The Kite Runner By Khalid Hosseini

If you want to know how the Afghans might view Americans and its NATO allies after they withdraw, read Khalid Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner. It doesn’t really matter what the intentions of a foreign country are in Afghanistan, if they stay too long and cause too much damage, the Afghans of every tribe and stripe will simply resent them. The word Roussi (Russian) is still a slur in the country today.

Part of that resentment stems from the sudden and hard fall of Afghanistan in 1978 to the Soviets. Before their arrival, cities like Kabul and Kandahar, which we hear of on Fox and CNN as battle fields and see as militarized or bombed-out cities, were not all that different from similar sized cities in America or Britain or other western countries.

The story begins as the tale of Amir and Hassan, two boys living in the home of Amir’s father, a wealthy merchant. Amir has become a proficient kite flyer, something kids do competitively in Afghanistan of the 1970’s. Hassan, the son of Amir’s father’s servant, is a kite runner, one of the kids who chases down the kites after they’ve fallen from the sky. The biggest prize is the last kite in the sky at the end of the tournament.

Like kids in a Stephen King novel, Amir and Hassan have to deal with a sociopathic bully named Assef. Assef is openly racist, decrying Hassan’s native tribe, the Hazara (the descendants of Mongol invaders), though Hassan usually can handle Assef with a well-placed shot from a sling shot. One day, when Amir has won the tournament and made his father proud, Hassan manages to catch his kite, bring the prize home for both of them. Only Assef corners Hassan alone and rapes him. Amir witnesses it and says and does nothing. Guilt overwhelms him, and he pushes Hassan away, which only confuses Hassan.

The novel then fast-forwards to the Soviet era, depicting Amir and his father’s harrowing flight to Pakistan to escape the Russian occupation forces. They are smuggled over the border in the tank of a fuel truck, at least one person dying from the foul air. From their, they escape to America. Amir’s father, a man who built had servants, built an orphanage, often loaned money freely to friends looking to start a business, is reduced to managing a gas station. Amir himself attends college, becomes a writer, and marries the daughter of a former Afgan general, who himself is reduced to humble circumstances.

Amir is eventually summoned back to Afghanistan by an old family friend, and in a dangerous trip into Taliban-oppressed Afghanistan, has a chance to repay his debt to the long-missing Hassan. It climaxes in a deadly confrontation with Assef, who relishes his brutal position in the Taliban. Never mind he’s as devout a Muslim as Glenn Beck, unless Hannibal Lecter has become a mullah at some point.

The Kite Runner is a brilliant novel that gives us a glimpse of a real-world post-apocalypse. Once upon a time, Afghanistan was prosperous, peaceful, and pleasant. Enter the Soviets, and the world literally ends in that part of Asia. Hosseini’s depiction of the Taliban should more than explain how the present war started and how their hypocrisy – a hypocrisy found in the Spanish Inquisition – has started a war between Islam and the rest of the world that most Muslims do not really want. In fact, if you want to know what a true Muslim thinks of as sin, Amir’s father says it best.

“The only true sin is theft,” he explains. Murder is theft of a life. Lying is theft of the truth. Adultery is theft of fidelity and honor. When stripped of false (and often brutal) piety and self-righteous judgementalism, that is how Islam is perceived by its more casual adherents. Hosseini shows a man triumphing the worst of the hypocrites in the end.

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One thought on “The Kite Runner By Khalid Hosseini

  1. I think that pre-Soviets Afghanistan was prosperous for the rich, like Amir’s family. It was certainly MUCH better for the common folk, but still far rougher than the West. In the 70s, what percent in the West lacked indoor water or electricity? I thought that the post-US relationships between the ex-pat Afghans, especially Amir’s wife and her father was especially illuminating on the culture and the whole notion of what it means to them to be Afghan. A very good book.

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