The Kite Runner, focused on the tragedy of Afghanistan, was a great success when it was published in 2003 and deservedly so. This novel interweaves generational affections and disaffections with the political upheavals afflicting Afghanistan after King Zahir Shah was deposed in the 1970s. Though told by a first-person narrator, it seems to "show" more than "tell," which is generally good.
In many ways The Kite Runner is an upstairs/downstairs story wherein the master of the house impregnates a wayward servant and two boys, the master's legitimate son and his illegitimate son, grow up and grow apart without really knowing who they are and how they are more deeply linked than they realize.
At the core of the tale, betrayal plays a big role. The legitimate son betrays the illigitimate son while the broader cultural landscape, with international interventions making things worse, generates betrayals on an even grander scale. From what I know of Afghanistan, and I've been following it for thirty years, the picture of the Taliban here is accurate. From what the novel convincingly tells us, the father of the two sons is accurately portrayed as a conflicted hypocrite.
Taken all together, including passages that play out in the U.S. and Pakistan, one can see here an Afhanistan that is majestically formal, honor based, and brutal to the point of callous depravity. A critical issue focuses on the fact that the illigitimate son is Hazara, a half-member of a group of Persian speaking people who are Shi'a and looked down upon by the Sunni Pashtun plurality.
In the U.S. we've become familiar with the Sunni/Shi'a divide in Islam. In The Kite Runner we meet it in personal, not geo-political terms. We also meet, when all is taken together, the dysfunctional nature of Afghanistan itself. Is this really a country? Are these people some kind of nation? That's highly debatable, just as it is debatable that America's longest war will bring the people who live in the place called Afghanistan into some kind of functional democracy. I don't think so.
I like the elements of brutal tragedy that color the final chapters of this book because of their realism. There's a bit of a happy ending, but not much of one. The legitimate son recognizes that he can't heal all the wounds of the past by adopting the deceased illigitimate son's child and raising him in San Francisco.
The style of the book is straightforward, crisp, and colorful. The character portraits are convincing. There's some suspect plot work torquing up the finale, but it's forgiveable.
This is a book worth reading for its story and its depiction of people in enternal conflict not only with each other but with the harsh realities of their native lands.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund