Sunday, May 07, 2006

 

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.

Comments:
I agree with Ashlee that narrative can often be a more effective way to expose the truth of a situation, especially when many people just tune out the news. Hosseini chose not to begin the story in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, but first introduced us to characters (such as Amir and Hassan) that we can feel for, and then brought them into the context of Taliban rule. We see how this affects them, and since they are characters we already are invested in, the horrors become more real, even though we are reading fiction.

With the news coverage of our invasion of Afghanistan to end Taliban rule, we kept hearing about all the good we were doing, but the general American public never really got a clear picture of that, because we never really heard individual stories of people living in Afghanistan who benefitted. Hosseini gives us that, in fictionalized form.

The danger with using narrative over nonfiction in conveying truth is that fiction and nonfiction are read differently. When reading fiction, we consider that the story is at least partly made-up, even if it is based on real life. Fiction can certainly convey truth, but it is also dangerously easy for the reader to dismiss anything they don't want to believe as being completely made-up. Where The Kite Runner's strength really lies, then, is getting people who read it to more consciously (and conscientiously) think about Afghanistan and its recent history. In the best case scenario, this would lead to further research, but at the least should shed light on not only what the Taliban was like, but also what kind of rich culture, tradition and people Afghanistan has.
 
Ashlee, I agree that The Kite Runner gives much more insight into the real Afghanistan than any news report we could hope to see in the States. As Kate says, our news tends to be one-sided, and we tend to only hear of Afghanis as terrorists or victims. However, that does not give us any real insight into who these people actually are. The importance of The Kite Runner being the first Afghan novel written in English is that maybe it is finally time for us to see not only what is going on in Afghanistan but who it is happening to. I enjoyed The Kite Runner and the insight it gives its readers into a world we never really see.
 
I agree that this novel helps put Afghanistan on the map and lets the rest of the world see what's going on in that area. I didn't know a lot about the details of the situation there, and this novel brought some of those to light. I do think, however, that this novel will be the only thing that people will think about when Afghanistan is brought to mind. When someone thinks about the Taliban, they'll think of Assef. Hassan and Amir are the only people that Americans will think of, and they won't give another thought to all the Afghans that don't fit into that mold.
 
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