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Hosseini, Khaled – The Kite Runner

20 Mar 2010

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)

I actually saw the movie (2007) first (in March, 2009) with my brother, Dan, who works  in Afghanistan (doing physical therapy and community development with a small NGO).  He said that the movie and book were true to life.  I read the book in late 2009.

A sad story told in first person by Amir, an Afghan (Pashtun) boy with a wealthy father, Baba, living in Kabul prior to the Soviet invasion of 1979.  Amir is best friends with Hassan, the boy of Baba’s Hazara servant, Ali.  Hassan is also a servant to Amir and is loyally devoted to him, shown most significantly in a scene where Hassan uses his slingshot to protect Amir from Assef and his friends who were bullying them.  The goodness and service of Hassan bothers Amir as does a key incident where he observes some older boys raping Hassan, but does nothing.  Eventually, Amir falsely accuses Hassan of theft and, as a result, Ali and Hassan move away. The story focuses largely on Amir’s guilt and efforts to redeem himself.

The story follows Amir and his father as they flee Afghanistan following the communist takeover and settle in California.  Amir becomes a writer and gets married.  Shortly later his father dies.

Much later Amir gets a call from an old friend of his father.  Amir learns that Hassan was killed.  He also learns that Hassan was really his half-brother, the son of Baba and Ali’s wife, and now Hassan’s son, Sohrab, is in an orphanage.  Amir travels to Afghanistan to get Sohrab.  Assif, now a Taliban commander, has “bought” Sohrab from the orphanage and apparently sexually abuses him.  Assif recognizes Amir and agrees to meet him.  Assif says Amir can take Sohrab, but “at a price”.  Then, with Sohrab watching, Assif beats Amir mercilessly.  In the midst of the beating Amir starts laughing, which infuriates Assif.  “What was so funny was that, for the first time since the winter of 1975, I felt at peace. … My body was broken,… but I felt healed.  Healed at last.  I laughed.” (p. 312)  Then Sohrab rescues Amir by using his slingshot to shoot a brass ball at Assif’s eye and they escape.  Amir brings a troubled Sohrab back and he and his wife adopt him.

The themes of violence, injustice, extremism, prejudice, discrimination and even genocide mix with themes of loyalty, love and redemption.  It is a sad, but powerful book, especially when one thinks of the real lives of millions of people living in Afghanistan over the past few decades – whose stories are no less filled with these themes.

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