The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

by Joshua Foust on 4/21/2007 · 3 comments

Lauded as an intimate portrait of Afghanistan, despite (or maybe because of) his decades of exile, The Kite Runner is superbly written. Following Amir from his childhood in Kabul in the 70s, to his adulthood in exile in the United States, then all the way to September 11, 2001, it is sweeping and epic. What’s more, Hosseini writes beautifully, conveying such overwhelming heartbreak, loss, and beauty.

I’m not normally big on expressing emotions during entertainment, especially while reading books. But toward the end, when Amir returns to Peshawar looking for Hassan, his old Hazara playmate and treasured servant/best friend (their relationship is… complicated), I was in tears. That has never happened to me before. Books have held me rapt, made me feel awe and sadness, but this was the first to make me feel sorrow. That’s impressive.

I would guess this is an unreliable gauge of the “real” Afghanistan before the Soviets invaded. Most Afghans probably didn’t have large houses with pliant Hazara, a black Mustang, and shiny new kites to fly every year. Similarly, I would guess Hosseini exaggerated the Taliban—while his portrayal of the way they destroyed Kabul, even joy itself, I kept doubting that they raped little boys. The prevalence of pederasty in Afghanistan is an old custom, but like many tribal customs it was quite brutally suppressed by the Taliban. Nevertheless, as abhorrent as it is to us in the west, there is not always a negative connotation to same-sex adult/youth relationships outside the fundamentalists.

Then again, the way Hosseini portrayed it, there was no possibility of consent or emotion. Even so, I wondered how much Hosseini’s own life of privilege in and out of Afghanistan (his parents were diplomats) impacts the portrait he paints. He came from money, his narrator came from money, and though he lived a lower class life in the States, in Afghanistan was was wealthy.

Regardless, that’s all just an attempt to find something to criticize. The Kite Runner truly is a magical work, moving and poignant. Regardless of how truly authentic it might be, I cannot recommend it enough.

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This post was written by...

– author of 1848 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

Joshua Foust is a Fellow at the American Security Project and the author of Afghanistan Journal: Selections from His research focuses primarily on Central and South Asia. Joshua is a correspondent for The Atlantic and a columnist for PBS Need to Know. Joshua appears regularly on the BBC World News, Aljazeera, and international public radio. Joshua's writing has appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Foreign Policy’s AfPak Channel, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Christian Science Monitor. Follow him on twitter: @joshuafoust

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davesgonechina April 22, 2007 at 10:56 am

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but I know the movie version of the Kite Runner was filmed in Kashgar (been there). To all Registanis I pose the question: Kashgar as Kabul – tolerable?

Teo April 22, 2007 at 9:54 pm

Davesgonechina – did you see the movie yourself? Is it pirated in China yet or likely to show up on the streets of Bishkek?

Lance April 23, 2007 at 7:11 am

One of my favorites.

I don’t think that his portrayal of the sexual abuse is intended as a claim about the Taliban in general though, or I didn’t take it that way at the time. I saw it as about the way that those who were involved with the Taliban were (as in all totalitarian ideologies) moved as often, if not more often, by other desires than the ideological. Access to power, and the ability to wield it, appeals to many who may not truly hold the spiritual or ideological beliefs of the ruling party. The rulers usually become corrupted almost from the beginning.

That observation may be me reading my own ideological preconceptions into the work, but that is what I felt.

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