Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini's quietly powerful novel, The Kite Runner, fulfills the promise of fiction, awakening curiosity about the world around us, speaking truth as the lessons of history echo down the years, and tells a story of fierce cruelty and intense yet redeeming love. The themes are universal: familial relationships, particularly father and son; the price of disloyalty; the inhumanity of a rigid class system; and the horrific realities of war. The Story is told with sentimental power and sturdy storytelling, along with fits of clumsy melodrama, and the combination will make this book a fundamental part of your library.

In Afghanistan, young Amir's earliest memories of life in Kabul are blessed with a cultural heritage that values tradition, blood ties and a deeply rooted cultural identity. Upper class Pashtuns, Amir enjoys the luxury of education, material comfort and a constant playmate, the son of his father's longtime Hazara servant, Hassan. Twice in his lifetime Amir is morally tested in his relationship with Hassan. The first time, a victim of his own arrogance, Amir fails his companion. Hiding behind the superiority of class, Amir chooses the path of least resistance, but the scar of betrayal cuts through his soul and never heals. That first failure dictates Amir's inner dialogue throughout his life, even in America, until he is offered another chance at personal redemption. Returned to his homeland at the request of an old family friend, the second challenge is equally perilous, and Amir recognizes the very real implications of his decision.

Against this stark landscape, the adult Amir is challenged as never before, charged with the protection of a young life already scarred by the random violence visited upon the disenfranchised. With inordinate compassion and stunning simplicity, Hosseini portrays Amir's impossible dilemma. Complications abound, but the answer lies in humanity's capacity for kindness. The grace of acceptance heals the wounds of brutality, for with forgiveness anything is possible, even the wild joy of soaring kites against a winter sky.

The Kite Runner serves as a powerful depiction of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan..With cities that are rich in warmth and humor, streets that are framed with divine, luscious trees, and air that is laced with the fragrance of fresh lamb and naan bread, It is a place a pure joy and beauty. As time passes, however, so does Afghanistan. It becomes a place decimated by constant warfare. The streets are lined with beggars and fatherless children, whose future is marginalized by poverty: "There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood." There are no longer people bustling through the fresh market, or hosting grand celebrations, even the trees have given up, and become bleak and flowerless. Hosseini gives us a vivid and engaging story that reminds us how long his people have been struggling to triumph over the forces of violence -- forces that continue to threaten them even today.

The Kite Runner isn't subtle, but it allows us to see a country and a culture from the inside: it puts a human face on a tragedy most of us know only from headlines and glimpses on the nightly news. The pages are full of haunting images: a man, desperate to feed his children, trying to sell his artificial leg in the market; an adulterous couple stoned to death in a stadium during the halftime of a football match; a rouged young boy forced into prostitution, dancing the sort of steps once performed by an organ grinder's monkey. However grotesque the facts might be, they also serve to make the story beautiful. They provide us a true understanding of a people and a culture that we may never be a part of. They stir up compassion and empathy towards people on the other side of the world, and that, I think, is a beautiful thing.

For years I have been hearing great things about The Kite Runner, and for some reason, it is only now that I am picking it up for the first time. Honestly, I think it took so long because I thought that I would not be interested in a Book based out of the Middle East. I have never been particularly drawn to the culture, or even the blueprint of the land and scenery, but I found myself easily reading this book, curled up on my couch, while my husband played guitar, for hours on end. If this book has taught me anything it is "don't judge a book by it's cover". I know, we have all heard this saying most of our educated lives, but it's true. I was pre-judging this book on the setting, but it turned out to be a phenomenal book, going much deeper into the beauty and struggles of humanity than I initially gave it credit for. My hope for myself is that I can remember this truth, and open myself up to reading about different places and people, with the honest intention of learning about them. Thinking about this, I am actually reminded of a quote from a Michael Franti song, "...the more I see, the less I know...". Sometimes we get caught up in our own culture, and the things and people that immediately surround us, but once we start to venture out, we begin to realize that there is so much more out there to learn and discover. I personally think that this is amazing, and I am optimistic that I will allow myself to be shaped not only by my family, and home, but by other people and places that I will encounter on this journey called life.

Not only in the Middle East, but all over the world, there are fatherless children, doing their best to survive in a world no child should have to suffer in. Eating dirt, hoping for some small trace of nutrition, and walking countless miles, just to get water, these are the children that need our help. Not all of us are able to adopt a child in need, but we can find easily find a sponsorship program. And so my tip for this book is, sponsor a child, and help them obtain the most basic and fundamental necessities of life.


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