I did a lot of reading this weekend. After I finished Digital Fortress I had a long train ride to occupy myself so I grabbed Kite Runner next. I’d heard great things about it, but it wasn’t exactly what I expected. It was an intense read, but I really enjoyed it.
And, spoiler alert! If you don’t want to know, don’t keep reading.
So Kite Runner follows the life of Amir, a Shi’a growing up in Afghanistan. Amir grows up with his close friend and servant, Hassan, a Hazara. Amir struggles a lot with this friendship as he watches Hassan get bullied quite often but never really stands up for him. He often teases him for not being able to read or asks him ridiculous questions, like if Hassan would eat dirt if Amir told him to (Hassan says he would). Hassan is the picture of utmost devotion. He would do anything for Amir, but Amir, as we find out pretty early, would not necessarily return the favor.
Amir and Hassan’s favorite pastime is flying kites. In their town, there is a competition in which all the boys fly kites and try to cut the other kites down. The last one flying wins. As the kites fall, the kite runners retrieve them, and Hassan is the best kite runner there is. The year Amir wins the contest, Hassan runs to catch the last fallen kite and pays dearly for it.
He meets Assef, a terrible bully, and his two cronies down an alleyway. Assef beats Hassan and rapes him, all while Amir watches from a distance, too afraid to intervene. But more than that, Hassan is beaten because he won’t give up the last flag he caught, he knows how important it is to Amir (for Amir, that flag represents his father’s love, something he feels in constant competition with Hassan for). So, afraid to lose the kite, Amir lets Assef hurt Hassan and lives with that for the rest of his life.
Driven by guilt, Amir frames Hassan and his father, Ali, for theft, hoping his father, Baba, will dismiss the servants and Amir won’t have to look at Hassan every day. Baba forgives his servants (they have been friends for forty years), but Ali insists they need to leave. Amir suspects that Ali knows the truth about what happened to Hassan and why he is not the same anymore.
After Ali and Hassan leave, Baba and Amir escape from Afghanistan when Russia invades. The story then follows Amir’s life in America with his father, as he meets his wife, and watches his father die from cancer.
Amir is then contacted by an old family friend who tells him it is time to return to Afghanistan and make things right. The friend is dying, but he tells Amir that his old friend Hassan, who he hasn’t seen since he left that day, grew up, married, and had a son. Hassan was shot and killed in the street, along with his wife, by the Taliban. Hassan’s son, Sohrab, was now in an orphange, and it was Amir’s duty to rescue him. Not only that, but Amir finds out that Hassan was his half-brother.
Amir, ever the coward, thinks of his cozy life in America and unsurprisingly does not want to get involved. In the end though, Amir tracks down Sohrab at the home of a notorious Taliban. When the man reveals himself, he finds it is Assef, the one who raped Hassan all those years ago.
Amir endures a brutal beating in the fight for Sohrab. He breaks a number of bones, is horribly bloodied, and needs to spend a long time in the hospital, but Sohrab is safe. Sohrab saved Amir when he pulled out his slingshot (something his father, Hassan, once did for Amir) and fired a metal ball into Assef’s eye.
With Sohrab saved, Amir decides he wants to adopt him (he and his wife can’t have children), and promises Sohrab he will never send him back to an orphanage. However, Amir finds out that the easiest way to get Sohrab a visa might be to let him spend some time in an orphanage. He tells Sohrab this, and Sohrab reacts horribly. The last time he was in an orphanage he was sexually assaulted and he does not want to go back. That night, Sohrab attempts to commit suicide. Amir finds him in time and Sohrab is saved, but never the same.
For years, Sohrab is silent, even though he is now safe in America with Amir and his wife.
The story ends with a small ray of hope, Amir and Sohrab fly a kite together for the first time, and as Amir cuts down another Kite, Sohrab smiles for a moment.
I really loved this book. It was at times very difficult to read. When Hassan is assaulted, when Assef beats Amir, when a father commits suicide as they escape from Afghanistan, when there is a public stoning at a sporting event now that the Taliban have taken over…author Khaled Hossein paints a vivid picture that will stick with you even after you’ve finished it.
The main character, Amir, is hard not to be drawn to. He says himself he is a coward, but that he knows it is his redeeming factor. But in the face of the truth (that Hassan was his brother and he must rescue his nephew), he rises to the challenge, unwillingly at first, but he does. It was easy to be disgusted by the way Amir treated Hassan, and though he never really got to right those wrongs before Hassan died, I think Amir can find peace in Sohrab.
I definitely recommend Kite Runner to everyone! It was a great read, super intense, but well worth it.