Wednesday, May 24, 2006

 

SUMMER READING RECOMMENDATIONS

Now that you've purged yourselves of the semester by reading The Da Vinci Code, People Magazine, Cosmo & Spin (o.k., that was me), you might be ready for some more serious suggestions. I already praised Toni Morrison's Beloved in class (indeed, it was just named the best American book of the last 25 years) and highly recommend it. Might be fun to think, as you read it, if it is a "postcolonial Victorian" novel -- hey, feel free to post on it: the Happy Ending Blog will live on indefinitely.

If you liked Howard's End, then you'll love: Forster's A Passage to India and A Room with a View, Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, A. S. Byatt's Possession.

If you liked A House for Mr. Biswas, then you'll love: Naipaul's Mimic Men, J. M. Coetzee's Waiting for the Barbarians, Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet, Ben Okri's The Famished Road.

If you liked Midnight's Children, then you'll love: Rushdie's Satanic Verses, Coetzee's Foe (a rewrite, sort of, of Robinson Crusoe) as well as many postmodern american novels out there (Pynchon, Roth) or classics such as Joyce's Ulysses, to which Midnight's Children responds.

If you liked Remains of the Day, then you 'll love: The God of Small Things and The English Patient.

If you liked On Beauty, then you'll love: Zadie Smith, White Teeth, David Lodge's novels (all hilarious).

If you liked The Kite Runner, stay tuned for Hosseini's next novel coming out soon.

others: Monica Ali's Brick Lane (female author, female protagonist), Margaret Drabble's trilogy: Radiant Way, A Natural Curiosity, and The Gates of Ivory (that was actually on the syllabus, but was out of print), Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy (described as an Indian Jane Austen), Annie Proux's The Shipping News (highly indebted to the Victorian novel).

Feel free to add suggestions, comments as you read on. I'll add books as I think of them. I loved having you all in class. It was a great way for me to wrap things up at SLU. Good luck!

Monday, May 08, 2006

 

Life Goes On...

Hosseini is very cognizant of the fact that the success of his novel relies on the ending. He seems self-conscious about this when he asserts, "In America, you don’t reveal the ending of the movie, and if you do, you will be scorned and made to apologize profusely for having committed the sin of Spoiling the End" (Hosseini 357). He knows what readers are looking for and provides this in a very real way using suspense and creating twists throughout the novel. In a novel that contains such horrific events, the ending provides the reader closure as Sohrab and Amir fly kites in the park. The question of whether or not this is a happy ending can be debated in this novel just as in every other novel throughout the semester. In this case, the ending is not necessarily happy, but given the events that take place prior to the novel’s ending, it is the most hopeful that Hosseini can realistically present to readers. It is pragmatic and makes implications about the characters’ futures.

The ending of The Kite Runner clearly indicates Sohrab’s depression upon being displaced. He wants nothing more than to go back to the life that he is familiar with in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, even if he was in Afghanistan, the life he once knew does not exist anymore. Amir says, "our old life is gone, Sohrab, and everyone in it is either dead or dying" (Hosseini 354-5). Perhaps this novel plays on human emotions a bit and might be considered cheesy, but no one can read that line and not feel the power of those words. Even though this is fiction, it is based on real events, the real situation in Afghanistan. If Hosseini uses these characters to make the Western world see the reality of situations abroad and care more deeply about what our country is doing to help these people, more power to him. Sohrab’s identity confusion, lamentations of his old way of life, and heart-wrenching actions to destroy himself because he is "tired of everything," is telling the story of all Afghani people and all those countries that have been ravaged by power-hungry groups like the Taliban.

Knowing that this is how Sohrab feels and what he has been through makes the smile at the end so important. Amir says, "it didn’t make everything alright. It didn’t make anything alright (Hosseini 371)." He still has a long way to go on his emotional journey to move forward and live the rest of his life to the fullest, but it is hopeful. Amir sees this as a step towards the larger goal of making Sohrab feel like a normal child. He says, "when spring comes, it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting" (Hosseini 371). He sees a chance for Sohrab to open up to him and Soraya, establish a connection with them, and foster a relationship that is life-giving. This smile represents a window of opportunity for Amir to save his nephew and make up for the past wrongdoings he committed against his half brother, Hassan.

This novel’s ending is powerful because it is all about being able to overcome adversity. It shows that it is often not easy to do this, but it can be achieved over time. Sohrab will never live the life he formerly knew, but he can create a new, meaningful one for himself through letting go of his past and focusing on his future with Amir and Soraya. These two can remind him of his past, his father and old neighborhood, and can also provide a better tomorrow for him that is free of the hardships of his former life.

 

Not a Happy Ending; Just a Realistic One

Khaled Hosseini’s, The Kite Runner, has to be one of the best books that we’ve read this semester because it was the only one that took me only a few hours to read. As far as the ending being a “happy ending,” I would do well to conclude that it is not. My reasoning for this conclusion stems from the realization that The Kite Runner is as close to the reality of the true tragedy in Afghanistan that I or any other American college student will ever get. It is truer than any news account than I have ever read or seen in America. It explores much more than the surface of the raging war in Afghanistan, but it digs deep in order to expose how deep the war has scared the lives of innocent people and the true reign of terror of the Taliban. Life is not fair and in the end, one will find that the majority of human beings never find that “happy ending.” Why? Everyone’s definition of a happy ending is not the same, furthermore, the coined phrase “happy ending,” is seldom used in the real world, and is oftentimes seen or heard about only in fairytales, storybooks, television, movies, dreams, and the world of fantasy. Although the ending was not to be considered exactly happy and I was not altogether satisfied by it and it was a tolerable one in which I learned to finally accept.

Throughout The Kite Runner, the inhumane acts are committed against the innocent and the most humane people that society could ever produce. Hassan’s execution style death, the slaughter of his wife, and the inner slaying of his son through kidnapping and sexual molestation are moments in which the reader gives up all hope that this book could ever produce a happy ending. From the very moment that Rahim Khan tells Amir “I want to tell you about him. I want to tell you everything” (202), there was hope in my mind that the relationship between Hassan and Amir can be mended and the flame of friendship can somehow be rekindled in. I felt as though it was injustice for Hassan, a virtuous and righteous man to end up slain along with his wife. He remained a loyal and devoted friend until the end to Amir. And for what I asked myself? I guess it was so that Hassan could die with peace of mind. I figured this because when it comes down to “payback time” or revenge, the bible says that the Lord says that “vengeance is mine.” Internally, I think that Hassan knew that whatever a man sows, he will reap. This is exemplified when Rahim Khan told of how Hassan and his wife “did all of the cooking, all the cleaning, etc” (208) and also in Hassan's "final sacrifice" (105) for Amir. Although Hassan always did what was right, and didn’t gain much in life, he did have some bit of happiness during his lifetime. And although his rewards here on earth could not be seen, I believe that he had true happiness and was able to partake in the afterlife with their God Allah. It was unexpected for the character Hassan to die along with his wife and for his son to endure what he had to endure. I felt that although Amir’s guilt ate away at his heart, it did not for long because he was able to go on about his life and begin a new one. Unlike Hassan, his father didn’t die from stepping on a land mind but in the privacy of his own home. On another note, Hassan was one character that I hoped to see again, prospering in life as Amir was. This, I never saw because of how truly tragic life can really be. I’m not disgusted or angry with Hosseini for giving us the truth. I think as readers, we’re so used to happy endings, that when a tragic one comes along, it’s a shocking experience. It's true that the damage done in childhood that have produced inner scars can never magically be healed or reversed. Although there is no typical sunset ending, the reader is left with some glimpse of hope, despite the sadness and irreversable destruction that surrounds it.

In the end, as Amir is running the kite there is a final passage that says“It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it” (371). As Sohrab and Amir are flying the kite together, it's almost as if at that very moment, we are taken back into time on that day when Amir won the Kite Race and Hassan finished running his kite for him. There is no coincidence that the novel ends in the same manner in which the crumbling of Hassan and Amir's unique friendship began. It's almost as if Amir has to pick up the fragmented pieces of his love for Hassan where he left them, so many years ago, at the kite race. One of the last passages as stated above describes my true feelings towards the novel's ending. One can only smile slightly after so much pain and hurt. Although the ending wasn't what one would call a "happy ending," I'll take it considering the sorrowful past of the lives of many of the Afghan's. The last genuine smile that I recall reading about was the same smile that Hassan gave as a child and in that Polaroid picture. For little Sohrab to produce a smile, well, I think as far as happiness goes, that's a start.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

 

A Justification for an UNhappy Ending

The “happy ending” is the ending of a novel or story, which leaves the reader satisfied, content, or, at risk of being tautological, happy. At the end of the Kite Runner I must say I was not satisfied, I was not content, and I was absolutely not happy. In light of the trauma this book exposes us to, I ask if the best ending we can hope for is not happy, but merely not quite as bad as what existed before. I have a problem with calling the end of the Kite Runner happy, as I was not left feeling a positive emotion. In fact, I was sad. I was sad from the page where Amir admitted to the reader that he would purposely make Hassan, his most loyal and loving companion, feel stupid for the sole purpose of proving his superiority. “My favorite part of reading to Hassan was when we came across a big word that he didn’t know. I’d tease him, expose his ignorance” (28). And my sadness didn’t waver throughout the trauma that ensued. But my sadness doesn't mean I wanted a happy ending.
Though I am generally 'ever-the-optimistic' reader (as I have found happiness in all the conclusions of the novels before this) I cannot be happy. And yet, I did not hate this novel. I loved this novel and found the ending wholly appropriate. This juxtaposition of love for the novel and sadness of the story speaks loudly to what I believe is Hosseini’s point: that stories are not always happy, and they often do not end well, but they are nonetheless valuable.
A good ending is not necessarily a happy ending. I would, in fact, argue that sometimes a happy ending is not a good ending. In light of this novel, a happy ending would stick out as a sore thumb. For the sake of story continuity, happiness simply wasn’t in the cards for the ending of this novel. In class it was noted that the Victorian ‘not so happenstance coincidence’ elements of this novel seem already Disney-like. And yet even the saddest ending in a Disney movie (I’m going to go with Dumbo, feel free to disagree :) ) still holds more hope than the conclusion of The Kite Runner. But what would a happy ending do to further Hosseini's story? A happy ending would not resolve the 300 previous pages of sadness, violence, hurt, and agony, it would maybe just force the reader to ask 'where did that come from?'.
So we, as readers, are left at the end of a traumatically sad novel with only a smile. “It was only a smile, nothing more. It didn’t make everything all right. It didn’t make anything all right. Only a smile. A tiny thing. A leaf in the woods, shaking in the wake of a startled bird’s flight. But I’ll take it. With open arms” (371). Amir confirms my claim, that this smile doesn’t alleviate the distress we have witnessed and they have lived through. But a half smile is all Amir is offered from a boy who has been orphaned by the Taliban, violated by a pedophile, moved to a strange country with a stranger, and stripped of his country, family, and culture.
It seems to me that Hosseini's mission was not to tell the readers a happy story, but to rather tell a real story. And by real I don't mean factual, because not everything real is factual. Real stories are not always happy and they do not always turn out like a Disney movie (save Dumbo, as I still maintain it is incredibly sad). Real stories are based in true emotion. They are based on making mistakes, and fixing mistakes, and being vindictive, and eradicating vindiction. They are based on countries in disarry and children that are distraught and wives back home and old friends that are dying. They rely on the audience's emotions: emotions of sadness, and relief, and more sadness, and disgust and hope. Hosseini's story ties together real feelings and real emotions through a story that is likely not reality.
And real stories don't necessitate happy endings. And happy endings can't always follow sad stories. And happy endings can't make everything better... and yet we always look for a happy ending. Because the happy ending leaves the reader with a feeling of satisfaction, with an emotion elevated by positivity. Unless the happy ending doesn't fit the story, that is. Then the emotion the reader is left with is, to be eloquent, "pissed off".

 

The Kite Runner: A Story More Compelling than the News

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is set in the troubled homeland of Afghanistan. In this story about a man named Amir, Hosseini gives us an ethical account dealing with themes of love, guilt, fear and the need for freedom. Afghanistan is a distant world from that of the United States, one we only hear about in our evening news. After reading this book, Afghanistan becomes much more real.
"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."
From this opening paragraph of The Kite Runner, you find yourself in the shoes of Amir, who was born of the privileged Pashtun social class in 1970s Kabul. His childhood in Afghanistan's capital city is happy and fulfilling. Amir spends almost every moment with his best friend, Hassan. Both of the boys are nursed by the same woman since birth and grow up like brothers. However, they have one large difference between them. Hassan is the son of one of Amir's family servants. He is Hazzara, considered a lowly class in modern Afghan society. Hassan is gentle, kind, trustworthy, loyal and adores Amir, saying to him at one point, "For you anything, a thousand times over!"
Amir wishes deeply to win his father's approval, which has always been given to Hassan instead. The day of the city's great winter kite battle provides an opportunity for Amir to make his father proud. During this scene, Kabul’s sky is filled with colorful kites and the entire city watches as Amir wins, and he finally feels his father's pride. His friend Hassan is happy for Amir and quickly runs off to find the defeated kite as a prize for Amir. In the process, we find out what happened at that frozen creek which Amir regretfully remembers in the book's opening paragraph. This particular moment is the one that changes both boys forever and alters their friendship and the rest of their lives.
Shortly after this incident, the country itself changes drastically as a result of the Russian invasion and the deposing of the king. For their safety Amir's father emigrates to the U.S. with Amir. Here they begin building a new life for themselves in Southern California, where Amir grows to become a man and falls in love. Even though he is happily married to Soraya, he still relives the horrible day by the creek back in Kabul with Hassan. Amir convinces himself that he is "gutless" and tells himself, "Its how you were made…” Amir is now a successful writer, but his life is shifted one morning when he receives a phone call from Pakistan. It's from Rahim, his father's old friend, asking him to return home by saying, "It's still possible to be good." The prospect of some kind of amends causes Amir to promptly fly to meet with Rahim. The old man who’s sick and dying, reveals a bitter secret and tells him of a little Hazarra boy, Sohrab, whom Amir realizes he must find in what's left of Afghanistan. The consequent journey is long and hard, yet in the process he finds the possibility of redemption.
After reading this book, I definitely learned a lot about the harsh part of the world where the story takes place. One can read histories or watch news programs for this kind of information or background on a certain part of the world, but I believe, we can only begin to understand these kinds of stories only through personal experience. This story was written by an Afghan, one who lived the story himself and experienced themes of father and son relationships, the complications of friendship, the value and impact of culture. I found Hosseini’s The Kite Runner to be more real and touching than any news account or analysis I've read concerning the Middle East.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

 

The Informing Kite Runner

Now that the semester is coming to an end and approximately 2448 pages of postcolonial literature are pumping through our veins (give or take Midnight’s Children), I am glad that we conclude the semester with this enticing, disturbing and educational novel, The Kite Runner. Although Hosseini engages the heroes and villains in a guaranteed page-turner Dickensian style, I would disagree that he cheapens the global issues he brings to light.

In The Kite Runner, Hosseini informs the audience of issues like the ethnicity and religious conflicts in Afghanistan, the violence of Taliban occupation, the degree of the oppression of Afghani people, even mental health, all with or without intention. I would argue that each reader learns something about an issue that he/she did not know before. The novel educates the audience about the tensions between Shi'a Muslims and Sunni Muslims, and the consequential hostility. In the first pages of the novel, Hosseini delivers the first history lesson to the reader by noting that Hassan's history "book said part of the reason Pashtuns had oppressed the Hazaras was that Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi'a" (9). Although intensified for fictional purposes, the reader cannot ignore the evil and sickening presence of Assef in the novel and the Taliban in Afghanistan. While the audience must always be aware that they are reading a piece of fiction and not a nonfiction account, they cannot dismiss the reality of the violence the Taliban afflicts on Afghanistan in reality. It is likely that the Taliban murder(ed) defenseless Afghani families in front of their homes like this piece of fiction suggests it happens to Hassan and his wife (218). In these instances, the reader learns about issues specific to Afghanistan, but relevant internationally.

Although the issue of mental health is less central to The Kite Runner, it also appears within the novel’s “riveting” plot. Leaving the suspense high like a Dickensian novelist would, Hosseini follows the happy news of Sohrab admittance into America with Sohrab’s tragic suicide attempt in the same paragraph (343). After all the hardship Sohrab has experienced in young life, Sohrab’s mental situation is apparent, severely distressed with the possibility of having to return to an orphanage. In detail Hosseini describes the unfortunate but realistic way Sohrab deals with his bleak circumstances, “the bloody bathwater; the left arm dangling over the side of the tub, the blood-soaked razor sitting on the toilet tank… and his eyes, still half open but lightless” (348). This chilling description notes the desperate reality of a troubled mind. Often modern society pawns depression and suicidal thoughts off as weaknesses, but Hosseini shows that people suffering from these mental conditions are legitimately sad and are in need of help and understanding.

Whether this novel leaves you with good or bad feelings, Hosseini should not be criticized for sharing important issue that are personal to him with his accessible populace. Spreading awareness in a way parallel to your talents is an honorable, not cheapening, action. I, personally, do not see it as problematic that Hosseini was successful in writing a best-selling piece of fiction. He enabled, at the least, an American audience to learn about global injustices in a meaningful and effective way. Being aware of global happenings is critical, and Hosseini merely accommodates people that prefer the form of the novel to other sources like media and newspapers. Being the optimist I am, I found the ending of The Kite Runner to be a happy one. Although the ending might have been somewhat cheesy and slightly unrealistic, it generates hope that wrongs can be righted.


To conclude my post about educating audiences about personal and burning issues, I encourage each responder to take this opportunity, at the end of your comment, to post a link to information about a charity, cause, or issue dear to you. Seize this chance to "tell the rest of the world," well, at least class, about your cause.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

 

Now's the time on Sprockets when we dance!

NOTE: THIS IS NOT THE KITE RUNNER PROMPT! FOR THAT, LOOK BELOW AT THE POST TITLED "THE KITE RUNNER."
Given that none of you confessed to knowing anything about the Six Million Dollar Man, I have little faith that you will get this SNL reference. Regardless, I thought it might be helpful and fun as you prepare for the final exam to talk generally about the novels. Did you like them? Which ones? Were they frustrating? awful? corny? breathtaking? Who was your favorite character? Least favorite? If you could have made one change to any of the novels (in terms of what happened in them) what would it be? Anything (related to our six novels) goes!

This is neither a mandatory nor graded part of the blog: comment if you want, or remain silent. In other words, you can dance if you want to!

 

The Kite Runner

As we have been discussing in class, The Kite Runner seems more than an little Victorian in its use of improbable coincidences and its galloping desire to wrap things up. But it also aims, in the words of Wahid (Amir's host on his first nights back in Afghanistan) to "tell the rest of the world what the Taliban are doing to our country" (236). Having now read six novels that locate themselves somewhere at the crossroads of the Victorian Novel and postcolonialism, how does The Kite Runner balance its needs to tell about specific geo-political realities (such as the Taliban) while also telling a good old-fashioned Oliver Twist page turner? Does doing the latter compromise the commitment to the former? Of course, you may also write about whether or not you find the ending of the novel a happy one! Make sure to use details and to post by Sunday and/or comment by Wednesday. The blog will close on Wednesday evening.

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