Review by Dinusha Warusavitharana
SPOILERS GALORE (fair warning):
Kite Runner – fascinating book.
This book taught me way more about the average non-Taliban Aghani way of life that I had ever known before. People I only knew as a collective identity suddenly became humanized. I learned about their culture and customs. I learned about a group of people I never knew existed – the Hazara, and how they are treated because of their religious beliefs, as humans are wont to do, because frankly, they never learn. It had scenes that almost made me put it down and never want to read again because, let’s face it, rape is one of those subjects that I want to hide from and pretend never happens, and reading about it or hearing about it is scary. It’s scary because it could happen to me, and because it’s just plain horrible. But the worst thing about it in this book is that it happens to children. Fortunately, the descriptions are very short.
I hated Amir. I hated him so much for letting that happen to his friend. For not screaming and running against the instigators, and for not saving his friend, the one who was in that position because he had stood up for Amir. I know he was just a child, but Hassan was also just a child. And the fact that he later punished Hassan for his own guilt and shame – that just made him despicable. I was thankful that he did, in fact, feel guilty over it, and that it ate him up inside for the rest of his life. Amir was an extremely weak character, and his attitude towards Hassan was pretty awful – lying to him, testing his allegiance, throwing fruit at his face. The only thing that was good about Amir was that he was honest in the book – honest about everything he did and how he felt, and how much he hated himself. True – Amir suffered from parental neglect, and I think he suffered as much PTSD as Hassan did when he was raped. He was also just a child, and we have all done horrible things when we were children. But I still couldn’t forgive him. I don’t think he was ever meant to be likable. But he was meant to be sympathetic. Even at the end, though, I still couldn’t forgive him.
To be honest, this was an uncomfortable feeling for me: to hate a child character for being human. I think it stems from the conditioned response we readers face towards the main protagonist of any media, who is supposed to act heroic, regardless of circumstance. Even if he is just a child facing overwhelming odds, and being scared to death as he has every right to be. I think the feeling rises from the contrast with Hassan, who despite all odds, stood up for Amir in an earlier scene. However, logically, this shouldn’t have made my response to Amir so emotionally strong, because, as I stated earlier, he was just a child acting like a human being instead of a hero.
Fortunately, Amir was given a chance to redeem himself, although I didn’t think he deserved it. It was too late for Hassan at this point, but at least Amir was able to save his child.
As much as I was deeply moved and engrossed by this book it had a few problems that a critical reader would notice: Hassan was far too saintly of a character to be realistic. No child of that age would possibly behave like that all the time. Why he would give up his family’s safety in the Hazara town to go be servant to a man in the gunpowder keg where people of his religion were routinely executed was absolutely beyond me. The non main characters, Hassan and Assef, were too black and white, too good and too evil. They didn’t feel real. They felt like fairy tale motifs. You could draw parallels between Assef and Malfoy (from Harry Potter), but Malfoy was fleshed out a lot more – he wasn’t all evil but sometimes a victim of circumstance. Assef was just pure evil.
All in all, despite its flaws, I found the book to be incredibly fascinating – mostly for its depiction of normal Afghan culture, and deeply moving. It’s not a book I would easily forget, and would definitely recommend it to readers of an age able to handle the deep and sometimes graphic issues covered in this book. It will open your mind up in such a way that you might never look at a newspaper article about Afghanistan in the same way again.