Janet's Reviews > The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
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's review
Jan 06, 2008

really liked it
Recommended for: adults interested in literary fiction, psychology, or international politics
Read in December, 2007

This novel fascinated me. It's a great example of the power of a good story. The author was a rookie, and he didn't yet have a solid command of the craft, but he certainly had something important to say. There are some big spoilers ahead, so if you're planning to read this one, you might want to stop here.

I enjoyed the rich portrait of Afghani culture, both at home and in exile in the US. The story's time-frame before and after the Soviet invasion lets an American reader understand better what's been happening behind the headlines of the past thirty years, and I appreciated a glimpse into a world I know little about.

The strongest and most memorable part of the book is the character of the narrator's father, Baba. He's a rich, stubborn, secular Afghani who swigs whiskey and makes his own rules. His strengths and flaws propel the entire acr of the story and dominate the narrator's life. What a complex and vivid force! I would teach this book for no other reason than to share Baba with my students. Beyond the father-son relationship, the story is built upon several other important and complicated male relationships. These involve deep, tangled emotional bonds of a sort rarely explored in contemporary American novels.

But this is where the story's strength becomes a weakness. The first two-thirds of the novel reads as realism, but in the final act, when the protagonist returns to war-torn Afghanistan, the narrative demands quickly dominate what had been a character-driven story. There are too many coincidences, too many mirrored events, too many father-son doublings, and the bad guys from childhood return as grown-up forces of evil that can only be read allegorically. The symbolic load becomes too heavy for the individual characters to support.

I was especially disturbed by the time I was presented with a second victim of child sexual abuse -- the son whose father had been brutally assaulted in the early part of the book. At that point I realized that the story had shifted into a fable of a country/people who had been systematically raped over two generations. This is a valid story and an important one to tell, but within the aesthetic parameters of this particular novel, the allegorical demands at the end almost crush the carefully constructed story about personal atonement. It doesn't help that the author shouts out to the reader several times, "See! The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons!" In the hands of a more experienced writer, realistic and allegorical threads can strengthen one another, but the human story should be primary, with the symbolic motifs worked into the fabric of the story rather than slapped on top.

Where are the damn editors these days? I keep stumbling over fiction that is almost, but not quite, done. Half-baked novels are either exposed on mountainsides or rushed to market with massive promotional expense, and the decisions seem completely arbitrary. Why not spend a little more time and money polishing these works first? This fine book from a first-time novelist would have been far more powerful if the final section had been carefully revised. That said, I still think it's well worth reading, and I'm looking forward to watching the film adaptation.

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