Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Kite Runner

Yesterday, I was finally able to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. This novel was published three years ago to much acclaim and became a NYT Best Seller. Unfortunately, there were other books that also received the same accolades and I chose to read them. Then, my niece who is a fashionable college student recommended the book at Easter, so I put it back on my list because I want to be hip and literate. Last week, I saw the book at Mother's house. My sister loaned it to her. Since Momma was reading something else, I took it home for a few days.

After finally getting my hands on the book, I opened it yesterday afternoon and finished it at 1:40 a.m. I am weird that way. With a first reading, I have to consume the entire book in one sitting or as close to one sitting as possible with children, work, and farm.

While a good read, much of the plot of The Kite Runner was incredibly predictable. I do like the imagery and symbolism of the kites - the fragile friendship between a wealthy boy and his servant - that floats, dives, and cuts through the book. The language is simple - some critics say stark - and while I enjoy straightforward prose sometimes it is not enough to capture the essence of the truth. The Kite Runner tries to accomplish too much in one short novel leaving some areas sparse. In this one novel, Hosseini tries to create:
  • A bildungsroman
  • A history of the strife in Afghanistan and the atrocities of invasion
  • A expose on the struggles of immigrant families living below their social and educational status in a new country.
  • An explanation of why the Afghan people initially embraced the Taliban.
  • A story of prejudice, jealousy, honor, tradition, and religion
I do not believe he succeeds. The book is too predictable to be a powerful bildungrsoman or a great story. The history is patchy at best. I know I am going against popular and paid critics, but I just don't think the novel would have been popular if Americans were not curious about the Middle Eastern culture that so recently intruded into the relative comfort of everyday life here. I honestly believe Hosseini or his editors worked in the Taliban bit as an afterthought to cash in on post 9/11 curiosity of the organization. It wasn't necessary in the literary sense. Amir and his father fled to America, Afghanistan was devastated, and children were orphaned long before the Taliban arrived.

I enjoyed the struggle of Amir to find his place within the household of his father. His struggle with jealousy, his desire to please his father, and search for his father's traits within himself are a universal story. I was also moved by the insights into immigrant life - the sacrifices made.

All that being said, if you are curious about Middle Eastern life - the importance of religion, tradition, and day to day struggles - The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz is a better choice. Palace Walk, the first book in the trilogy is especially good. The language and details are richer providing a clearer picture of a family cloistered behind religious law. These books were published in English in 1990, so are not as recent a publication as The Kite Runner but they provide detail of life behind a veil.


mull-berry said...

"I honestly believe Hosseini or his editors worked in the Taliban bit as an afterthought to cash in on post 9/11 curiosity of the organization."

I feel this way about Disney ... for the past decade, I felt they were just looking around to see which ethnic group they haven't spotlighted and made a predictable movie ... Pocahontas and Mulan (both are double hits since there is female lead.) Just my opinion, though ...

However, I did (just now) google "Disney agenda" and that opened up an entire different can of worms!!!!!

mull-berry said...

Also ... A expose on the struggles of immigrant families living below their social and educational status in a new country.

I also find this aspect interesting ... myself being a fifth-generation American! When I meet people, I try to guess how long they have been here by their social status. It takes about three generations before "the American way" is realized. Being first or second must really suck so I have a soft spot in my heart for those people no matter where they come from ... i.e., my garage sale.

wisteria said...

Disney does seem to "cash in" a bit, but they have historically embraced cultural diversity. I'm sure Disney has an agenda, but theirs seems to be better incorporated. I suppose I was offended by the Taliban segments of the book because they seemed tacked on rather than fully integrated. The detail was lost, stereotypes used, and I didn't get a sense that these segments bonded with the other segments of the book - an afterthought perhaps or maybe a blatant attempt to profit take.

wisteria said...

I had a student in one of my classes whose family made 3 attempts to flee a country before finally getting out and making it to the US. They lost everything each time and went back to earn enough to try again. I, finally, got her to write about it. I was floored. Many times families who were completely wealthy, educated, and prominent left to come here with nothing and worked menial jobs just to provide food and shelter. We take our life style for granted. Others envy it and would do anything to attain it.

You would get a kick out of the garage sale/flea market sections of the book.

mull-berry said...

Hurray ... it's in our library ... thanks for the review!

wisteria said...

Let me know what you think. Did I miss something?