You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Kite Runner

Wow, it's been a month since I blogged, but I've been reading all along. I've finished three books since then, so here goes.

[Note: I debated whether to include a more complete plot summary with spoilers or just a brief outline. But I felt to discuss the book completely required touching on certain important plot points. So, spoilers below.]

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a personal story entwined with the story of Afghanistan and its turmoil over the last forty years. Amir is the only son of a wealthy merchant in Kabul, and his best friend is Hassan, the son of his father's servant and a Hazara, a minority class. Both mothers are no longer part of the family. Amir resents the affection that his father Baba gives to Hassan. He sees in Hassan all the things he wish he could be. Hassan is more generous of spirit, but Amir often uses his position to lord over his friend. He will read to Amir, who is illiterate, but sometimes will make fun of him or make up stories instead of reading the actual words.

When Amir witnesses Hassan getting a terrible beating by the local bully, he does not help him or even acknowledge the event. In his guilt, he seeks to get Hassan out of his life, he frames Hassan for theft to get him to leave. Hassan admits to the theft and Baba forgives him, but Hassan's father decides they should leave anyway.

Years later, Baba uses his wealth and influence to escape from Afghanistan into the United States. There Baba lives until he dies of cancer, just after he helps Amir get married. After years of trying to have a child, Amir and his wife give up. Then he gets a call from Pakistan from his father's friend who is dying. When he goes to Pakistan, he learns that Hassan and his wife have been killed and their son Sohrab is missing. Moreover, he learns that Baba was actually Hassan's son, Amir's half brother. With this news, Amir makes the painful decision to go to Kabul and face the terrors of the Taliban to retrieve his nephew.

Amir finds Sohrab with the same bully who beat up Hassan years earlier. Amir manages to put aside his fear and face the man down, though he nearly gets killed before Sohrab uses his sling to put the bully's eye out. They manage to escape and get to Pakistan, where they face an even greater challenge: getting the boy adopted legally so that Amir can take him to America with him. When Amir suggests to him that he stay in an orphanage for a while to formalize things, Sohrab nearly kills himself in the bathtub. But he recovers slowly in the hospital, and Amir takes him home thanks to the help of his wife's phone calls.

The story is beautiful on many levels. It is the story of a nation tearing itself apart. It is the story of a young man growing up with fear and resentment that he must overcome. It is the story of a father and his sons, and the father's eventual redemption thanks to his son's actions. Going to save Sohrab is Amir's big decision to make up both for the way he treated Hassan and how his father's actions led to Hassan's existence as a low class servant instead of a member of the family.

I think it's telling that the mothers in the story do not play a part. Without them, there is no alternative to Baba's harshness, no loving figure to help keep Amir and Hassan together as friends. Also, the family's wealth helps them but cannot keep them safe in a country that is falling apart. Their status becomes a problem, as Amir finds out when he returns and his driver looks down on him as a rich brat only returning to get money.

It is also telling that Amir feels that he got what he deserved when he faced the bully and nearly died. He feels that Sohrab's suffering was due in part to his ugly treatment of Hassan. He has quite an epiphany when he sees Baba's private treatment of Hassan as they way he made up for the public support he could not give. Suddenly his whole life made more sense. In a way, he turned into a new person, and the actions he took after that show his new nature. It shows the power of secrets to harm and heal.

Some of the book is painful to get through, such as Amir's treatment of Hassan, the devoted friend, and the return to Afghanistan. But in the end it somehow seems worth it. When Sohrab and Amir go to the park and watch kites, it ties them to the same two boys who had flown kites together years ago. A


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