Matt's Reviews > The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
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M 50x66
's review
Jan 14, 2008

did not like it
Recommended for: people who slurp up 'chicken soup for the soul' books

i really wanted to like this novel. judging from its thousands of 'five-star reviews' hailing it as the one of the 'best books ever written,' i'm in the minority when i state that this novel, while well-intentioned, just left a little bit of sour taste in my mouth.

my problems with the novel are as follows: first of all the writing itself is so ham-fistened, heavy-handed, distracting and otherwise puzzling that by the midway point, i seriously considered chucking the book against the wall. each page of the novel has at least 5-10 incomplete sentences. i'm all for experimental and fractered prose--but it's important for authors to use it judiciously. hosseini, unfortunately, beats it to death. a lot of his language is cliched, too, which is funny considering there's a passage in the book about a writing teacher who warns the narrator, amir, about using cliches. i don't know if that was supposed to be funny or not, but it made me laugh (and what was worse was the san francisco's chronicle's glowing review on the book's cover and the san francisco chronicle's glowing review of amir's novel--coincidence?).

the author's use of farsi--especially in the dialogue--was equally distracting. my point is that no one speaks the way his characters speak. people don't switch back and forth between languages while speaking, and if they do, they certainly don't speak 1/2 the sentence in english, say one word in farsi, then traslate the farsi word to english, then finish the sentence in english, when they're presumably speaking farsi to begin with. i didn't pick up this book for a crash course in colloquial farsi. after 370 pages, i was frustrated--and annoyed.

hosseini's plot often borders on the ridiculous. the'twists' are just TOO coincidental--and not surprising at all (except in how contrived they are). for example, in a devasted kabul, amir sees a homeless man in the street. the homeless man, of course, was a former university professor who just happened to teach with amir's long deceased mother. what a coincidence! what makes it worse, is that the narrator, amir then explains that while that may, in fact, seem like a coincidence, it happens in afghanistan happens all the time. of course it does. in another example, amir's former nemesis, assaf (now a taliban crony), beats up amir and amir ends up with a scar above his lip, just like his dear friend hassan, who was born with cleft-pallet. oh, the coincidence! (and the fact that amir even runs into assef again is ridiculous). another example: amir and his wife aren't able to have children, and of course they find an orphan boy who happens to be extended family and they adopt him. what a coincidence! and after amir returns to afghanistan he doesn't call home to his dutiful wife for over a month. i kept wondering 'when's he gonna call home?' and any plot advanced by a series of 'tragedies,' (and in this book they are legion) shows little more than the writer's inability to craft a meaningful and interesting plot. not only is it pretty poor form, it's also highly manipulative and condescending. i found myself continually frustrated by hosseini's apparent distrust of the reader. we don't have to be told how and when to interpret metaphors. and if i read one more book where the protagonist is a writer or professor, i'm gonna ram my head into a metal post.

i don't want to sound like a misanthrope or jaded literature reader because i'm certainly not. this novel just left me wanting so much more in terms of plot and characterization. having said that, however, the novel could be important in that shows the cruelty of the taliban. much of what hosseini writes about is important, especially for us westerners unfamiliar with the breadth and scope of the afghani tragedy.

in the end, it was worth the $2.00 i paid for it.
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Comments (showing 1-50 of 78) (78 new)

Owen Wright you recommend this book for 'people who slurp up "chicken soup for the soul" books'? i'd bet you an overwhelming majority of those folks would hate this book based solely on some of the difficult subject matter (betrayal, rape, guilt, shame). more thought might go into your recommendation next time...your review is much better...

message 2: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt thanks. :)

message 3: by Joe (last edited Feb 05, 2008 10:17AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Joe I couldn't have summed up why I hated this book better than your review. I HATED IT!!!!! Everything you wrote is exactly why I didn't like it. I threw it against the wall when I finished it, kicked it around a bit and then promptly walked to my local used book store and sold it.

message 4: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt thanks, joe! :) i'm still mystified why it's so popular. i guess people eat up that supposed 'triumph of the human spirit!' even if it's complete rubbish...

message 5: by Joe (new) - rated it 1 star

Joe I think Owen's comment misses the mark. Your recommendation is spot-on for me. The overwhelming majority of folks I know who slurp up chicken soup for the soul books LOVED this novel, difficult subject matter or not. It was unbelievable! This is probably why it was a best seller.

I think Hosseini's handling of the difficult subject was so trite and condescending that it didn't leave an impact at all. Try reading Hubert Selby Jr.'s Last Exit To Brooklyn which deals with the same difficult subject matter(betrayal, rape, guilt, shame) in such a gritty, graphic and bleak manner that it will have your stomach churning by the end of it. Now that's a novel the overwhelming majority of those folks would hate based solely on some of the difficult subject matter.

Owen Wright Thanks, Joe, I'll check it out.

message 7: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt thanks to both of you for taking the time to comment. :)

message 8: by svnh (new) - rated it 1 star

svnh man, between you and the few and far between others who hated this novel, i feel like i don't even need to write a review.

except that i HAVE to. for a news journal. perhaps i'll just post a link to yours.

in short: we have a lot of the same problems with this novel. so high five.

message 9: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt up high.

Melynda Yesenia wow, you hit the nail right on.

i had been trying to figure out why, despite being told by several book clubs, recommendations and reviews why i should find compassion, hope and redemption in the main character, i found him to be bland and untrustworthy. on top of the character's complete lack of any of those qualities, i was absolutely responding to the author's voice.
the most amazing part of this book is still the hype-explosion. i get how that happens, i understand that sometimes that's just how the machine works, but the writing just wasn't that good. it's sad that calling out something like kite runner would brand you misanthropic instead of honest.

great review, and extra points for using the word 'slurp' in a book recommendation.

message 11: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt thanks! :)

Meaghan Re: the language. For what it's worth, when a book is set in a foreign country and the characters presumed to be speaking the foreign language, it's pretty common for the author to occasionally slip foreign words/phrases into the text, followed by their translation into English. It's supposed to add authenticity, I believe.

message 13: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Thanks, Matt. I thought I was missing something. You've helped validate my decision to jettison this one at 73 pages. Whew! I'm relieved!

message 14: by svnh (new) - rated it 1 star

svnh re: the language 2x.

I think the point is that not only does it not "add authenticity," and I won't even go into the problems that I have with "authenticity" in general, but it's poorly done.

Meaghan I didn't say it actually added authenticity. I just said it was meant to.

message 16: by Jessica (last edited Apr 15, 2008 12:54PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jessica I also really did not like this novel...and I am v happy to see I am not alone. I've posted about it before wasn't the violence and/or rape that bothered me but that I did not feel I was really seeing Afghanistan through Afghan eyes...I felt it was really an American novel set there. I've read several other works by Afghan authors that I felt to be a truer depiction of some aspect of that complicated society and beautiful country. I also felt it was poorly written and constructed, as you detail well in your review, Matt.

message 17: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt thanks, everyone, for taking the time to comment. :) it seems like we're the minority, but in my view we are the only sane ones! just kidding...sort of.

message 18: by svnh (new) - rated it 1 star

svnh Meaghan: fair game. I thought for some reason you were pushing the successful authenticity front.

Meaghan I can understand why you would think so. I don't really have an opinion as to whether it makes the story more authentic or not. I just know it's a fairly common thing in English-language novels set in foreign countries.

message 20: by siga (new) - rated it 2 stars

siga i picked up the book because of all of the hype and thought it worth a shot. having lived in the middle east for a long time before it became the place it is now, i have a respect and some understanding of the people and culture. i wanted to like kite runner and to participate in a positive way in conversations about this book, but could not. i had to bite my tongue over and over and stop rolling my eyes when all i heard was gushing over this book. finally, i found like minded readers! after reading your comment, i have to agree with you whole heartedly and now know what about the book i did not like. thanks.

Darius Teichroew My guess is that you also hate Les Miserables, since it is a book consisting almost entirely of coincidences.

heather Thanks for that review! Most of what you said was spot-on. I actually ended up skipping the middle, as it seemed that his years in America had little to no bearing on the story.

I feel cheated in this novel: it feels like the author could have gone into so much more depth in many directions. He either tried to accomplish too much, and failed at all of it, or did not try to accomplish enough.

message 23: by Matt (new) - rated it 1 star

Matt hello, darius. i've never read 'les mis,' so i don't have an opinion either way. ;)

La Petite Américaine Your review rules.

message 25: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie I haven't read the book, just reading reviews to see if it's worth buying. Just wanted to say, actually many people do speak using two different languages, changing frequently between the two. While you're probably correct in your surmise that in the book, this was just used to inject a sense of the original language into the text and in no way a word-for-word representation of actual dialogue, I just wanted to point out that while perhaps you've never lived in an area where multiple languages are used all at once, in certain areas of the world and among certain groups, it's actually pretty normal.

message 26: by Joe (new) - rated it 1 star

Joe Katie, you should read the book first so you can give a more informed opinion. It's an annoying contrivance the author uses the wears thin very quickly and it's not used in the sense that you discribed. For example, everytime Hosseini mentions naan he adds that it's bread, in case you didn't catch that the first 100 times he mentioned it.

message 27: by Katie (new) - added it

Katie Oh, I wasn't criticizing your criticism of it. I agree, if it's overused in books, it can get to be a hassle. I was just saying that it isn't uncommon for people to switch back and forth between languages in regular conversation.

message 28: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate I don't think the coincidences in the book are meant to be taken so literally, at least that's not how I interpreted it. I felt in a way as I read it, that I was watching a movie. I felt it was meant to be a story, or intersecting stories, that could have happened in the time and place that they did -but not everything was to be taken so concretely- it was fiction after all. So if things happened to work out the way they did, I took it as liberty of the author that may not necessarily have been so true to life. Just my two cents - but there they are...

message 29: by Joe (new) - rated it 1 star

Joe I think you're spot on Kate when you said it reads like a movie. IMO I believe that was the author's intention when he wrote the novel, that hopefully it would be made into a movie to further fatten is wallet. I bet his newest novel is being made into a movie now as I type this.

message 30: by Chad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Chad Bearden I think this could more accurately be recommended to:

"People who want to say they read a great book without actually having to do the heavy intellectual lifting of an actual great book."

'Ham-fisted' is the right word. But since it deals with a serious subject matter and is 'multi-cultural', hordes of people give it a free pass. A serious subject matter does not automatically make for a good book.

message 31: by Chad (new) - rated it 2 stars

Chad Bearden I HAVE read "Les Mis", and comparing Hosseini to Victor Hugo is like comparing a broken doorknob to the Louvre.

message 32: by [deleted user] (new)


message 33: by Nada (new) - rated it 3 stars


message 34: by Paul (new) - rated it 2 stars

Paul Whiffin Just joined and this review is spot on. Awful book.

Minhazul Hoque A very specific, powerful influence on the characters in The Kite Runner is Islam. Their beliefs affect their relationship and how they see each other. The three characters that I chose were Amir, Baba, and Hassan. Throughout the text Hassan is very religious. He is a true God-Willing Qualifier. Every time there is something about hope being said Hassan says “Inshallah.” Amir admires how religious he is. However, it doesn’t really affect what Amir had initially thought of Hassan when they were children. When Amir and Hassan are both adults, Amir understands what kind of person Hassan is. He is a great deal of respect for Amir. Amir asks Hassan to stay/live in the guest room with his wife. Amir tells Baba about the mullah teaching them about sin. Baba tells Amir that he would urinate on those “bearded idiots.” This shows that Baba has a different kind of interpretation of Islam and believes and that. Amir will follow that and thus, Amir may hate Hassan for him being so righteous.

Stephie Just wanted to make one point here -- people do actually switch between languages halfway through sentences ALL THE TIME. I've had my French and German teachers do it, and I have in fact done it myself. When you speak more than one language, sometimes your brain seems to forget the distinction between the two and run them together. It's quite common, so you shouldn't attack the author about that.

Whitney Nice review. This book sucked! The whole time I was reading it, I was like, "come on."

Librariangrrl jeremy-its a newer trnd in literature (try reading "the brief and wondorous life of oscar wao" which does the same thing and won the pulitzer)... as a librarian i read this book kinda because i have to... all in all, i got exactly ehat i expected... a book that spoon feeds literature to the masses... the story line was ok... and i like that it brings international events to public consciousness... but thats about the extent of it.

Christina White I felt the same way about the language

message 40: by Maia (new) - rated it 4 stars

Maia Eliozashvili you most probably do not speak many languages because if you did you would know that all who speak several languages do exactly that start with one switch to another and might end with third. given that people around you speak all these languages. for me personally it is absolutely normal thing to mix them all.

message 41: by Dee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Dee I love the slurp'up chicken soup for the soul reco. I for one did enjoy the book but not chicken soup.

message 42: by Annamaria (new) - added it

Annamaria You obvisouly haven't been around people who speak different languages

Blake I think it's a bit unfair to judge a novel based on the probability of its plot. If you think of any great work of fiction, there are elements of it that are quite unlikely. Therefore, I could apply the strategy you use in this review to virtually any book.

East of Eden: What are the odds of BOTH sets of brothers having stories that so closely mirror the story of Cain and Abel?

The Things They Carried: C'mon, a wholesome girl is going to go visit her boyfriend in Afghanistan and end up adopting odd tribal rituals? Give me a break!

To Kill a Mockingbird: What are the odds of a mysterious recluse living next to the main characters, having that same anti-social character see them being attacked, AND saving them?

The real question becomes if these seemingly unlikely events contribute to the novel in a meaningful way. Each of Hosseini's twists not only serve to make the novel more intersting, but are also symbolically significant.

Finally, I must point out that real life is rife with incredibly unlikely events. Thus, a novel that depicted only ordinary, likely happenings would be the most unrealistic of all.

Willa-Rose Actually, people DO go back and forth between languages. My Spanish friends do it all the time.

Xavier Guillaume It might make more sense if you listen to the Audio CD, which is read by the author. Hearing the story in his voice probably will make the sentences make more sense. And I love how he treats the accents because I probably would never have read the book that way on my own, so it adds so much more to the story.

Laila While it is true that people often switch back and forth between languages while speaking, they do not say a word in one language, translate it to another, and continue on, which is what Matt was pointing out.

Like they do not say:
"I'm going to get some naan, bread, on my way home"

They do say:
"I'm going to get some naan on my way home"

As an Urdu speaker I actually enjoyed seeing how many of the Farsi words were similar or the same as words in Urdu, so the language use in the novel for me was engaging and interesting. I can see how this would be different if I did not speak the language, however.

message 47: by Samuel (new)

Samuel Nice review.

message 48: by Nick (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nick Smith I completely agree with the feelings that you described in the first paragraph of your review. I have heard of so many people who loved this book but I just didn't seem to like it. I really didn't like the cruelty of some of the characters.

message 49: by Shelli (new) - added it

Shelli I haven't read and I'm certainly not defending this book – your review and many others like it make me pretty sure I would hate it – so this is just a very minor comment. Perhaps the author only did it for literary effect, but multilingual people absolutely *do* switch back and forth between languages when speaking – sometimes in mid-sentence!

Lacey Reah I've never hated a protagonist so much in my life. I kept on reading because I knew he had to redeem himself. I guess I was manipulated but I think writers that can mess with your head are very good writers.

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