The Kite Runner 
by Khaled Hosseini, 2004

After 9/11 Afghanistan, already on its knees after the Soviet invasion and Taliban atrocities, truly became a “terrorist state”. It is mainly in this hitherto peaceful and conservative country that the story of The Kite Runner opens in 1975, works its way through the Communist overthrow of the monarchy, the entry of the Soviet war machine some months later– and ends in 2001 with the Taliban.

In essence it is the tale of two boys, Amir, the narrator, and Hassan, the son of his father’s servant, Ali.  Like all boyhood memories it is idyllic, but always shadowed by dark clouds. Amir is a big disappointment to his father, Baba. Baba wrestled with a black bear and hunted deer with the king; he has a physique to match his reputation, “hands that looked capable of uprooting a willow tree, and a black glare that would “drop the devil to his knees begging for mercy”.

Amir is introspective, a bookworm, a poet, a boy who is clumsy at soccer. He tries his best to please his father and envies Hassan who has the qualities Baba likes and openly praises. Most of all, Hassan is the best kite runner in Kabul.

To make matters worse, Hassan is a low-caste despised Hazara whose humility, obedience and dogged loyalty to Amir has the solidity of a vow, which only infuriates Amir the more. Hassan is what Amir would like to be but can’t be, which only feeds his envy further. In addition, Amir is a coward, knows it and suffers. Baba is always telling him: “a boy who can’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything” – and the words sting and linger.

“The Kite Runner” was the first novel of Khaled Hosseini, born in Kabul, who now lives in the United States. It has the freshness of directly lived experiences. His portrayal of his country and people introduces a little-known culture and people to the outside world, and we feel sorry for the fate this brave nation has suffered.

He describes his people as masters of exaggeration, “a melancholic race”, competitive, lovers of beauty, with a strong sense of duty and honour who “cherish customs but abhor rules” –as the British in the 19th and the Soviets in the 20th century found to their chagrin.

It is a story with twists and turns, and plenty of surprises. But, much more, it is an inspired psychological study of two very different boys, thrown together by circumstances. It is also a parable of cowardice, envy, contrition, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Hosseini has a gift for words and story, and keeps the reader engaged to the last page. And, drawing on the cultural refinement of his patrician background, the descriptions often have the lyricism and delicacy of a Sufi poem. There are a few harsh, even ugly, moments in the story but it’s always a delight to read.

Martyn Drakard is a retired teacher of languages who lives in Kenya.