Judith Rodenbeck's Reviews > The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
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Jul 25, 07

Recommended for: sentimentalists everywhere
Read in January, 2006

I posted these comments to other reviews, which I found both fair and unflinching.

Except for certain details (the kites, e.g.) you really could transpose this story to any hot spot, including, say, hurricane-stricken New Orleans. I picked up this book hoping for an Afghanistan-based novel that would achieve, say, what Italo Svevo did with Trieste as a backdrop, or Pramoedeya Anta Toer with Indonesia, or Nuruddin Farah with Somalia, or Don de Lillo's White Noise does with middle America or even what the flawed but compelling God of Small Things did for Kerala. But the bland humanistic, "We Are the World" universalism of Kite Runner really disappointed.

It's maudlin and melodramatic. The story pumps along, and it is about Afghanistan, but gosh, every possible soap-operatic turn of events, cardboard emotions, and a rather wan narrative map really disappointed me. I read it when it came out largely because of the Afghan connection, and while there was a lot of straightforward information that was interesting as a novel this book felt like it had been plotted out in a workshop and then each plot point milked before a studio audience from the suburbs. Midkult at its blandest.

I agree in part with the reviewer who sees the success of the book as an artifact of armchair cultural tourism. I don't really have such a huge problem with that (books set in/written from places other than white Euroamerica) in the abstract though I do think this book, with its rather anodyne approach to human motivations, is just as easily about suburban life in the developed world, with a few details changed. But the Sopranos has changed even that kind of judgement, and one could argue that (leaving aside The Tale of Genji) the novel form itself is a neocolonial artifact exported from the West. This may be a good thing, as the novel entails both the private space of reading and, as narrative structure, some sense of individual autonomy, no matter how conditional--both of which I am all for.
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