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Through its rich characterization and plot development, The Kite Runner reveals much about human nature, especially through the life of Amir, the novel's narrator. In Amir we find both cowardice and courage and the desire to be more than we deem ourselves to be. Amir is a person of conscience, tormented by shame and guilt for his actions as a boy. By the novel's conclusion, he shows that human beings are capable of spiritual and moral growth and redemption. As an adult, he chooses to live a life of courage and honor. He chooses to embrace his heritage and reclaim his faith.
Amir also shows the deeply felt human need for love and approval, most significantly in his troubled relationship with his father. Feeling unloved and unacceptable as a boy shaped Amir's life as he grew up and affected him profoundly. These were needs he could not ignore or minimize. Even as an adult, when he chose to become a writer, Amir longed for Baba's approval.
The novel explores a darker side of human nature, as well, primarily the abuse of power. Amir abuses his power over Hassan, Assef abuses his power over Amir and Hassan, and on a larger scale, the Taliban's abuse of power in Afghanistan is unforgettable.
Finally, Hassan's character shows some of the most affirming aspects of human nature, the ability to love without limits, to remain loyal beyond reason, and to forgive without regret.
The motivating and captivating conflict in THE KITE RUNNER is not one of race, class, religion or politics, as its author, Khaled Hosseini, would have you believe. Overshadowing these aspects in this debut is this Middle Eastern writer's literary struggle with a generally Western form --- the novel --- and a specifically American genre: the coming-of-age story.THE KITE RUNNER is Hosseini's valiant attempt to portray the effects of a half-century's tumultuous politics on the people and culture of Afghanistan. But this search for an Afghani identity clashes with the traditional novel form, making portions of the story feel clichéd and predetermined. Where such a collision could, if handled well, enliven a book and dispel cultural preconceptions and prejudices, in THE KITE RUNNER it only reveals Hosseini's naivete and inexperience as a writer.Organized in three parts, the novel begins with a short introductory chapter that feels entirely formulaic and superfluous, especially since the scene is repeated later. The narrator --- who is, ironically, a novelist named Amir --- gets a fateful telephone call from a man he hasn't seen in decades, which prompts more than 300 pages of soul searching.His mind resurrecting the past, Amir recalls "crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek." You can't bury the past, he explains, "because the past claws its way out." Following the call, Amir boards a plane to the Middle East, but before he leaves American soil, he recounts his childhood in Kabul during the 1960s, leading inevitably to the horrific crime he witnesses in the alley.Despite Hosseini's occasionally absorbing evocation of Kabul, this first section has all the trappings of a typical American coming-of-age story, right down to the narrator's whiny self-incrimination and the air of funereal nostalgia. But THE KITE RUNNER isn't even an especially compelling coming-of-age story, and its adherence to a set of rules is unfortunate considering Hosseini's characterization of Afghans as "an independent people." Describing the Afghani pastime of kite fighting, Amir remarks, "Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules. And so it was with kite fighting. The rules were simple: No rules. Fly your kite. Cut the opponents. Good luck."Peppering his rhythmless prose with awkward plot contrivances and nonliterary oversimplifications, Hosseini includes all the familiar plotlines and the archetypal characters of the coming-of-age story --- the distant father, the neighborhood bully, the oppressed minority who retains his honor and dignity. As a result, the first act never veers from the predictable and the tedious.THE KITE RUNNER picks up considerably in the second act, however, when the Russians invade Afghanistan in the late 1970s. After an arduous and surprisingly suspenseful escape from Kabul into Pakistan, Amir and his father immigrate to America, settling finally in San Francisco. Hosseini creates a great deal of tension and emotion from their adjustment to their new environment and its dramatically different culture, and as a result, the relationship between father and son grows increasingly dynamic and intricate --- determined more by the characters themselves than by Hosseini's loyalty to a set of literary guidelines.
At times THE KITE RUNNER reads as if its author is learning to write as he goes, as if this is his trial by fire. He may have found his voice as an Afghani shedding light on his country's violent past, but he never manages to find his voice as a writer.
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