The Kite Runner
Banned under the Taliban, kite flying is once again now a national pastime in Afghanistan. The Kite Runner has probably done more to educate Western readers about life in Afghanistan under the Taliban than any hard news report. It was the first Afghan novel to fictionalise the country’s culture for a Western audience and blends Afghanistan’s tragic political history with the personal stories of two boys growing up there.
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Country of Origin: USA
Keywords: Afghanistan, Conflict, Ethnicity, Exile, Play, Taliban, Racism
Target Audience: 12-15 Years 16+ years Adult and Community Settings Higher Education Junior Cycle Senior Cycle Transition Year Youth Groups
Curriculum Subjects: Civic Social and Political Education English History
Available Formats: Book Fiction
Length: 336 pages
This book interweaves the country’s recent history and its descent into chaos with the story of two boys growing up in the seventies. It begins with 12-year old Amir trying to get his father’s attention by winning the local kite-flying tournament. He enlists the help of his friend and live-in servant Hassan. They are great pals but Amir keeps his distance in public as Hassan is of Hazara origin – a traditionally downtrodden ethnic group – while Amir belongs to the Pashtun elite.
After Amir fails to come to Hassan’s help when he is brutally assaulted he feels guilty and so tries to get Hassan sent away. He never forgives himself, because shortly after he leaves Afghan for the US when the Russians invade in 1979 he never sees his loyal friend again.
The second part of the book deals with his life in exile in the US where this once upper class family forge a basic existence for themselves. He marries an Afghan woman and finds he cannot put his country from his mind. When he hears that Hassan’s son is in trouble he returns and is shocked at what the country has become under the brutal Taliban regime.
This book brought to the attention of the World the problems in Afghanistan and what happened to lead the country into such misery. The book was a huge success, especially in the US, and helped many Americans understand the plight of the Afghan people.
We learn from the book that before the Soviet invasion the country was once a culturally rich place to live and in the main part peaceful. Although The Kite Runner does not go into great detail on the political events in the country, it still gives a memorable account of Afghanistan’s troubled recent history and Khaled Hosseni is such a great story teller that you won’t want to put the book down.
Review by Mary McCarthy who is currently living in South Africa. Previously, she worked as a journalist in Dublin for five years. Her most recent post in Ireland was with RTE reporting business news and writing reviews for the broadcaster’s entertainment website.
Teachers, youth, adult and community educators, senior secondary students, university students and NGO personnel
Country profile: Afghanistan
Afghanistan's political unrest started with a coup in 1973 when the king was overthrown by his cousin. There followed a counter-communist coup in 1978 which ended rule by that family for 200 years. However, the Afghan communist party was divided and splits emerged, with The Soviet Union intervening to support the regime. This occupation, which lasted until 1989, was a total disaster for Afghanistan with around one million people losing their lives and millions others fleeing.
Groups of Afghan Islamic fighters fought to force a Soviet retreat with eventual success in 1989. These Islamic fighters, or the Mujahideen, then swept to power but there was lots of infighting. A series of civil wars saw Kabul finally fall in 1996 to The Taleban - a hard-line Pakistani sponsored movement. The world looked on in dismay at their extreme Islamic policies, especially towards the place of women in society. It was not until 2001 that the outside world intervened with US allied and anti-Taliban troops attacking the Taliban for sheltering Osama Bin Laden, who the US held accountable for the 2001 attacks in New York.
In 2004 Hamid Karzai became the first democratically elected president and he was re-elected in 2009. However, despite gains towards building a stable central government, a resurgent Taliban and continuing provincial instability particularly in the south and the east remain serious challenges.
Although the Kite Runner is fiction, parts of the book are based on the author's childhood. Born in 1965 in Kabul, Hosseni's father worked as a diplomat for the Afghan Foreign Ministry. The family left for Iran when Hosseni was five and returned in 1973 when Afghanistan became a Republic. They were living in Paris when the Russians invaded in 1979, and they never returned instead claiming refugee status in the US.
Khaled Hosseni is now a doctor in the US. He also works as a Goodwill Envoy for the UN refugee agency UNHCR. His second book A Thousand Splendid Suns is about two women living in Afghanistan married to the same awful man. Hosseni published The Kite Runner in 2003 when he had not returned to Afghanistan in 23 years. In an interview with Time magazine he said that when he did finally go back in 2003 all his worst fears about what his country had turned into were confirmed, and it was actually worse than he had fictionalised in his book. Although recently things have improved, with democratic elections, Afghanistan is an extremely poor, landlocked country and highly dependent on foreign aid. The present government is unable to extend rule of law to all parts of the country and living standards are almost the lowest in the world.
- In 2007, the novel was made into a movie that was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. See the official website http://www.kiterunnermovie.com/ for more information