After reading Hosseini’s second novel last year, I wanted to read this one, and it’s an interesting contrast. Unlike A Thousand Splendid Suns, which focusses on the lives of women largely pushed into powerlessness by the men and society around them, even before the political turmoil really hits, this is largely a story of boys and men with barely a speaking part for any woman in the first half of the book. While, then, gender politics is only barely an issue in this book, class/caste issues are major, since our narrator/protagonist Amir is born into a privileged position as the only soon of a well-off highly respected Pashtun businessman of good family, and Hassan, his playmate who fed from the same wetnurse (both boys lose their mothers within the first week of life) is the son of Amir’s father’s Hazara servant. Within the novel it’s made very clear that in the Afghanistan they grow up in, Hazara people are seen by many as second-class, and when the Taliban arrive they are subjected to ethnic cleansing (the novel goes to 2002/2003 (the year the book was published).
Still, between Amir and Hassan and their fathers (who also grew up together) the issues are not really those of ethnicity, but of class, trust, and (particularly) loyalty. Guilt is a primary motivator in this story, for bad and good, and while severe physical harm is inflicted on a variety of characters, it’s the emotional betrayal that causes the longest term problems.
Within the novel, Amir shares some very obvious features with the author (his early love of reading and writing, his rough age and move to the USA as a refugee from Kabul, and then becoming a successful novelist in English. (Since this was Hosseini’s first novel, however, we’ll take Amir’s sparkling career as hopeful prescience, however.) Even so, he does not shy away from giving Amir and his father some very negative characteristics and behaviours which we will hope and assume are not shared by their prototypes.
This is definitely a well-written and enthralling book, although it didn’t seem to affect me quite as much as its successor. While Mariam (of A Thousand Splendid Suns) is often passive due to her powerless situation, Amir is passive due to a self-proclaimed cowardice – he makes himself a less likeable character, who has to be blackmailed into finally taking action to save Sohrab, while Mariam is more of a heroine, even in what is perhaps a more believable storyline. I think writing Amir this way, particularly when he’s so very easy to identify “as” the author (rightly or, probably, wrongly) was in many ways a brave thing for Hosseini to do, and he pulls it off very well indeed.
I learned less that was new about Afghan politics and history in this one, partly because of what I’d got from and around the second book, but largely because the action is in America for twenty years of the novel. Still decidedly eye-opening, however.
- The Kite Runner. Movie Review (lindeay.wordpress.com)
- On a Kabul Hill, the Dogs and Kites of War (time.com)
- I’ve Got a Lot of Problems (psychologytoday.com)
- People-smugglers target Australian Hazaras (news.theage.com.au)
- Why Isn’t the Vote in a Volatile Afghan Province Certified Yet? (time.com)
- Asylum seekers refuse offer of cash and tickets home (theage.com.au)