Publisher: Riverhead Books
Review by Hazel Barker
The Kite Runner is the first novel written by Kaled Hosseii, an Afghan doctor who received political asylum in California in 1980. The story is set in Afghanistan and the US. It spans the final days of the monarchy and Soviet occupation, the Mujahideen victory and their rule of terror.
The main characters are:
AMIR: The son of Baba, a member of the dominant Pashtun tribe who lives in the affluent Kabul of the seventies, and
HASSAN: His devoted servant and member of the oppressed Hazarer tribe.
The two motherless boys grow up side by side, and the strong underlying force of the novel is the relationship between them. Amir’s father, Baba, is disappointed in his son as he never stands up for himself, and it is Hassan who always gets into fights to defend his friend.
Amir resents Hassan, as he feels he’s usurping his father’s love. He constantly tests his friend’s loyalty, and vies for his father’s attention.
ASSEF: Is the antagonist. He has an Afghan father and a German mother and belongs to the wealthy class. He is taller and stronger than the other boys, and is a bully. One day, Essef and his two friends meet Amir and Hassan in a laneway. Essef spoils for a fight, but Hassan threatens them with his catapult. A fight is averted, but Assef swears revenge.
Early in Emir’s and Hassan’s friendship, they often used to visit a pomegranate tree where they spent hours reading and playing. One summer’s day, Emir carves their names on the tree, but later in the story, Hassan writes to him saying that the tree hadn’t borne fruit in years. The tree is the symbol of their friendship.
During the Kite Festival, Amir attempts to win his father’s love by winning the kite-fight and bringing home the prize kite. Hassan promises to run the kite down for him but meets Assef in a laneway. Assef wants the prize kite and promises not to harm Hassan if he hands it over to him, but Hassan refuses and puts up with the ultimate humiliation, pain and suffering in order to serve his friend. At the same time, Amir, who is the slower runner of the two, arrives at the entrance of the lane and peers in. He sees Assef threatening his friend, but does nothing to prevent him from getting injured. During Hassan’s rape Amir behaves like a coward, and later on receives all the glory as the winner of the Kite Festival. He gains his father’s love at the cost of sacrificing his adoring friend and servant, but his guilt haunts him. To make matters worse, instead of trying to show his gratitude to his friend and make reparation for his wrong, he harasses the boy until he finally succeeds in framing him for theft.
Hassan and his father leave Baba’s service.
The story continues with the Soviet invasion and Baba and Amir’s flight into Pakistan and later on to California. Amir buries his memories and marries, but circumstances arise when he is compelled to return to Kabul. There he finally redeems himself when he confronts Assef and atones for his past behaviour towards his loyal friend, Hassan.
I leave you to read the story for yourself. The Kite Runner is an engaging novel written in a simple style with spare prose. A page-turner that offers us a glimpse into modern Afghanstan. It is so good that I read his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns.