The Kite Runner is a realistic fiction set in 1960s and 70s Kabul, Afghanistan. The story is told in first person from the perspective of the main character, Amir. Amir is the son of a respected, wealthy businessman. The young boy lives in an large, expensive house and owns a personal servant, whom he is good friends with. The servant, Hassan, frequently receives the same treatment as Amir from Amir’s father despite his obvious inferiority to him in both education and background. This causes feelings of bitterness within Amir due to his fierce jealousy for his stern and seemingly-distant father’s attention, but these feelings are later overwhelmed by even greater feelings of guilt when the boy witnesses and allows Hassan to get beaten and raped by a local psychopathic bully without lifting a finger. As a young man, Amir and his father flee to America as refugees from a vicious civil war in Afghanistan, and Amir allows the flood of new culture to drown his guilt and shame over his cowardly actions. Years later, Hassan has been murdered by the Taliban, and Amir, searching for redemption, ventures back into his now-chaotic home country to rescue Hassan’s only son from a life of poverty.
This book contrasts from other fiction books that I have read in the past in the way that it is in no way action-oriented. The entire first half of the novel is a flashback to inform the reader of Amir’s past, which is critical to making sense of the story. However, many sections of this first half is describing in great detail Amir’s everyday life, his thoughts and cherished memories. Although in some ways it makes the story a bit dull, I still believe that it was completely necessary to elaborate on Amir and Hassan’s relationship as well as Amir and his father’s ways of adapting to the US, and despite the lack of action, it was a great read all the same. The author’s style and the usage of creative and unique similes hints at a different cultural background. As revealed in Khaled Hosseini’s biography in the beginning of the novel, he is from Afghanistan and has striking similarities with the main character in terms of background – his father was “a diplomat whose family received political asylum in the United States in 1980”. I believe his childhood and cultural upbringing allowed him to understand and become the voice of his own character much better than any other author could have. However, as in numerous other stories where the main character speaks a different language (e.g. The Book Thief), the author frequently uses words from Farsi, his native tongue, commonly beginning a sentence in English and ending in Farsi, usually accompanied with a translation. Although I understand this is used to help the reader assimilate into the stories setting, personally, I find it to be a bit irritating and it ruins the whole someone-is-telling-me-a-story feeling (who talks like that?).
This book was written for a more mature audience – adults and young adults, maybe late teens, due to the extensive vocabulary used as well as the significant level of profanity. I recommend it to readers that are interested in history and better understanding other cultures, as well as people interested in psychological and moral topics, namely guilt. If you prefer more action in a story, I still recommend this novel, but it may not be the right book for you.