Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is the story of Amir, a wealthy young boy whose pampered life in Kabul ends when he and his father Babu flee the communist take-over. They settle in California and the story then moves onto Amir's adult life, which takes a sharp turn when he is summoned by a family friend to Pakistan. Amir goes back to Central Asia reluctantly because he owes a debt of honour to the kite runner, his childhood friend Hassan, who was the son of Baba's main servant, and from the put upon Hazara ethnic minority. While in America Amir's life has been held back by guilt and the return to Asia offers him the opportunity of personal redemption.
If the novel had been structured in the way I expressed it above it would have read much better as a story. Instead Hosseini tells the story in chronological order which works fine for the recounting of Amir and Hassan's childhood friendship in Kabul, but the American exile chapters are painfully slow. It would have been much better to tell the story from the call to return to Asia and flashback to the childhood story as it was only my love of Hosseini's follow-up novel A Thousand Splendid Suns that kept me reading. The chapters set in Asia are much better written, but ultimately the story disappointed. The narrative comes across as episodic as if Hosseini has a story outlined, but lacks the talent to turn it into a story that flows well.
This is a debut novel and it shows, especially in the self-referential aspects where Amir becomes a novelist and reminiscences about sage advice given by his creative writing tutor. There is also too much effort expended on explaining detailed aspects of Afghan culture to the reader. The sense of a writer still learning his craft is most evident in the lack of development of the novel's key plot points. Had less of the word count been devoted to the early years in America then more attention could have been devoted to pulling the reader into the Asian story.
Some of the scenes depicted are quite brutal, so do not mistake the central theme of boyhood friendship for a children's story, which is how the Guardian categorized it. This is a novel that attempts to bring home the violent realities of Afghanistan's recent history, but I feel that it does this much less effectively than the better written A Thousand Splendid Suns.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved.