The Kite Runner (Magill Book Reviews)
The Kite Runner is being marketed as not just the first novel by its author, Khaled Hosseini, a medical doctor, but the first novel of its kind: an Afghan novel written in English. That, however, is the least of the achievements of this accomplished if not quite flawless debut work which has been hailed as “a haunting morality tale” and “a stirring tale of loyalty and betrayal.” Despite being occasionally melodramatic and overly symmetrical, The Kite Runner is a modestly told, quietly ambitious, story of its narrator- protagonist’s journey from his rather comfortable life in Kabul in the 1970’s to his and his father’s fleeing the country in 1981 and beginning life anew as struggling immigrants in Fremont, California, and, following marriage and the publication of his own first novel, his fateful return to Taliban-run Afghanistan in 2001, where he will atone for a past wrong.
The story begins where Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize-wining novel, The God of Small Things, ends: with a betrayal. Amir has a rather difficult relationship with his father, a successful businessman and social progressive, an imposing man who builds an orphanage but who finds his son weak. Amir is weak, and not just physically in a patriarchal culture that prizes manly competition. His weakness takes a terrifying turn in his dealings with Hassan, the devoted servant who is also his friend. Opposites in certain ways (Amir is a privileged...
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The Kite Runner (Magill's Literary Annual 2004)
Touted as the first Afghan novel written in English, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner makes up part of the growing branch of Muslim American immigrant literature (along with Diana Abu-Jaber’s Crescent and Laila Halaby’s West of the Jordan, both published in 2003). Loosely autobiographical, The Kite Runner begins in the same well-off Kabul neighborhood in which the author grew up with his diplomat father and schoolteacher mother. The action then shifts to California, where the family resettled in the early 1980’s after fleeing Afghanistan.
Hosseini, a practicing physician, began the novel (originally a short story) in March, 2001, and, working in the early morning hours, had it half-completed by September 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks which occurred on that day left him and other Muslim Americans feeling anxious about their safety and also turned his unfinished novel into a hot property. After making a successful preemptive bid, Riverhead Books asked Hosseini to revise the manuscript (rather extensively, it turned out) in just four weeks in late 2002, in order to capitalize on interest in Afghanistan during the United States’ military action against the Taliban. The well-publicized novel appeared in the summer of 2003, just after American and world interest had shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq.
Employing a simple but effective three-part structure, framed by chapters set in December, 2001, The Kite Runner begins where Arundhati Roy’s Booker Prize-winning novel The God of Small Things (1997) ends, with an act of betrayal. Part 1 focuses on the formative years of its narrator-protagonist, especially his relationship with Hassan, who is at once his servant and friend. The two boys are linked in several important ways: Born just a year apart, they live in the same household and have nursed at the same breast (following Amir’s mother’s death in childbirth and Hassan’s mother’s having run away).
The two are also divided—by physical ability, by temperament, by class, and most deeply by ethnicity, one a member of the majority Pashtuns, the other a despised Hazara. Hassan’s devotion to Amir is both a sign of his sweet disposition and, more troubling, the result of an ingrained servant-class mentality. Amir is, if not quite devoted to his playmate then certainly attached (including in a way that Amir could never have imagined, for Hassan turns out to be his half brother). Amir’s relatively privileged life, however, coupled with Hassan’s self-sacrificing devotion, makes Amir cruel, albeit in petty, even passive ways.
Amir’s cruelty and weakness of character are thrown into higher relief when a third boy, Assef, arrives on the scene. “On the surface, he was the embodiment of every parent’s dream. . . . but his eyes betrayed him. Beyond the façade, madness.” Beyond Amir’s facade there is neither madness nor maliciousness, only anxiety that derives, in large measure, from his not being manly enough to earn the love of his father, Baba, a successful, decidedly secular businessman highly respected for his business savvy, physical prowess, and charitable acts.
The crisis, and Amir’s downfall, comes at the moment of what should be his greatest triumph, at the annual winter kite-flying competition. Here the competitiveness of soccer, business, the Sharjangi (Battle of the Poems), Assef’s bullying, Pashtun oppression of Hazaras, and male oppression of women appears in relatively benign form. The aim of the kite flyers, who work in teams (one maneuvering the kite, the other playing out the line), is to use their strings, covered in tar and broken glass, to cut their opponents’ lines. To win Baba’s affection, Amir feels he must win the kite competition, but to do that he must rely on the very person he sees as a rival for that affection: Hassan. Amir must, in fact, rely on Hassan twice: as line feeder and as kite runner. The one who runs down the last opponent’s kite will receive a highly coveted trophy, which Hassan will give to Amir and Amir in turn will give to Baba.
Amir’s triumph goes horribly wrong. Hassan does find the kite, but he is then found by Assef and his gang. Assef, who neither forgets nor forgives any slight, such as Hassan’s rescuing Amir from Assef’s wrath two years earlier, takes his revenge by sodomizing Hassan. Amir secretly witnesses Hassan’s humiliation but does nothing to prevent it. Experiencing the shame of his own cowardice as well as of Hassan’s knowledge of it, and dismayed by Hassan’s having met his fate so resignedly, Amir returns home to the paternal love he had long craved but now cannot bear—just as he cannot bear the look of “guileless devotion” he sees in Hassan’s eyes in place of the blame and indignation Amir knows he deserves. The better to hide his own secret sin, Amir betrays Hassan a second time, resulting in Hassan leaving the relative paradise and safety of Baba’s home.
As Amir’s personal situation...
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Topics for Further Study
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Aubry, Timothy. “Afghanistan Meets the Amazon: Reading The Kite Runner in America.” PMLA 124, no. 1 (2009): 25-43. An analysis of data collected from reader reviews of The Kite Runner on the Web site Amazon.com. Presents divergent interpretations. Also discusses the relevance of the novel in a post-September 11, 2001, political environment in the United States.
Bloom, Harold, ed. Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner.” New York: Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Comprehensive study guide on The Kite Runner with essays written especially for students in grades 9 through 12. Part of the Bloom’s Guides series of analyses of classic...
(The entire section is 317 words.)