Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Kite Runner -- Khaled Hosseini

There is only one way that I like a book or movie to end - with a 'feel good' effect on me. For this reason, I had long dismissed Kite Runner from my hope-to-read-some-day list, despite its long held best seller status. I had heard it was a very emotionally heavy story and I imagined reading the book would be lugging myself through pages of anguish, concluding with a grand melancholic finale. Now that I have read it, I know I was not entirely wrong in my assumptions, but I am more than gratified about not having missed reading it.

It is the story of Amir, an Afghan boy, written in first person. It revolves around his friendship with Hassan, the son of his father's servant. The first part of the story is set in Kabul, during its last few years of monarchy, where Amir's childhood days are spent living and playing with Hassan, going to school, and trying to bond with his well-to-do, socially respected father. Amir and his dad move to Pakistan and then to the United States to escape the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Fifteen years later, Amir returns to a Taliban infested, blood-drenched, scary Afghanistan in hopes of redeeming his lost friendship with Hassan and to "find a way to be good".

The Kite Runner is a great book for many reasons. But most of all, it is a great book for the one reason tales continue to be told and fiction writing thrives - its entertainment value. I saw the book at a friend's place. I flipped to read a couple pages just to confirm my suspicions about the nature of the book. About 3 pages later, I was hooked and it remained to be a page-turner till the very end. The second half of the book has loads of twists and turns (and it occurred to me more than once that our hindi movies would do well to use a few of these ;-) ). [And the finale was not melancholic, though emotions do reach an all-time high :).]

It is also a great book for my most favourite reason: the eloquent writing style. The narration is very simple, yet remarkably effective and passionate. So passionate, it was hard for me to believe it isnt the author's own life story.

While it is obvious that I very highly recommend the book, I would like to sneak in the one minor personal quibble I had - the narration seemed like the author did not want to give allowance for happiness. Amir's life has its highs and lows, happy and sad times. The lows are given just the right treatment - narrated in a manner to evoke empathy in the reader without making it unduly dramatic. The highs, though, are either written in a matter-of-factly style or immediately followed up with hints of impending woe - statements on the lines of "It made me happy, lest did I know it wouldnt last long". But all said, I should add that this is mostly overshadowded by everything else that the book became a best seller for.

Now, also adapted into a movie.


scritic said...

I will admit that The Kite Runner is frequently moving, and that I choked up at the ending.

But frankly, :-) weren't you just a little irritated with the melodramatic (but utterly, and I mean, utterly) predictable plot-turns? The novel seems to have been crafted almost entirely from an imagination that nourished itself on popular fiction: tales of love, of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, of friends, of betrayal, heroism and redemption. In short, the stuff of Hindi movies too. :-)

When Amir is surprised that the wicked Taliban officer turns out to be his old nemesis, Assef, I thought: yes, you're the only person who's surprised. Of course, the Taliban officer would turn out to be Asif -- he was reading Main Kampf back then, remember?!! If that wasnt foreshadowing, then what is?! That's how it always happens in tales of redemption!! Old scores are settled, old debts are paid, and new beginnings are made!!

That Assef, the bad Taliban man, is also reading a Nazi text, and talking about ethnic cleansing, is also one of the reasons, I think, why the novel was so successful in the U.S., where a influential stream of liberal political commentators, believe (I think, wrongly) that the rise of Islamic fundamentalism is linked to fascism and communism, the two totalitarianisms of the twentieth century.

Meghan O'Rourke wrote an interesting essay on it in Slate a while back.
What brought the essay back to my mind was your comment that the novel almost appears as if its the author's own story. I had the same feeling. But Khaled Hosseini, at the time of the essay, hadn't been back to Afghanistan in 26 years.

Harini Sridharan said...

If it were a hindi movie, I would have totally predicted the plot. But I did not expect it to be anything close to a hindi movie storyline (somehow, I always had the feeling it was a true story, and hence did not expect something unrealistic) - hence the surprise, I guess :).