The Kite Runner is an important novel because it is a story that could only be possible in this global society. Woven into this deeply intimate story narrated by Amir (a once privileged Afghani boy who loses everything when Russian troops take over) are bits ad pieces of Afghani, American, European, German, Russian and world history. The book’s title refers to a player in the game of kite fighting, a sport that was (and may still be, I’m not sure because I haven’t done much research on the subject) extremely popular in Afghanistan. Kites are modified with accoutrements such as nails, broken glass, and razors glued to their strings in order to cut down other kites in the sky. A kite fighting competition ended when one kite was left flying after all of the others have been cut down, and once that kite is declared the victor it is let go. At that point spectators will try and run the kite down through the city streets, the one who finds it first receives recognition and sometimes a prize.
The kite fighting metaphor can be extended to the major plot points of the novel as well as the story as a whole, especially when an American audience is considered. In America we think of kite flying as an idle activity; the photo I posted is of kites being flown in Longbeach, WA home of a Kite Museum. There are no kite fights there on the beach, but everyone admires the beauty of the kites floating in the breeze along the ocean shore. We think of kites and we think of innocence, of childhood, of joy. When we see an image of our beloved kites as things that fight, things that rip their opponents to shreds, that image is disrupted. The Kite Runner is a story of innocence lost, childhood interrupted, joy stripped from a pair of young lives; and how those travesties can be redeemed through unconditional love. Amir was a privileged boy from one caste, and Hassan was the poverty-stricken servant from a lower caste who served him during childhood. The two were essentially raised side by side, in the same household, both motherless and the same age, but separated by social mores that do not exist in America. Hassan expresses undying love and devotion for Amir, and Amir is basically a spoiled brat who cares for nothing but the approval of his father. Amir fights kites, and Hassan runs them down. During one tournament, Amir desperately wants to win in order to impress his father, and when he does Hassan takes off to find the victorious kite for his friend. That is when Hassan is raped in an alley by several schoolfellows of Amir’s, bullies; and Amir watches in horror but does not help. That is when their friendship is altered forever.
One of the most fascinating characters in the novel, not because he is likeable or unlikeable but because of the historical convergence he represents, is Assef, the boy who rapes Hassan. Assef has an Afghani father and a German mother, and although Germany has essentially abjured Hitler and the genocide of WWII, and made an attempt to define themselves as a culture based on their differences from the Germany of that era, Assef thinks of his German heritage as a point of pride because of Hitler’s nationality. He is a sociopath, and he shares with most other sociopaths the ability to charm those around him when it is to his benefit.
Of course, that is not the end of the story. In fact, the novel takes us through Amir and his father’s flight from Afghanistan, their assimilation into American culture, Amir’s marriage and his wife’s inability to conceive, his father’s death, and his return to Afghanistan to rescue Hassan’s son from his enslavement by Assef, who had risen in the ranks of the extremist government and spun even further into insanity.
In a story in which hope seems impossible, Khaled Hosseini gives his readers a believably small dose of it. In the end, the small lift of hope is something the reader can grasp and feel grateful for. The subtlety and precision of that lift reminded me (having a musical background) of the way some musical arrangements spend the majority of the time in a minor key and end on a heartrending note, followed by a split second shift upwards into a major chord. That is the way that hope would sound at its beginnings. That, I think, is the most moving part of the novel.
Not a happy read, but satisfying because of the ending. I’ll see you tomorrow with The Bluest Eye, The Land of Painted Caves, and Beloved.