I finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini last night. The eighth selection in my 100 novels reading quest is marvelous.
It takes a lot for me to get teary. The end of Hosseini’s novel did it with its genuine emotion.
Opening in December 2001 (you know the backstory on that don’t you?) the novel is sort of a coming of age book, narrated by Amir, a mid thirties Afghani living in San Francisco. He reflects on his childhood in Afghanistan in the mid 1970s. Amir grows up in a wealthy middle class neighborhood in Kabul and lives with his widowed father Baba and their servants Ali and Hassan. As Amir and Hassan grow up they become close friends, unusual because of their separation of class and race (Amir is Pashtun, a member of the ruling class, Hassan Hazara). The boys encounter racism and brutality and grow to love each other as friends. The central event of the novel occurs just before the Soviet invasion. Each winter Afghani boys participate in kite-fighting tournaments. Amir enters a tournament with the hope not only to win (the kite’s strings are lubricated with tar and glass substance that allows for cutting when in flight) but also to gain respect from Baba. Hassan is his kite runner, the boy in charge of retrieving kites that have fallen in battle. Amir wins the contest. Hassan gives chase through the streets and alleys of Kabul. Amir follows and when he discovers his friend, Hassan is being threatened by the sociopathic Assef (a bully who admires Hitler). Assef wants the kite. Instead of brutally beating Hassan with his brass knuckles, Assef brutally rapes Hassan, since Hassan will not give up the kite. Amir witnessesthe rape, but zips the incident in his conscience without interfering.
Rape and redemption is a theme also of the first novel on my 100 novel list, Atonement by Ian McEwan. Jane Smiley in her 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel is critical of what she believes is McEwan’s failure to fully explore the supposed rape of a central character and its consequences. Amir, like Briony in Atonement, becomes a novelist. However, unlike the rape Briony believes she witnesses, Hassan’s rape is real. Amir further betrays Hassan by planting a watch in his things and dropping hints that Hassan has stolen the watch. Which Hassan does not deny. This "theft" causes Ali dishonor and he and Hassan leave Amir and Baba. When the Soviets invade, Baba and Amir are able to escape to America.
Only later does Amir become able to atone for his silence. Hosseini deftly explores the consequences of Amir’s betrayals of Hassan: Hassan survives the Soviet invasion only to lose his life to the Taliban. Hassan’s son Sohrab, though, survives, is sent to an orphanage where he ends up taken by the Taliban and the now Talibani leader Assef as a sexual plaything. Amir returns to Afghanistan at the request of one of his father’s friends, exiled in Pakistan. It is through this friend that Amir realizes he must atone for his sins by retrieving Sohrab. The expedition into Taliban-controlled Kabul just before 9-11 is one of the strongest pieces of the novel.