Having just finished Isabel Allende’s book Daughter of Fortune, I was looking for something else to read and I thought about The Kite Runner which had been waiting on my nightstand for months, borrowed from a friend. Then I saw one of the comments on the cover and it was by Allende, and I thought, there must be a connection between these books. That is how I began reading Khaled Hosseini’s first novel.
Three years ago I had read A Thousand Splendid Suns, his second novel, and loved it, but stayed away from The Kite Runner because I felt there was too much hype surrounding the book, and for some reason I refused to be drawn into it. Perhaps it was not the time. Until now.
For you, a thousand times over, Hassan says to Amir as they run around and play together as children, the second, a son born into a privileged family, the first his poor servant. Even though they share childhood games and play like brothers, the thin line dividing them is always there, in the words Amir uses to taunt his playmate who never takes them to heart, always trying to please and protect. His devotion is a testament to his generous and sweet nature, while Amir’s behavior seems at times like that of a spoiled rich child who takes full advantage of it. I couldn’t help but compare the two boys, admiring one and blaming the other, as the story evolved and events enfolded.
Afghanistan, a country that seemed like paradise on earth to the two boys, begins its descent into dark times as the Taliban come to power and destroys the sheltered, idyllic life of the protagonists. Young Amir and Baba, his father, flee to America, while Hassan stays behind in a country torn apart by violence. But Amir is not able to forget what happened to Hassan, and most of all, the part he had to play by not taking any action to save a friend who had stood up for him so many times. And then, many years later, when Amir is a grown man and married, and his father is dead, he receives a call from the country he left behind and he realizes the past had finally caught up with him. There’s a way to be good again, says the voice on the telephone, his father’s old friend, keeper of more than one terrible secret. And just like that, Amir decides to go back to Afghanistan and face whatever terrible punishment fate has decided to deal him.
Ka is a wheel, says Stephen King in his Dark Tower series, and in this book it makes perfect sense. The deeds of the past must be atoned for, and retribution is possible, even after so many years, even after thinking that time and distance had erased them into oblivion. Amir has a chance to set things right, and in doing so, to make up for, at least in a small measure, the sins of the past.
There are several interesting threads well worth analyzing: Amir’s relationship with his father – always strained, Hassan’s devotion – never faltering, the symbolism of the kites, and Afghan culture, to name a few. The characters are well drawn and the story moves at an alert pace with sudden revelations and emotional scenes. I loved Hassan for his bravery and self-sacrificing attitude, and quite a few times my eyes misted over a scene in the book. The writing is beautiful without being embellished, and the story kept me up at night, making me resentful of the fact that I needed sleep. Who needs sleep when there are books like this one, stories that can make two hours pass like two minutes and whose end makes one feel empty and alone? Still, the novel is not perfect – sometimes the events seemed to fit too well and that wheel turns a bit too often, but these are flaws I was content to overlook in favour of the story as a whole. And while it seemed like things tie up too neatly at the end, there is still that emotional current throughout the book that never really falters and which made reading it such a great and satisfying experience for me.
And that connection I was talking about at the beginning of my review is just a minor thing that I noticed while reading Allende’s book. She names one of her characters Babalu – he’s a big, scary-looking man dressed in wolf skins acting as a bodyguard to a group of traveling prostitutes. The same name is used in Hosseini’s book as a sort of boogeyman, a taunting name given to Hassan by a violent, evil wealthy young boy who never misses a chance to pick on him. Given that Allende’s book was published four years prior to The Kite Runner, I wonder what this small detail means and if the two authors knew each other personally. I like it when I discover small details connecting two books, like threads running from a story into another. Needles to say, I look forward to reading And the Mountains Echoed, Hosseini’s latest novel. I wonder if it’s going to be as emotional as this one.
My rating: 5/5 stars
*Read in February 2014