Author: Khaled Hosseini
Published in: 2003
It's not difficult to see why this Hosseni book is such a monster hit all over. The Kite Runner reads almost entirely like a Bollywood potboiler, with its thrill-a-minite twists & turns and emotional dramebaazi.
In any case, given that Hindi cinema is hugely popular in Afghanistan (the place Hosseni lived in and has written about in this book), it’s almost certain that the author's sensibilities have been greatly shaped by them.
But the above feeling gets overwhelming only somewhere in the middle of the novel. Its 100 pages or so, are sheer magic. No doubt even these are parts 'set up' to garner an emotional response, but Hosseni still manages to weave in a rivetting, emotionally charged narrative.
From a critical standpoint, The Kite Runner's merit lies in the fact that it offers a glympse into 1970s Afghanistan, an age and milue that not too many may be acquainted with.
The story is about the 8-year-old Amir (who serves as the author’s alter ego) and his loving servant-friend Hassan. Their childhood appears a picture of bliss, though Hosseini constantly draws our attention to the fixed power equation between the two. While Amir is the son of a wealthy businessman, Hassan is not only poor but also cursed to be born as a Hazara (Shi’a Muslim) in a place where the community is constantly taunted and ill-treated.
Amir’s father, a generous but emotionally withdrawn man, treats Hassan with unusual kindness. The latter, in turn, shows undying devotion and love to his little master (Amir).
The author, who quite obviously, has a penchant for irony as a literary device (and he even mentions this through one of his characters), uses it excessively all over the place. Here, he employs it to bring out the slightly perverted streak in Amir’s character.
Amir knows Hassan’s unstinted love for him and hence loves to tease him.
'Would I ever lie to you Amir agha?’
Suddenly, I decided to toy with him a little. ‘I don’t know. Would you?’
‘I’d sooner eat dirt,” he said with a look of indignation.
‘Really? You’d do that?”
He threw a puzzled look. “Do what?”
“Eat dirt if I told you to.” I said…..
“If you asked, I would,” he finally said, looking right at me. To this day, I find it hard to gaze directly at people like Hassan, people who mean every word they say.
But a great act of betrayal from Amir changes their lives forever. Hassan is brutally raped by a bunch of bullies but Amir is too scared to launch an attack and just helplessly watches on.
The guilt kills Amir slowly and it pushes him further and further into an abyss. The fact that he didn’t stand up for Hassan in his desperate hour of need fills his heart with remorse.
What starts on such a promissing premise simply spirals downwards once Amir and his father flee to America. I didn’t care too much about the dozen pages dedicated to explaining Baba’s illness or even Amir’s marriage to Saroya.
In all this, the reader misses Hassan immensely. But the author has other ideas. When Amir comes to Peshawar, at the request of his mentor-friend Rahim Khan, he comes to understand truths that both shock and unsettle him.
From here on, the novel is so tastelessly manipulative that its plot points will seem jarring even to the most charitable and indiscriminate of readers.
Hosseni's intent is only to bring redemption to his protagonist and in this blinkered approach, he mangles the story to such an incredible degree that it rings a totally false note. Moreover, his attempt at irony is so literal and the effort is so obvious, it fails to move you. As a saving grace at least, I was desperately hoping he wouldn't employ the ending that he does.
Also, his craft has its share of problems – Hoseni's writing lacks subtely and he ends up spelling out things that should really just be a whiff of suggestion.
Ultimately, I’ll say this is a commendable novel for its first 100 pages, parts which have tremendous emotional power. The rest of it is trashy, though still a page turner, in a low-brow sort of way.
But coming back to its huge popularity, the driving force behind the success of such works is the accessibility they offer for the non-serious reader, in terms of it being an easy read.
If only Kite Runner's bestseller status is not used to overemphasise its critical merit, I'm willing to give it credit for one thing --- even the most apathetic of readers have actually cared to read this one!