Adult, Historical Fiction, Reviews, YA

Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

“For you, a thousand times over.”

Before my Swedish teacher asked me to read this book for class, I had heard of it (I read the Swedish translation of the book). It had sounded interesting enough to me when I had heard a lot of people talking about it and in general I expected your average YA contemporary or historical fiction.
What I didn´t expect, was being left feeling empty and full and heavy but light-headed all at the same time.

To begin with, the Kite Runner (or Flyga Drake in Swedish) is a book about a boy called Amir. In the book, we get to follow him from being a young boy (with flashbacks as far back as to when he was born) all the way up until he is a full grown man in his late thirties. Amir grows up in Kabul, Afghanistan and is only around 12-13 years old when he and his father have to flee the country, away from their friends and everything in Kabul as the Russian army invades. And so the seemingly endless line of wars begin to bloom.

THE REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT.

Now, this might be a bit of an unpopular opinion, but I don´t like Amir.

Like, strong, strong dislike verging on hate.

This felt kind of strange for me as a reader since the main character is usually the person you´re supposed to root for and cheer on. In the beginning of the book, I could still understand to some extent why he was being (excuse my French) such an ass towards Hassan.

-Hassan, the boy (the brother!) who did anything and everything for Amir, even if he never got anything back. The boy who´s first word was Amir´s name.
The boy who would do it a thousand times over, even if it left him scarred-

And yet, Amir struggles with how he feels towards Hassan because he is a Hazara boy,  a people with heritage from Mongolia and whom were very looked down upon and usually left on the streets or used as servants, and everything Amir has been told by people outside of his home is that he shouldn´t care about Hazaras. For a young boy like Amir, I could see how that would be conflicting.
Then, I thought things would at least get better, wouldn´t they? Sure, they were now in America and Hassan was probably left in Afghanistan, but Amir had grown up now, hadn´t he? He would realize things, wouldn´t he?

But why actually try to deal with those emotions when you can tuck them away nice and neat in a corner, fall in love with a beautiful girl and start a career as a writer?

Now, I don´t think everything Amir did was completely wrong, but there were times I got incredibly frustrated with him and felt he could have dealt with things so much better. This also confuses me as a reader, do I judge the book by the actual quality or how I felt reading it? Does being frustrated with a character mean the book is good and has succeeded or should that be a reason for a lesser rating? This was something I struggled with a lot rating this book since Hosseini has explicity explained how these emotions are emotions and feeling he wants to evoke in people.

Either way, there is an example towards the very end where Amir´s decision annoys me immensely and I almost felt like quitting right there, just put it away and show a certain finger towards the image of Amir in my mind.
So, we find out that Hassan actually is Amir´s half-brother and that he had a son, Sohrab, who is left alone without parents in Kabul. Amir has promised the boy he will take him back with him to America and that he will adopt him.
Keep in mind that it was a promise. A promise to a little boy who was near broken and falling apart.
What more did the promise include? That Sohrab is never to be put in a children´s home again.

Amir then get´s put in a dilemma. His lawyer has told him his best chance of getting to adopt Sohrab is putting him in a children´s home for a while and then adopting him.
So, what does he do? you ask.

He tells Sohrab about it, Sohrab freaks out and already starts begging and pleading, but Amir just keeps telling him “It will be okay” and “I will visit everyday” and “You´ll be safe”.
Doesn´t he understand that Sohrab has been told that a thousand times? Sohrab even tells him and begs him saying that people always tell him it will be okay and then it isn´t.
And even if doing it that way was the only way, why doesn´t he explain it to Sohrab? Why doesn´t he at least try? He even explains only a short bit before that scene how Sohrab has to be one of the cleverest little boys he has met, so why can´t he explain to Sohrab exactly why is has to be that way, explain the adoption process and try to make him understand.
The book even quotes:

“Better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.” 

So why not tell him everything, the whole truth, explain it to him, make it clear?
And I could go on explaining my frustration in this, but I think the result speaks for itself; Sohrab, this young boy, who has grown up in misery, is so afraid and scared for his life that he decides it´s best to end it. All while Amir takes a nap.

So, I can´t say this book was very nice.
Okay, fine. The writing is good and there is a lot that leaves you feeling heavy and like you need to think. Hosseini, while perhaps not offering particularly exciting or fantastic prose, has a talent for forshadowing and planting clues that can´t go unnoticed.
It´s raw and emotional and it doesn´t leave anything bundled up in cotton to soften the blow. And that I really admire that in this book. I think such a problem and tragedy deserves to be told truthfully and openly.
But, it´s not nice in the way that it also leaves you feeling that way – not nice. That´s what I mean by feeling empty, heavy and full all at the same time, I just got stuck in some kind of funk after finishing it and I can´t decide if that is good or bad.
This book just throws tragedy after tragedy on you and the tiny sliver of light you get at a couple points sometimes doesn´t really feel like enough, which is at the same time quite true for many – if not the majority – of the Afghans who lived there during these times Khaled Hosseini tells us about.

At the same time as I want to recommend this book, I don´t. I want to for its incredibly important lessons, rich information about the wars and history of Afghanistan and at times beautiful passages (fair warning, Hosseini also has a tendency of quite obvious hinting from time to time, so if that bugs you, watch out).

But I also don´t, because of how it makes you feel.
It leaves your heart heavy and sad, but I suppose it´s that sliver and that tiny bit of light and hope that drags you through. That keeps you going.

And I think that is where I´ll leave it.

3/5 stars.

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