“For you, a thousand times over.”
If you have read The Kite Runner, these lines are etched in your brain. Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel is a melancholic tale on friendship and forgiveness. The painful tale may leave you sobbing on your pillow till your eyes are dry like Sahara. Or it may irritate you so much that your head hurts.
Honestly, it can go both ways.
What’s the story?
The story of two boys: Amir and Hassan. Amir is the unlikable narrator of this story and Hassan is his servant’s son. Yep, you read that right.
The backdrop is of a 1970s Kabul and Amir is the son of a wealthy Pashtun businessman. Hassan, on the other hand, is the son of Ali, a servant employed in Amir’s household. This means Amir has all the privileges Hassan can only dream of — a fine house, elite education, and a discrimination-free childhood.
“There are a lot of children in Afghanistan, but little childhood.”
Amir’s mother died giving birth to him, so the only parental affection he craves was from his father. But when he sees Hassan getting pats on the back or tiny scraps of love, his heart burns green. He gets competitive and petty — often bullying Hassan in front of other boys, calling him “just a Hazara.”
But when those walls fade, so does Amir’s rage. He becomes an attached playmate to Hassan and the friendship blooms in isolation. Hassan is the one that stands up for Amir when neighborhood boys like Aseef bully him.
The day that changes everything is the day of the kite tournament. It is the best and worst day of Amir’s life.
“It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.”
He wins the tournament and finally receives the love he expects from his father. Hassan brings him back the kite that he won from.
But Amir turns his back when Hassan needs his help. He becomes selfish, arrogant, and hungry for his father’s validation. He doesn’t say anything when [SPOILER ALERT] Aseef rapes Hassan.
“I opened my mouth, almost said something. Almost. The rest of my life might have turned out differently if I had. But I didn’t.”
The landscape changes further when Afghanistan becomes a Taliban-controlled state and an “ethnic cleansing of Hazaras” is begun. Amir moves to the US, leaving Hassan and his father (who belong in the Hazara community) behind.
For Amir, life moves on without a breath. He gets further education, he marries, his father dies of cancer. He is struggling with having a child of his own when a phone call brings him back to Pakistan and then Afghanistan.
“It’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.”
He learns that Hassan has been executed and his son Sohrab needs to be rescued (from Aseef no less). What follows is a terrifying tale of Amir’s redemption and adoption of Hassan’s son.
“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”
The ending doesn’t give away much and is vague enough to be left to interpretation. Many readers continue to debate whether the book ends with a happy or sad ending.
What are the themes and writing styles?
Khaled Hosseini is a brilliant storyteller. He takes you from the Kabul pre-Russian occupation to the worn-torn country it became. It is insightful and shocking for outsiders in the West.
The storytelling is compelling enough to be unforgettable. The Kite Runner moves fast enough so that you hardly have a dull moment when you read it.
Fun Fact: I finished this book’s 300+ pages in under 2 days. Amir’s unlikable character reminded me of Emma and the power such characters have in reading.
So I won’t deny it is interesting enough to keep you hooked. But all is not hunky-dory.
Shortcomings of The Kite Runner
The critics of this book feel their criticisms strongly. While rarely anyone denies that Khaled Hosseini is a good writer, many deny he is excellent.
For instance, there are too many uses of cliches. This does make the writing easy to read and the story easy to follow, but it also leaves the opportunity of being a good challenge for the readers.
And it is not just the writing style that is unchallenging, the plot is also considered to be too predictable, contrived, and unsurprising. You can likely see the “coincidence” coming 4-5 chapters before it has happened.
Lastly, Amir is a character that is largely debated for and against. This privileged, flawed, and “human” character is seen to be drab.
When the whole story is narrated from a “master’s” point of view, the reader witnesses the servant class being the happiest when it is serving its master’s needs — often at the cost of subjugating their own needs.
And that is wrong on so many levels and projects (and slightly encourages) a prejudice of deep layers.
I’ll be honest: I loved The Kite Runner so much I read it 3 times. I also loved Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.
But I was young and immune to the flaws of religious extremism, cliched writing, and author privilege. As I grew up and my perspective evolved, I started seeing the problems with The Kite Runner (as you saw in the shortcomings above).
Would I recommend it? Absolutely.
It is great for everyone looking for an excellent story. It is a book that needs to be written about Afghanistan — what it was and what it has become.
But I wouldn’t recommend you turn off your brain for this one. You need to see the loopholes, witness the classism, and deep dive into the friendship that runs one-sided.
It’s a read that demands heart, brain, and soul. It will crush your heart and annoy you. You might not be the biggest cheerleader for Amir and his toxic attitude towards Hassan. But you’ll remember he’s a 12-year old craving his father’s affection.