Long before September 11, and prior to the tyrannical rule of the Taliban, Afghanistan was a flourishing cultural utopia whose story has never before been told in American literature. Author Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” is a rare and treasured gift, presenting a narrative that is simultaneously heart wrenching yet startlingly accurate.
The young narrator, Amir, lives a privileged life, constantly provided for by his father’s wealth. The young boy is plagued by his own mother’s death and starving for his father’s attention. Amir finds an unlikely playmate in his servant’s son, Hassan. Marked by a devastating harelip, Hassan’s physical deformity mirrors the emotional inferiority he suffers daily. He is constantly ridiculed for his Hazara ancestry, and thus takes refuge in this friendship with Amir. Hassan is willing to do whatever it takes to prove true allegiance and devotion to his best friend.
Growing up, Amir constantly tests Hassan’s loyalty, silently ridiculing his friend for his ignorance and naivety. During a local kite-flying competition, Amir puts Hassan to the ultimate test, which will change their friendship forever. Yet amidst these dark secrets and the violence that sweeps their beloved country, young Hassan’s love and dedication are unwavering.
Years later, Amir has moved to America, constantly running from the devastating secret he left halfway across the world. “I wanted that,” Amir says, “to move on, to forget, to start with a clean slate. I wanted to be able to breathe again.”
But the joys of his new life cannot cloak the secrets of his past, and he is haunted by the way he abandoned the only person who loved him unconditionally. Amir resolves to leave his new life and try to pick up the pieces of his shattered childhood in a war-torn Afghanistan.
Hosseini paints for his reader a world we hear about all too often in the news. Kabul has been torn apart by civil war and is far from the dream-like childhood that Amir remembers. Innocent families are being murdered by the Taliban daily and orphaned children are starving on the streets. “There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood,” Hosseini writes. Amidst this devastating reality, the roles are reversed, and Amir must reconcile to Hassan for the sins of his past.
Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel is a touching story of true friendship, reminding us that the strongest bonds of childhood resonate into our adult lives. And within this narrative lies the history of Afghanistan, from its flourishing beginnings to its consummation by civil war, violence and fear. Hosseini’s characters are eerily real, and his writing makes the sights, smells and sensations of Afghanistan come alive.