The Kite Runner provokes reflection

Every now and then one comes across a book that moves you to talk and even to write about it. I finally read The Kite Runner while on vacation last week: I loved it. Laced with pathos and irony this first work by physician-author Khaled Hosseini reminded me of an old favourite: Marcel Pagnol’s L’Eau des collines, once or twice put to screen as Jean de Fleurette and Manon des Sources.

Destiny in people, even in the lives of countries, is like a kite drifting haphazardly down to some final resting place at the conclusion of a magically unique and solitary flight. Our fates may well be moulded through human intervention on an individual or collective scale, but an overwhelming abundance of chance, both good and bad, is there too. The various subplots wind the lives of the novel’s protagonists through revolutions and wars; the unbridled cruelty of boys. We think we guide our kites by “pulling strings” as it were - but kites really navigate the chaos of wind, trees, and telephone wires too. Strings break ... whether by accident or design. The term “rat race” comes to mind, when I think of how we can be prone to live our whole lives out chasing after an imaginary fortune, just like kite runners. In his introduction to the Afghan sport of kite fighting, the author even likens kite runners to the bull runners of Pamplona. Some run for the prize, others to escape.

Early on in the book, I naturally took Hassan to be the kite runner the author-narrator was talking about. Now that I’ve finished reading it, I think the title should go to the main character, Amir. The reader follows Amir’s race to catch his own kite through the dusty streets of the soul littered  with egotism, cowardice, the longing of the son to be good in the eyes of an idealized father. His kite lazily drifts down into dark alleys of privilege through exploitation and betrayal of a faithful friend: guilt, and a chance to atone.  Finally, the home stretch, back to that far-off and wretched land that a succession of empires could never bring to heel, tribal homelands of barren rock and snow so foreign to us, in our comfortably cultivated and fattened West. Amir continues his perilous race to improve his personal lot, only to discover he is more like his father Baba than he ever thought.  The opportunistic tyrant Assef used violence, cruelty and intimidation to cheat his fellow kite runners ... and Hassan, outwardly poor and ugly yet inwardly rich and beautiful; is blessed with the remarkable ability to always be in the right place at the right time for his friend, as well as the courage to stand his ground, even to the point of Christ-like sacrifice – a loyal servant even in the face of his own death.

Of course, religious extremists believe that the destiny of people and nations lies entirely in God’s hands. God, like a kite, soaring eternal over His believers, their fate in His hands as He looks down, supreme over them all. The author thus gives us yet another irony: The Taliban sucked out of their beautiful country and people that wind of freedom and goodness that lets the human spirit soar. Kites stopped flying, for a time, in Afghanistan.

As a sociocultural description of Afghan ways, The Kite Runner should be standard kit for all those brave volunteers at Base Valcartier. As for me, you may occasionally find me and my beagle at the business end of one of those kites gracing a breezy sky in front of the Musée on the Plains of Abraham. If the string ever snaps, I may even let Misty run it.

Alec,

Good review!

I had the pleasure to read this book in March and finished it in 3 days, which is unusual for me and really speaks to the quality of the writing and story.

You are absolutely right about the Taliban and the way they have demonized the country and its past way of life. The book is clever, informative and the characters are well-defined.

I could not recommend this book more to anybody reading this.  The reviews have been great and I cannot wait to sink into "A Thousand Splendid Suns", the new book by Hosseini.