The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns explore the themes of exile, displacement, immigration, and a person’s relationship to one’s nation, themes commonly associated with postcolonial literature. Many nations, such as India, Jamaica, and Afghanistan, were once colonies of more powerful countries, including Great Britain, the Netherlands, France, and the United States, seeking to expand their wealth and territories. As the once colonized areas gained independence, they created new national identities, most visibly through art and literature. Theorists have categorized as postcolonial the literature and art that explores the relationships between colonized and colonizer.
Afghanistan has struggled for independence from various invading nations throughout its history; in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries alone, England, the former Soviet Union, and United Nations peacekeeping forces, primarily consisting of U.S. soldiers, have occupied the country. As a result, many Afghans have migrated either by force or by choice to different countries. Both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns describe the lives of characters who have left their homelands—either to another country or a safer part of their own country—as a result of war.
While far from a direct representation of his childhood in Kabul and young adulthood in California, to which Hosseini’s family migrated, the characters in The Kite Runner were nevertheless inspired by Hosseini’s friends and family. Hosseini acknowledges that his own father inspired the magnanimity of the character Baba, and the mother of another character, Amir, is a professor of Farsi and history, much like Hosseini’s own mother, who taught the same subjects in high school. Hosseini said that one of his own family’s servants in Kabul, Hossein Khan, and the relationship he had with him, inspired the characterization of Hassan and his friendship with Amir.
One of the most salient ways in which Hosseini examines the tension between selfhood and nationality is through intertextuality—drawing on other literary works to illuminate a novel or poem. In The Kite Runner, Amir and Hassan enjoy reading the story of Rostam and Sohrab, which comes from Persian poet Firdusi’s Shahnamah (c. 1010), the poetic epic of Iran, Afghanistan, and other Persian-speaking countries. Much like the mythologized history of the Greco-Roman world found in classic works of poetry by Homer, the Shahnamah poetically narrates the creation of the Persian Empire, of which Afghanistan was once a part. Rostam, a proud and successful warrior, and Sohrab, a champion in his own right, are father and son but have never met. Fighting to protect their country from invaders, they destroy each other and save the nation. Hosseini depicts how the relationships between fathers and sons and the secrets they keep from one another have the potential to determine individual and national characters.
A Thousand Splendid Suns borrows its title from a poem by S՚ib, a seventeenth century Persian poet. A translation of the poem’s most pertinent lines reads as follows: “One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs/ And the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls.”
In contrast to the main characters in The Kite Runner, Mariam and Laila, protagonists in A Thousand Splendid Suns, remain in Afghanistan throughout several invasions. Laila and her father cite the lines of this poem when thinking of the Kabul they knew before the wars. The poem conveys a strong love for the city and nation, but it also serves as a haunting lament for how Afghanistan’s troubled history has impacted its peoples.
The Kite Runner
In The Kite Runner, Hosseini employs the genre called bildungsroman, or the coming-of-age story, to follow the development of Amir, the protagonist and narrator, from his youth in Kabul through his adulthood in the area of San Francisco, California. Foils and father-son relationships unify the sprawling, yet symmetrical narrative.
As a little boy and preteen, Amir lives with his father Baba; his best friend and servant Hassan; and Hassan’s father Ali, also a servant. Amir and Hassan play in Kabul’s streets, watch American Westerns at the cinema, run kites together, and live, in many ways, as brothers. Similarly, Baba, a child of the upper class, grew up in the same household with Ali acting as his servant, friend, and brother figure. However, the idyllic surroundings in which Amir matures are troubled by these relationships. Amir desperately seeks Baba’s attention, whereas Hassan, despite Baba not claiming him as his son, receives the praise and affection that Amir desires. At once, Amir admires Hassan’s goodness, loyalty, bravery, and his relationship with Baba, but he is jealous of him. This creates tension between the two boys, as Amir often resorts to cruelty toward Hassan when he feels inadequate.
While Amir and Hassan are described throughout the novel...
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