I found a well-used copy of The Kite Runner on the bookshelves of our Sicilian house just at a time I needed something to read. How it got there is a bit of a mystery as my wife hasn’t read it. I guest must have left it. It is a book, by Khaled Hosseini, that I have wanted to read for some time.
Mr Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965 into a privileged family. His father was a diplomat and his mother a language teacher. In 1970 the family moved to Tehran, where his father worked at the Afghan embassy. They returned to Kabul in 1973. In 1976 they relocated to Paris, but were unable to return to Afghanistan because of the 1978 Saur Revolution and the Soviet invasion. In 1980 they applied for asylum in the US and settled in San Jose, California, where Mr Hosseini attended high school, Santa Clara University and University of Calfornia, San Diego Medical School. He practiced medicine until 2005. The Kite Runner was released in 2003, A Thousand Suns in 2007, And the Mountains Echoed in 2013, and Sea Prayer in 2018. His novels have sold 55 million copies, globally. He, his wife and two sons live in northern California.
The Kite Runner is set in Kabul and San Jose, with brief stops in Peshawar, Pakistan beginning in the mid 1960’s. The central character is a boy, Amir, who lives with his well-to-do father in the best section of Kabul. They have two low caste servants, Ali, who’s wife deserted him and Hassan, a boy of Amir’s age, who is his best friend. Amir’s father seems to like Hassan better than Amir, a source of much jealousy for Amir. Amir witnesses a terrible assault on his friend Hassan, without making an effort to come to his rescue. Ali and Hassan leave the household when Amir implicates Hassan in a theft. Amir and his father flee Afghanistan and find asylum in the US. Years later, after Amir’s father dies, Amir is called to Pakistan by his father’s old friend, Rahim Khan, who tells him that Hassan and his wife have been executed by the Taliban. Rahim also tells Amir that he and Hassan were half-brothers, and that Hassan and his late wife had an orphaned son. Amir confronts his lack of courage to rescue the orphan and take him to the US.
This is a splendid book about family: good and bad, strong and weak. It’s also about how childhood can shape our adult lives. As one reads, one can’t help wonder if this isn’t a memoir rather than a novel. One feels transported to the old prosperous Kabul, to the savage, wrecked Kabul after years of war, and the strange life of exile in an Afghan settlement in America. Mr Hosseini is extremely adept at having the reader feel what the characters are feeling, be it jealousy, love, fear or anger. I’m glad I found this book. It’s a compelling story wonderfully told.