Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review: The Kite Runner

(At Blogjob, the tags were history of Afghanistan,Khaled Hosseini Foundationnovels about fathers and sonsnovels about male friendship,novels about platonic friendshipnovels about rape survivors.)

A Fair Trade Book
Title: The Kite Runner 
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Author's web site:
Date: 2003
Publisher: Riverhead / Penguin
ISBN: 1-57322-245-3 (reprint I physically own), 159463193X (first edition shown in the photo)
Length: 371 pages
Quote: "I became what I am today at the age of twelve...Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."
The "I" is Amir, a rich young man. At the time he identifies his best friend and foster brother, Hassan, as the son of one of his father's employees. (We learn more about Hassan's background as the story develops.) What happened in the alley was that Hassan was raped--by Assef, a bully at their school, as a way of humiliating Hassan for belonging to a poor minority-tribe family--and Amir didn't stand up to Assef.
Not that, given the timing of the event, Amir necessarily would have had time to summon help, and not that he and Hassan had a chance of fighting off Assef and his two big mean buddies. Still, on that day Amir absorbs the idea that what he is, basically, is a coward; and this shapes the lives of Amir and Hassan, the women they marry, and the children they bring up, over the next years of Afghan history.
The Kite Runner was written to teach American audiences more about Afghan history than most of us already knew. For that purpose, and also for the purpose of publicizing Hosseini's charitable foundation, it may serve educated adult audiences well.
The edition I have does not include a glossary. It needs one. I happened to have learned several of the foreign words, and also been exposed to reports of some of the historical events, in the 1980s, because I had friends from northern India who had friends in Afghanistan. Anyone who happens to be in Washington could learn the food-related words, easily and enjoyably, at the Afghan Grill restaurant, where I dined with those friends when it was called the Khyber Pass...and it's good to see that the online reviews sound as if it's not changed much. This still leaves several foreign words unexplained in the text. Americans with an average education, which includes neither Arabic nor Farsi, may want to keep dictionaries at hand while reading this book. You can follow the story without one, but you'll miss things.
Actually, non-Afghan-Americans are probably missing a lot, anyway, at best, as we read this book...but I was conscious of missing fewer references than when I read books by e.g. Salman Rushdie (the link should display one of his more accessible books).
That's one thing I need to mention about this widely acclaimed novel. The other thing is that, in recommending it to educated adult audiences, I mean adult audiences only. Other children get raped in this story, and people get beaten and tortured and killed. Amir can stay in or return to Afghanistan only by being a coward; Assef grows up to become an influential Talib and Amir has to flee the country fast.
Some high school teachers and "young adult" publishers believe that The Kite Runner is the sort of prove-your-toughness book teenagers want and need to read. I'm not so sure about that. The former teacher who slyly hinted, after I'd started posting these reviews, that he'd be interested in my take on this story made it clear that this is a troublesome read even for Vietnam veterans.
It's about friendship and forgiveness, as you may have read elsewhere, and as a story about those things, it's beautiful. Hassan forgives Amir, perhaps too easily for the forgiveness to work. Amir begins to forgive himself only after he's physically defended and rescued an abused child. There is profound truth in this book...but some people will be too grossed-out to find it.
What I physically own, and am offering for sale locally, is a special "World Book Night" reprint edition. It may someday become rare; it's not showing up on Amazon. If you buy The Kite Runner from me as a Fair Trade Book, unless you specify a particular edition, you'll get whichever seems like the best bargain at the time. Both hardcover and paperback editions are available at prices that keep it within the standard Fair Trade Book price of $5 per copy + $5 per package + $1 per online payment, to either of the addresses at the bottom of the screen, and if you buy it as a Fair Trade Book the Khaled Hosseini Foundation gets a dollar per copy.