It blew me away when I first read it nearly twenty years ago. And rereading The Kite Runner now, the effect was the same. I finished it at 2.00am earlier this week because, once again, it got right under my skin. Putting it down and going to sleep was simply not an option.
Yes, I saw the film (2007) and there was a play version by Matthew Spangler in 2009 which has been variously revived. None of it came anywhere near the power of Khaled Hosseini’s novel Next year it opens on Broadway as a musical and I doubt that will be as mind blowing as the novel either – although of course I must, and shall, reserve judgement.
Like Hosseini himself, the narrator Amir is an Afghan, He grows up in prosperity with his widowed father cared for by two family servants, another father and son. Hassan is Amir’s best friend but their relationship fractures because of bullying, appalling behaviour by Amir (for which he tries to atone later in the novel) and, eventually war, The Taliban and displacement. But it’s a novel which, in a sense, comes full circle which is one of the reasons it’s such a moving, satisfying read.
The “sua padre” trick (I borrow the term from The Marriage of Figaro) aka an unexpected paternity revelation is an old, old literary device. I used to brainstorm with students all the examples of it we could think of from TV dramas, to soaps, nineteenth century novels and Shakespeare. Nonetheless it can still work brilliantly and it does here. Suddenly the scales fall from Amir’s eyes and, perhaps from the reader’s although I had my suspicions all along, and suddenly everything in Amir’s childhood and his relationship with his father makes sense.
There’s another dimension to this fine, compelling novel too – an unintended one. The Americans invaded/relieved (or however you want to read it) Afghanistan in 1999. Either way they stopped Taliban rule and things gradually improved for ordinary people in terms of personal freedom, female education and so on. When The Kite Runner was written in 2003 it was a historical novel written from the perspective of better times. Then last year the US pulled out and the Taliban surged back to power meaning that life has, in many ways, returned to the 1990s as described by Hosseini. He and his compatriots (he lives in California now) must be close to despair. And it means that in 2022 you read the end of The Kite Runner thinking “Yes… but what now …?”
I read, with pleasure (and horror) Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns when it was published in 2008 but have failed to catch up with the rest of his oeuvre and he’s been quite prolific. I shall put that right over the next few months. There is, I gather, always an Afghan protagonist in his novels and that feels very timely just now.
Next week on Susan’s Bookshelves: Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen