtuns, the ethnic group to which Amir and his father belong. Pashtuns have more power, and are more able to accrue wealth. Hazaras are discriminated against and relegated to lower level work. While both groups are Muslim, Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims while Hazaras are Shi’a Muslims. In The Kite Runner, Hassan and his father both face racism and discrimination, and it’s not lost on me the parallels that can be made to how marginalized people in the United States (such as Black people and immigrants) are also treated to this day.
Amir is not always a likable character. In fact, he often behaves selfishly and cowardly, and I hated how he sometimes treated Hassan. And yet we can also understand him, sympathize, and wish he’d had better guidance and more understanding as a kid. In contrast, Hassan is a very likable character, making his suffering all the more painful. Other characters – from Baba to Rahim Khan to Soraya – are distinct and nuanced in their own ways, never overly fleshed out, but not total cliches either.
By the end, The Kite Runner does tie up rather nicely – some might say too nicely. However, I appreciated the full-circle end, and also that it leaves the reader ready for just a little bit more.
The Kite Runner is an incredible book, and I can see why it has been so lauded since its original publication 18 years ago. I connected with it, but also learned from it, and it’s filled with quotable lines and valuable lessons. It is a masterpiece. Khaled Hosseini is clearly a gifted writer, and I will be reading his other books in the near future.
About the Author
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at a high school in Kabul. In 1976, the Foreign Ministry relocated the Hosseini family to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then their homeland had witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet Army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States, and in September 1980 moved to San Jose, California. Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1988. The following year he entered the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, where he earned a medical degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai medical center in Los Angeles and was a practicing internist between 1996 and 2004.
In March 2001, while practicing medicine, Hosseini began writing his first novel, The Kite Runner, which was published by Riverhead Books in 2003. That debut went on to launch one of the biggest literary careers of our time. Today, Khaled Hosseini is one of the most recognized and bestselling authors in the world. His books, The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed, have been published in over seventy countries and sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
In 2006 Khaled was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Inspired by a trip he made to Afghanistan with the UNHCR, he later established The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. He lives in Northern California with his wife and two children.