Naeem's Reviews > The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
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's review
Jul 24, 2007

did not like it
Recommended for: anyone wanting to keep their blinders on

I found this book a failure of courage and imagination -- all the more upsetting for the author's astute sense of detail and wonderful psychological depth. But ask yourself this: if the Taliban are real humans than why are they not represented as such? No doubt we will all love the movie as well.

If you want to read a book on Afghanistan, I recommend Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light.

Below is my complete review:

I started out loving this book. Hosseini is dead on target in his depiction of children's psychology, the non-contractual relationships between master and servant, and in his weaving of the threads between trauma, memory, and denial.

Further, Hosseini captures the feel of life in a Third World country. His depiction of Afghanistan confirms my own short travels in Afghanistan during the 1970s. Indeed, I was becoming ever more excited with the possibility of teaching this book in my new course on Afghanistan. But alas.

The book fails exactly where it most needs to succeed - in the depiction of the Taliban. When we do not have an archive, or the possibility of getting at the facts and narratives of a part of history, fiction can be used creatively and responsibly in order to construct something real. Take, for example, the extraordinary slave narrative written by Guy Endore -- Babouk. After years of research, Endore writes a history of a slave engaged in rebellion just prior to the Haitian Revolution.

Hosseini has the skills but not the courage nor the empathy/sympathy to portray the Taliban as historical, sociological, economic, modern creations. Discounting and trivializing his own skills, he characterizes the Taliban in the easiest way -- as simple, cartoonish, evil. He thereby does nothing to enlighten us. Worse, he panders to a sleepwalking liberal public who happily accept his vision as a seemingly authentic reflection of their own myopia.

Most everyone is satisfied: the U.S. public for having read about a country they destroyed -- feeling all the better at having disposed of evil; the publishers for their timely profit; and Hosseini for having expressed his romantic sense of loss.

At least V.S. Niapaul is honest about his hatred for his own people. Hosseini's twist is less forgivable -- he gives aide to the very people whose malice, neglect, ignorance, and misunderstanding of Afghan people is one key factor in the destruction of this beautiful land and vital people.

A failure of imagination is often the result of a failure in will, in courage, in politics. Hosseini traps himself in the politics of nostalgia.

(For a similar review with a more academic bent, please see:
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
July 24, 2007 – Shelved

Comments (showing 1-50 of 68) (68 new)

message 1: by Nasir (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:02PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Nasir I agree completely.

message 2: by Jessmccoy (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:18PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jessmccoy Thanks for this Naeem.

I admit to being a member of the sleepwalking liberal public on this one. Yikes.

message 3: by Naeem (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:52PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem We may both excuse Amir. But can we excuse Hosseini? I think not. It was a premedited effort to avoid the crux of the matter so as to better make sales.

message 4: by Naeem (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:39PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem I have been asked by a few people to clarify my position on the Taliban. Here is one question from a kind critic: "would you explain how your view of The Taliban differs from what Hosseini portrays in The Kite Runner?"

My answer: I think Hosseini caters to popular western ideas (we can think of it as supply side literature.) This leads us to believe we have understood something when, in fact, every effort has been made to make sure we avoid any intelligent questions about the Taliban.

What might such questions look like?

How about a few of these: (1) What are the origins of the ideas used by the Talliban? Where do those ideas come from? Have we seen those ideas before? How do these ideas compare to other doctrines in both Islam and other religions?

(2) What kind of social and historical conditions produce a situation that allow the Taliban to emerge as a social movement? Are they a response to the Cold War? To Modernity? To secularism? To other forms of Islam?

(3) What kind of social institutions (or their absence) allow for a large number of the population in border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan to become the Taliban? For example, Ahmed Rashid in his best selling book "Taliban" suggests that the Taliban are orphans -- they had had no mothers or fathers within a family setting. Their biological parents were not able to afford to keep them in the family and sent them to madrassas so that they would at least be fed. What happened in the family and cultural institutions so that the Taliban emerged as such orphans?

(4)Who funded the Taliban? How did they support their social movement? They are famous for their Sazuki pickup trucks. Who paid for these?

(5) Which actors are complicit in helping to create the Taliban? The Soviets? The Pakistanis? The Saudi's? The USA? The Afghans themselves? If one does any research into this issue at all, one finds that there is a mountain of evidence suggesting the complicity of all these actors and their populations.

(6)Why were the Talilban so popular with Afghanistan (for a short period of time)? Did the behave similarly or differently from the those they replaced (the Mujahideen)? Did they ever do anything good in Afghanistan? If so, what? If not, how do we explain their emergence and popularity?

(7)What impulses are being satisfied by our dismissal of the Taliban as "evil"? Are such impulses consistent with seeking knowledge? When we treat the Taliban as a superficial phenomena do we help or hurt the Afghans, the Pakistanis, and ourselves?

Hosseini was in a difficult spot. Had he taken any of these questions seriously, chances were that his novel would not have been published, would not have become a best seller, and would not have become a Hollywood project. But not gesturing towards these questions leaves him with superficial and temporary success. Twenty or thirty years from now, his novel will be found out, one hopes, for what I think it really is: a seductive but ultimately empty commodity.

message 5: by Chilly (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:45PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Chilly SavageMelon When I read this novel, despite enjoying parts, I couldn't overlook the heavyhandedness in character creation. "So wait, this antagonist, former nazi admirer is now a taliban leader AND a junkie AND a pederast? Oh I get it, he's a Bad Guy, right?" ... a bit much.
And now your questions further pull at frayed threads..."entertainment" glossing over deeper issues that may not have been responsibly explored. Sensationalism to sell books with easy hooks. There were other elements of effective storyteling along with this cheap showmanship. But thanks for pointing at these deeper questions.

Naeem HI Lauren,

Thanks for your comment. I will agree with you on two points: that my critique is a bit harsh, and that Hosseini's "has enough description to hold its [the Taliban's] small place in the book."

But we also disagree. First, we differ on the importance of fiction. You say, "Its just a work of fiction..." Just fiction!? Consider that the nobel peace prize is often given to people who are also war criminals. And that we often don't even remember them. But mostly the world adores the work of the Nobel literature winners, like, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nadine Gordimer, and Naguib Mahfouz. Why is that? Isn't it because many of us put much more faith and stock in the ability of fiction to make sense of the world than do theorists and politicians? I am a professional theorist but I am confident that fiction writers are a 1000 times more effective than we theorists. So, we differ radically on the power of fiction.

Second, I disagree that the book is not about the Taliban. The driving force of a narrative is often not visible within a narrative. Often, what a book says most powerfully is not explicitly within its words or its plot. That is just on the side of the actual text.

Now consider how and why the text is received. Why did the book go to print? Why did it receive such accolades? Why is it already a film? Could we imagine that the West has an interest in this book without 9/11, without the alliance between al-queda and the Taliban, without the US bombing of Afghanistan?

Answer: without those events and configurations, the Western interest in Afghanistan and its people would be about the same as it was prior to the Soviet invasion -- pretty close to non-existent. It would be about the same interest that the West has today in Mongolia, Nepal, or Paraguay.

I think that the reason that the book is interesting to a U.S. audience is because of the Taliban. Hosseini knows this, as do his publishers. In my view, both as a text and as commodity received by a Western audience, this book is about really about the Taliban.

Third, can you imagine this book selling without mentioning the Taliban? And, without demonizing the Taliban? Perhaps I have a limited imagination, but I can't. To sell it has to both mention and demonize the Taliban.

We can treat this book as if it were just a good read we happen to have come across. But if we do that, we ignore how commodities are made, how they produce a demand, and how commodites fit into the global cultural economy of war justification.

We can either deny or embrace the idea that we have selected a political position when we enjoy this book.

Naeem Lauren,

Again you miss the point. Or, rather, I have missed making it. Here is one more try:

You are correct that we cannot be surprised at this book's portrayal of the Taliban. But can we expect more? Can we be disappointed? Can we ask for more?

My critique is not aimed at Hosseni or his publishers. They will never read these words. It is aimed at readers who don't ask questions about the Taliban. And it is aimed at readers like you who ask those questions but don't, in my view, demand enough from their reading.

You claim not to have gained a political perspective from this book. Is that possible? What a luxury to believe that our consuming habits and our aesthetic appreciation are some how separated from politics. This luxury is afforded to the powerful and to those that serve them with open glee.

Empires sustain themselves on such luxury.

E. Hope For Naeem,

What institution are you affiliated with? I understand that you are a lecturer, professor?
I appreciate your invitation to literary courage which challenges us to take greater care when considering the material that we are digesting.
Especially when it comes to mass consumerism which supports the high-throughput popular literature genre. By degrees, we are all tempted by the emotional seduction of the media. It can be tremendously influential, with the innate potential to have a monumental impact toward shaping society. Perhaps those who don't share the love of written word are a more vulnerable population, at greater risk for being duped into accepting the "Hollywood-style" propaganda at face value. I think that avid readers have freer mentalities. I wholeheartedly believe that there is not truly a distinct line that can so readily be drawn between fact and fiction. Take for instance, this notion, that in reality, even the arbitrary "non-fiction" categorization represents the perception of a single being, the reality of the author. As distinct individuals, each one of us is a product of our unique seperate realities which ultimately constitute the "truth" as we have come to know it. Of course, we are continually synthesizing collected elements from external sources, in essence creating chimeric selves which become ever more complex with each incorporation. We are not static, we are dynamic and active, living, evolving spirits. Is this not so? Following that philosophy, it is difficult to imagine a world that is dichromatic. Iteration after iteration, we are transformed again and again. We are in need of balance. I feel that you are calling for tempering? Resistance to blind acceptance.
We've got a full visible color spectrum, not to mention the extremes at either end, infrared and ultraviolet. No? I am just inspired to ponder your critique of "Kite Runner" and am intrigued by the obvious intellect that produced your thoughtful review. Myself, I have yet to read the "Kite Runner". I am now more curious than ever, but perhaps it still takes a more subordinate position in the long list of novels that I hope to someday contemplate first-hand. In the meantime, I appreciate this forum and your willingness to share the passion of your mind. Thank you very much! When it comes time for me to turn the pages, I will remember your words. My Sincere Regards.

message 9: by Naeem (last edited Dec 21, 2007 04:17PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem For E. Hope (eternal hope?)

Thank you for your kind words. They move me. They move me not so much to respond -- since I think I agree with their spirit. (I especially like your observation about "tempering.")

Rather, I wonder how we can explain this book's popularity. I am inspired by your claim that "we are all tempted by the emotional seduction of the media." Perhaps my review is meant most of all for me -- so tempted am I by Hosseni's mastery of creating pathos. (The special skill of South Asian music, by the way.)

A certain theorist (Adorno) speaks about what kind of entertainment is required in a capitalist society. His observations -- which are specific to music -- may perhaps also be relevant to literature. Two his points seem appropriate:

First, under capitalism, entertainment requires that listeners must not think critically. Second, that, listeners, or in our case, readers fall into two categories: those that wish to obey and those that wish to weep.

It is the theme of "wishing ourselves to weep" that particularly interests me in regards to Kite Runner. If you look at the positive reviews of the book, many of them say it brought them to tears. One of my favorite conversationalists, a director of scores of plays and a successful teacher, had this to say in response the onslaught of my critique: "Despite what you say, I know that it made me cry. And I loved it."

I do not wish to make my friends response, to use your language, "diachronic." He and all others who wept had a rainbow of reasons to weep. Nevertheless, it is the weeping -- even more than the Taliban -- that seems pivotal to this book. I will admit to weeping myself -- so sure is Hosseini's grasp of pathos.

Still, with Adorno's help we can ask: "why are we weeping?" And here is where my answer differs from those who might consider this book an achievement.

I think the kind of weeping that Hosseini induces has the effect of making us feel good about our participation in capitalism, in U.S. imperialism, in our good intentions despite the disastrous results.

We weep. In doing so we remain compliant, support the status quo, and demonstrate to the ourselves and to the world that our heart is in the right place. We have this need to weep because secretly we understand that our actions (paying taxes to the military machine, for example) help to destroy others. We weep so that we can excuse that we obey.

Here is the exchange we make with ourselves: I will weep for others so that I need never ask if there is anything more I can do for them. Or better, if there is anything I can stop doing to them.

I will read the Kite Runner and weep. Then I will for ever forget about Afghans. Hosseini, rather than pointing to our complicity, absolves us. He and we bind ourselves in acknowledging that there are those who must be sacrificed at the alter of history because there is nothing we can do for them. Such is the cost of modernity, so called democracy, and progress.

Who are these others marked as the sacrifice? Not just the Taliban. But also all those others who will never make it to the battle ship called the first world.

Having wept, having absolved ourselves, we can turn to a new novel (same as the old novel). Perhaps this time by an Iraqi about the plight of Iraqis at the hands of al-queda.

Look for the movie to follow.

message 10: by Naeem (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem For E. Hope,

If you have a moment, please have a look at my review of Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light. I think that book is an antidote to Kite Runner.

E. Hope Greetings to Naeem,

Yes. I will refer myself to your review of "An Unexpected Light", and surely this will inspire me further. In the meantime. . .I am compelled to offer you this:
I am interested in the topic of how the media adversely affects public mind-set, especially with regards to the lidless can of worms that I will identify as the Middle East war crisis. It has been mortally apalling for me to understand that even amongst my own naive relations there is a heartbreaking misconception concerning peoples that have been lumped together into one convenient package labeled "terrorist". It grieves me to the very core of my soul to be an American with a deeper sense of the ignorance that drives the political forces that guide my nation. Your words are poignant with respect to the insatiable need to absolve ourselves from responsibility somehow through our offering of tears. Thus far, aside from casting a morally inclined vote up at election time, I have only given lamentation and harsh cristicism up in the name of justice for the fabricated enemy. Are we that impotent here in the USA? I am sadly aware of the fact that this county has gained notoriety as a materialistic glutton, a land riddled with selfish sensationalists who long ago have lost sight of the core essential humanness of the being. I am unsure how many of my kinsmen (or women, for that matter) are willing to take the requisite gaze in the mirror. In all honestly, I had not given the Middle East much thought before 2003, when I made the life altering aquaintanceship of a twice-displaced Palastinian family, initially to Kuwait, and then ultimately to Jordan. Until then, I had not been vaguely aware of the privileged, sheltered existence that I have led. We have learned much from one another, about predisposed notions, faulty assumptions and vilifying judgements. It has been a life altering gift. . .
It seemed ironic to me that only months after my introductory taste into this alternate world reality. . .war on Iraq was declared in the name of pursuing Osama Bin Laden! The insanity has soared beyond all measure of historically recorded height! Where has the decency of sound rationale vanished to? I know that this will not be a popular posting (an overripe target for the narrow-minded, weak and uneducated). . . however, I stand by my right to adhere to my personal convictions. Can you believe that I wept when they executed Sadaam Hussein? Not because I was convinced that he himself was not an assasin who massacred countless of innocent victims, rather I was disturbed and shaken by the inhumane corruption that presided over the cell-phone capturing of the circus-beastial mentality claiming of his own sacred life. Hypocrisy! Double standards abound! Yes, why have mortal men given themselves this right to play deity? Haram. Atheist, Heathen Christian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Suni, Shea. . . Regardless. A CRIME AGAINST AN INDIVIDUAL IS A CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY! Period. Period! Hello? Is there anybody out there? Hello?! Hello! Seriously, where is the voice of reason? There is no reason, no justification, that hasn't been adulterated, bastardized beyond all comprehension and recognition. I am not religious. I am spiritual. It is not in a spiritually healthy being's nature to perform heinous acts of corruption against other living, breathing beings! It is not justified, no matter how many lies one swallows. No matter how many tales are told. I know that there must be others out there, like me, who have hearts and minds that are more independant, autonomous and resilient. Basically, with an intact morality and code of spiritual ethics in harmony with the cosmic concert of creation. . .
in the end. . .who needs a book, newspaper, television program, a messiah, a leper, an idiot, or a rocket scientist to distinguish between right and wrong? That should be at the core of existence, found nowhere other than in the center of the self! This is why I am not counted as a member among collections of fanatics. I am of MYSELF, not the "blind" masses. Once we start picking apart our own ideas, they often come unravelled at the seams. What say you to this? As with anyone else on this planet, I am a work in progress. Striving to survive and take care of myself, hopefully not at anyone else's expense.
No harm intended. No offense meant. But people receive things as they will. It is out of my hands. The only thing that I can do is claim full responsiblity and own my individual actions. Peace, health, light and happiness to you. All of you.

Carrie Dear Naeem,

That was a very thought-provoking review and subsequent discussion in the comments section. I think you should assign "The Kite Runner" to your students and discuss these very same points with them.

Now I have to ask you this. Do you think all ideologies, political groups and religious groups are good in their own way? Do you take sides in wars?

Although Assef is a sociopath and the only Taliban official we actually get to know in the story, in the real world I'm still not inclined to believe that all Taliban are sadists and nothing more. However, given what little I have absorbed about the Taliban's brutality, strictness and penchant for ethnic cleansing, they do seem akin to the Nazis (who of course had some motives other than pure sadism, too). Would you agree that the Nazis were bad? Evil, even?

Please enlighten me if I mischaracterized them.

I think "The Kite Runner" has done a service to the people of Afghanistan by making Americans care. Caring is a great motivation for reading up on current events overseas and taking a closer look at your own country's involvement. And yes I agree, the depiction of the Taliban as evil will be eagerly accepted by readers hoping that their government was right to fight them. But are you disagreeing with that acceptance because you have come to the conclusion that the Taliban are good? Or are you just bothered by the thought that many readers will imagine the Taliban as nothing but a gang of pure sadists?

message 13: by Naeem (last edited Dec 28, 2007 01:31PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Dear Carrie,

Thank you for your kind words. I will try to respond to your concerns, even though I feel a bit of frustration. The more I explain myself, the more it seems I have to explain myself. The French theorist Lacan quips that all communication is really miscommunication! So lets see how well we can miscommunicate this time.

On your suggestion that I should, as they say, "teach the controversy," I have this to say. One set of my leanings are what we might call "third world nationalist" or "third worldest." I see Hosseini as a traitor to that cause. Consider that this is probably the only book most people will ever read about Afghanistan. I have probably read three dozen or more books on Afghanistan in the last few years. All of them are better -- indeed much better -- than this one. The one course where a book like this one would fit would be a course on "ideological manipulation." But I have not designed that course yet.

Your next two questions are a bit more complicated. I do believe that all ideologies are socially produced to solve practical problems. To understand ideologies we are required to understand how they are produced, what problems they try to solve, and whether they do an adequate job of raising and trying to solve their issues. So "no," I do not believe that all ideologies are "good" in their own way. They all have to be studied and then assessed.

I most certainly do take sides in wars. My critique of this book as a manner of taking a side. I believe in a two step process of analysis (the two-step): first, relativize all ideologies by placing them in their context; second, assess them according to two types of criterion: internal to their own ideas, and externally to some unfixed ideal of humanity.

You then ask if I agree that the Nazis were "bad" or "evil" as a way of quizzing me on my assessment of the Taliban. I do not believe in "evil." The concept of evil is manner of ending a conversation. It is also a manner of saying "about x we have nothing more to say, now that we have agreed that x is evil." I regard this as poor thinking, poor conversation, and poor living.

Let me suppose that you are asking me if I think that the Nazis are the most bad entities I have ever seen. I think that you want to compare the Taliban to Nazis and put them in same ball park of badness. I have two responses if you are asking me this. First, Why just the Nazis and the Taliban. What about the Spanish conquestadors in the 15th and 16th century? What about the Europeans during the slave trade? What about the Belgians and their genocide in the Congo? What about the U.S. genocide committed against the "native indians" of this continent? What about the fact that sun never set on the British empire in the 19th century?

Second, I believe that the mark of good literature (fiction or non-fiction) is its capacity to implicate the writer's and the reader's actions as complicit in the great atrocities of our time. Hosseini absolves us of such complicity -- this is why his work sells. What we want is cheap absolution. Its akin to a Celiene Dion song.

My critique may seem odd since it seems as if Hosseini excels in exposing acts of complicity in his characters. Its the exposition of complicity followed by redemption that gives the novel its spiritual and psychological depth. But this is where he is the most clever and from my point of view most guilty. The US and therefore its people are complicit the destruction of Afghanistan, in the creation of the Taliban (this stands as an assertion, I know, but it is also an assertion with more than 25 years of reading and research behind it.) Here is Hosseini's trick: he gets his readers to cry, to feel his character's complicity, to participate in their redemption, but at the cost of absolving his reader of any real world complicity. Not a bad bargain for the price of a novel!

Allow me to address your last paragraph. You assume that (1) "Americans" getting to know Afghanistan is a good thing; and (2) that Hosseini's books helps us to know Afghanistan. The second assumption, frankly Carrie, is just wrong. The first one worries me. I tend to believe that where ever USAers enter they tend to destroy what they come to know. Not because they are evil, but because they believe that they can do good.

I do not believe that the Taliban are good for either Afghanistan or Pakistan. But this conclusion, I would like to think, is earned from the hard work of research -- work I am still doing. Not from the short and tearful brush with the exotic.

Of all the comments I have so far received, Carrie, yours worry me the most. They hint of an unselfconscious and uncritical tone of superior goodness. Perhaps I am over interpreting your comments. I hope I am wrong.

I do, however, love the way you pose questions.


Skylar Burris "First, under capitalism, entertainment requires that listeners..."

Under capitalism, absolutely nothing is required. All are free to consume what they will when they will and think about it as little or as much as they will. This is the beauty of capitalism, as opposed to systems where meaning is forced upon people.

The reason this book is so popular, despite its card-board cutout characters, is that is is simply a good, quick read—a good story that is very moving in places. There is a reason so many people say they "could not put it down," and that reason is an ability to tell a story.

There is a place for such quick-paced entertainment, just as there is a place for more complex philosophical works such as The Brother's Karamazov.

message 15: by Naeem (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Skylar,

I disagree with you on what capitalism requires.

I agree with you that there is a place for "entertainment" and a place for "complex philosophical works." What we are debating is the value, nature, and meaning of those places.

Your comment (for which there is also a place) strike me more as a quick venting and less an effort to converse.


Skylar Burris Pardon me for appearing to vent. It was not my intention. I'm not sure why you think capitalism, as a system, necessitates lack of consideration of literature or the production of only one kind of literature. Capitalism is a valueless system, and it merely provides a free marketplace where people may create and consume whatsoever they list. In a capitalist system, one is no less likely to ruminate upon literature than in a communist (or other economic) system. Some will produce literature for a quick buck; others will produce it for other reasons entirely. Some will think deeply on text; some will read and enjoy and move on. Consider this truly capitalist machine that is the Internet, where these sorts of literary conversations take place.

I had my problems with the book's conventionalism and with it's too convenient plot devices, but, on the whole, I found it to be a captivating story. It seemed to me, however, almost as if there were two different books competing within one frame, one of which was almost Hollywoodesque.

message 17: by Naeem (last edited Jan 07, 2008 05:18PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Skylar,

Thanks for trying to sustain the conversation.

I did not say that capitalism requires a particular type of literature. what I was trying to say was that, according to Adorno, capitalism requires a particular type of entertainment. Music, literature, film, etc. must not engage a critical response in those being entertained.

I think I agree with Adorno but these ideas are new to me and I am still thinking about them.

When you say that "capitalism is a valueless system" what kind of statement are you trying to make? Is this a belief? Is this a studied consideration? Is this a hypothesis?

I don't think I could disagree more with your statement. Some of the greatest defenders of capitalism -- Smith, Hayek, and Milton Freidman from the center right, Hegel, Marx, Bill Warren from the center left -- all do so on the basis of the VALUES which capitalism obliterates and the VALUES that capitalism endorses and promotes.

As far as I know only neo-classical economics promotes the ideology that capitalism is value-less. Any analysis of the history of capitalism or the history of its ideas would show us how much material, ideological, and political effort went into make it seem as if capitalism is value-less. This is one reason why neo-classical economics is utterly uninterested in the history of economics or in the history of economic thought.

I am more intrigued by your second comment -- on the double nature of the book. To me what you call "Hollywoodesque" comes close to the potential insight that entertainment is capitalism's opiate.


message 18: by Mystique (last edited Feb 24, 2008 09:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mystique My primary difficulty with your review is that you believe that it is the (fiction) author's responsibility to educate Americans about the Taliban, when in reality, the author's responsibility is to spin a yarn/tell a tale/entertain. Except in the cases of text books, accuracy is secondary to the tale (as we find in novels like "The DaVinci Code", et al). It is the reader's responsibility to educate himself/herself on the accuracy of any items of interest through autobiographies, text books, history books, etc. An educated reader does not use fiction for such purposes.

You approach this book as an instrument of instruction on government and while I believe that I did learn from this book about one author's fictional view of history, some language, and geography, I'd be a fool if I didn't follow up on these fictional digestibles before incorporating them into my daily life.

Only a fool would take a piece of fiction as the gospel, so I do not believe that it is Hosseini's intent, or responsibility, to educate Americans (or any other reader) on the Taliban.

Having said that, I do think that Amir's personal encounter with the Taliban falls flat, as stated in my own review, and it did leave me feeling as though I had to suspend my belief. Suspension of belief is not uncommon in fiction, so while I agree that it is a flaw in plot, I don't agree that it is a fatal-flaw.

I consider your review (and moreover, your ensuing comments) self-serving, and I believe that you have written it because you have something that you'd like to say about the Taliban and middle-east government. I think that's fine, but this forum is likely not the best forum.

I notice that you thank everyone for their kind words, and yet, not all of the words have been kind. They're just words. If you want to be accurate (which is ostensibly your aim), thank people for responding to your review. It seems that you place your own understanding of intent on the words that others write, as I believe you may have done with Hosseini. We all do this to a degree, and perhaps it is a way of starting a conversation, or perhaps it is a way of avoiding conflict, but it implies strong intent from the beginning, and part of me wonders if this is something that causes the same sort of assumptions that make you believe that Hosseini is responsible for how readers of The Kite Runner view the Taliban.

message 19: by Naeem (last edited Feb 24, 2008 12:25PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Mystique,

You start by telling me what I believe. Then you tell me what the purpose of novel writing is "in reality." How kind of you to educate me.

But I do seem to need more education. Would you be willing to say that the relationship between the writer and author occurs within a world of publishing houses, within a global political economy, within a world population where most of the world's readers and writers are located in a few choice spots? Would you care to comment on this larger context? Or does not all that not matter? Perhaps I should limit my understanding of reading and writing? Should I regard it as an exchange between the text and a pair of eyes?

You continue my education by informing me what this forum is meant for ( and not meant for.) I had not realized that this forum was as limited as you say. Nevertheless I thank you for your kindness in giving me permission to say something about the "Taliban and middle-east government."

Thanks also for you correction of my use of the word "kind." I was under the apparently mistaken impression that I could be grateful for the few kind words a review provided -- even when not all the words were kind. In the future I will further delimit my use of the word "kind." Or, as you suggest, I can just thank people for responding.

My education at your hands seems to have ended all too soon -- just when you were about to provide me with an analysis about how I use words and the proper strength of intent. Could you say a word or two more about proper intent please? If my intent is too strong, how might I limit it? Can intent ever too weak? How does one arrive at intent that is the proper strength?

I don't know how to respond to such generosity on your part. Perhaps you will allow me to close this note by saying that I thank you for responding to my review. And I look forward to further education in your hands.

message 20: by Mystique (last edited Feb 24, 2008 01:41PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mystique Your statement: "I think Hosseini caters to popular western ideas (we can think of it as supply side literature.) This leads us to believe we have understood something when, in fact, every effort has been made to make sure we avoid any intelligent questions about the Taliban."

I'm not educating you (I find that statement ironic, coming from someone who has ladeled out education liberally throughout his/her own comments), and I'm not being kind, so I will thank you not to patronize me in that way. I'm not being unkind either (to be clear). I'm being responsive to your review. Respectfully responsive, but I would not say that "kind" is the word, speaking for myself. Perhaps it's the wordsmith in me.

You're telling us that Hosseini is leading us to believe we have understood the Taliban, thus educating us about the Taliban. I disagree. He's writing a piece of fiction.

I am happy to reply to your query with about authors. The relationship between an author of fiction and a reader of fiction takes place in a world of fiction.

If you read in my statement that "this is likely not the best forum" for your personal Taliban commentary, that I am attempting to educate you in some way, I can only tell you that once again, you have misread and placed your own assumptions on me. If I'd meant to tell you what the forum is and is not for, I would have stated, "this is not the forum to state your views on the Taliban". What I said was that you seem to have personal feelings about the Taliban, and that you may gain an audience more specifically geared toward that subject elsewhere.

I seem to have struck a nerve with you, Naeem. Rather than respond to my points (or ignoring them altogether), you've become defensive, condescending, and snarky.

message 21: by Naeem (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem You have helped understand one of my limits -- limits in my ability to read text (your comments) in a generous manner.

I certainly disagree that your response is "respectful." On the contrary, the one thing I seem to understand from the tone of your words is that you seem unwilling to treat your assumptions as hypotheses -- thereby defeating the purpose of conversation.

Take for example this claim of yours: "The relationship between an author of fiction and a reader of fiction takes place in a world of fiction." Is that up for discussion?

You have indeed struck a nerve. I think it might be this one: how does one try to converse with someone who acts as if she/he is engaged in conversation but who one senses is uninterested in conversation.

In real time, confronted with such a situation, I think I walk away quietly. I am wondering why I am not doing that here. Ideas?

message 22: by Mystique (last edited Feb 24, 2008 06:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mystique Naeem,
You cannot intpret the tone of my words. They are type-written, and thereby, toneless. I told you that my initial comments on your review were intended with respect. If you choose not to believe that, we cannot have a proper discussion.

If you can choose to change your mind and decide to believe that my intial comments were intented with respect (frankly, I even altered the comments to soften them and make them MORE respectful, before you first replied), then we will be able to have a conversation. Respect is integral to our conversation.

As you have already stated, I don't need to give you permission to treat my comments as hypothesis. You have been free to do so from the beginning. You asked for an answer about how I view the relationship between a reader and an author. I answered your question, but I did not pose an hypothesis. If you want to discuss my answer; let's. Everything is up for discussion.

If I were disinterested in the conversation, I would not continue to respond.

I cannot answer your question about why you are not walking away from what you've called our "situation", nor am I certain why it is perceived as a situation, rather than as someone who disagrees with your review to some extent, as I do. I could guess, but I don't know you, so I have no idea.

Others here have challenged your review, disagreed with your statements, but none has been so direct. Each person here has said something particuarly respectful to you directly, and I did not. I addressed your review and my views on it. It causes me to wonder if this is your reason for not walking away.

Why don't we try to go about this in a different way? I asked you to respond to the points in my first commentary, but I'll be more specific this time by asking direct questions. You have asked me what the relationship is between writer and reader. I have answered that question from my own perspective, as it relates to fiction. Do you think differently?

Do you believe that accuracy is the responsibility of a writer of fiction? If I want to find Kabul, shall I use a map, or shall I take The Kite Runner? If I want to research the affects of drugs on the brain, shall I read Hunter S. Thompson's, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or shall I read a medical journal on the topic? If I want to learn to speak fluent Spanish, shall I read read a text book on the topic and take a class, or shall I read La Casa de Los Espiritos by Isabel Allende? This is what I mean by an author of fiction not being responsible for fleshing out every detail of a piece of fiction, or being responsible to the reader for its complete accuracy. It is an irresponsible reader who looks to fiction for a complete picture of any real-life detail. Perhaps I will be more successful at illustrating my point with these examples.


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

Naeem okay. i sense some space here (although if you let me interpret tone i doubt if you will allow me my use of "sense").

I think we can talk.

Part of my frustration, I think, is that I believe I have already answered the questions you ask me -- in response to others.

But I am happy to do so again -- each "again" can be a variation and thus have its own discoveries, I suppose.

That is all I have for the moment. I will get back to you soon.

Question: "Words are toneless," do you really believe that? I ask that as a real question. You described yourself as a wordsmith. I have some experience (positive and not so positive) with wordsmiths. They demand and bring precision but often deny themselves the world of spirit, sensibility, tonality, and interpretation. I am just trying to get a sense of how far back (logically) we will have to go before we find some common ground.

Mystique Hi Naeem,
I do believe that words are toneless until you know enough about the author/story to interpret them, yes. They may contain humor, or be disparaging, or another adjective, but to interpret a tone of disrespect through a type-written word, unless the words themselves are words commonly used, or strung together in a disrespectful manner - no, I do not believe that from a short, typed comment, one can discern tone. And if one does discern a disrespectful tone from a short, type-written comment, and the author returns to say that disrespect was not the intent, but rather challenge was the intent, then unless you can pinpoint words of disrespect, I believe that you owe it to that author to take him/her at his/her word.
I use this theory every day in my career. I work in Human Resources, and encounter situations where one person is hurt by the "tone" of another person's email. I ask the offended party to return to the original email and "read it with a smile". I will not insult you by asking you to read my initial comments "with a smile", because I did not intend for them to be particularly friendly. On the other hand, I did not intend for them to be disrespectful, either. Simply challenging. My initial comments to you were challenging and disagreeing, but not disrespectful.

Additionally, while I would love to discuss the book, and whether or not it is about the Taliban, I have fallen ill, and frankly, I'm not in the mood to argue. Lively debate is one thing, but pandering to someone who feels disrespected when ideas are challenged is not in the cards for me. When you asked me for an answer, I gave you my answer, and you told me that I didn't present it in a hypothetical manner, and was therefore unwilling to be challenged. To be completely honest, I thought you'd be a better debater, and a more interesting conversationalist.

As this is your review, I expect that you may like to have the last word on the topic, and I also imagine that may be why you continue to return to the topic - you asked for my ideas on that subject. Since we have fallen away from discussing the book itself, the Taliban, or even Afghanistan, I'm not interested in the conversation anymore. A conversation about the tonality of words, where the relationship between a reader and a writer lies, and whether you've been disrespected is not what I signed on for. I think you might be saying that you think we have to discuss all of these things in order to discuss the book, but I disagree.

I was more curious about why, when you initially commented about Hosseini's dead-on insight into child-psychology (on which we also disagree, me as a former student of forensic and child psychology) and other great aspects of the book to which you point in your review, you knock it down by so many stars. Simply for the dehumanization of the Taliban? I was also curious about why the topic of the Taliban was so integral to the book for you that it caused the entire story to fall apart when you discussed other aspects that you found so appealing. Why you considered the book to be about the Taliban, rather than a backdrop for the book, in much the same way that Animal Farm by George Orwell isn't about a farmer, or about farming, but a farm is the backdrop. Why you would take a book of fiction and expect accuracy from it, rather than a window into the emotional side of dealing with the difficulties of hard life. I suppose that I would have found your review easier to swallow if you'd simply said, "I didn't like this book." It seems strange to me that someone who seemingly liked so much about the book rates it so lowly for one aspect, but perhaps I've read you wrong.

Early on, my words took on tone for you and caused you to feel disrespected. I cannot apologize for that, because I've told you this was not my intent, however; I can tell you that it is a shame that it has colored our converation. It has taken a turn that I didn't expect, and that I don't find intriguing. For this reason, I ask your leave of the conversation.

I am glad that we found space for discussion, however; because it was not my intent to upset you. I believe we speak different intellectual languages. I don't understand yours, and judging by what I've intended to get across and your responses to that, you do not understand mine.

Maybe I'm just dealing with being sick and the conversation will take on more interest for me at another point. Either way, it is my hope that you will not take offense.

Please have a good day. I wish you good reading.


message 25: by Naeem (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Dear Mo'P,

Here is my attempt to answer your questions more directly. I hope we can sustain the conversation.

My method here is to quote your words and then comment.

“Do you believe that accuracy is the responsibility of a writer of fiction?”

Perhaps I can say that “accuracy” is a responsibility both of the reader and the writer; perhaps it emerges from the relationship the two establish through the medium of text.

“If I want to find Kabul, shall I use a map, or shall I take The Kite Runner?”

That depends on what you mean by “find.” If you want to physically arrive in Kabul, then a map. But if we want to know what it means to be in Kabul in a specific time, then I think a travelogue like Jason Elliot’s An Unexpected Light, or the works of anthropologists like Nancy Dupree and Louis Dupree will do nicely. I do not think that Kite Runner will give anyone a sense of what it means to be in Afghanistan. In that sense I think it is not accurate. In my view, he does not capture the feel, spirit, ambience, context or sense of the place.

“If I want to research the affects of drugs on the brain, shall I read Hunter S. Thompson's, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, or shall I read a medical journal on the topic?”

Both. You might even talk to those who have direct experience instead of relying only on text. Accuracy is, I believe, a difficult thing to get. Don’t we work our whole lives in achieving accuracy in some small part of our lives? So, by all means, as many types of sources as we can get.

“If I want to learn to speak fluent Spanish, shall I read a text book on the topic and take a class, or shall I read La Casa de Los Espiritos by Isabel Allende?”

All three and more.

“This is what I mean by an author of fiction not being responsible for fleshing out every detail of a piece of fiction, or being responsible to the reader for its complete accuracy.”

Stated like this, I cannot but agree with you. Hosseini is not responsible for what needs to be our further research. But, and here is my question, is he presenting Afghanistan in a manner that encourages readers to do more research? You will likely say, “well of course he is, and besides that is up to us.” But I want to say that because he himself seems not to be curious enough (in my view) he does not evoke curiosity in his readers. Worse, because he does not seek “accuracy” he cannot evoke that in his readers. Worse still, because he actively shuts down the doors (in the second part of the book) to where his own curiosity leads (in the first part of the book), he leads me to believe he participates in bad faith.

All the books to which I give only one star are the ones that I wanted to love, hoped to love, but felt betrayed by the relationship with the author, by a sense of loss of accuracy – when it seem so near.

“It is an irresponsible reader who looks to fiction for a complete picture of any real-life detail."

I agree. But your statement seems to me to address only half the responsibility. The writer also shares in the responsibility, no? When an author displays all the necessary skills (in my view Hosseini has most of them) and then is unable or unwilling to take readers to a kind of critical awareness, then someone for whom critical awareness or critical accuracy is important, will point this out.

Critical awareness, critical accuracy: I bet we disagree on the meaning and importance of these terms as well. I apologize for pulling them out at the end. (Sometimes one learns what one means to say only after have typed or uttered the words.)


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

anne dear Mystique and Naeem,

if I may . . .

whether or not it is the "responsibility" of an author of fiction to accurate reflect reality is almost inconsequential. my personal opinion is that each writer has their own set of values, thus their own responsibilities. do you think burroughs wrote Naked Lunch out of a sense of "responsibility"?

what is more interesting here is not what Hosseini should have done, but what he HAS done. he has created a fictitious portrait of a country with whom the USA is at war, the supposed hiding place of USA Enemy #1 (OBL), and the home of anti-democracy, anti-feminism, and utter oppression of human rights (according to popular culture and media of the past 10 years). he did not write his book in a vacuum.

the people in the USA who are reading his book, and they are many, have been literally starving for information about Afghanistan, maybe without knowing it. many have brothers, sons, cousins, friends who spilt their last blood on that land, or who wander on it still. for them, I might say for all of us, the Taliban is not a "backdrop" of Hosseini's story, rather Hosseini's story is a medium through which to "understand" the Taliban, and by extension all of Afghanistan.

I hear my mother, my brother, my relatives, friends, co-workers talk about Afghanistan and the Taliban because of this book, and I can't help but feel betrayed by Hosseini. not because I *know* he is depicting the Taliban in a monstrous way that denies their humanity (even if that humanity is despicable, we still need to see it/feel it), but even wrose, because I feel that I am being lied to for the sake of profit.


message 27: by Naeem (last edited Feb 25, 2008 06:31PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Dear Anne,

Your comments are productive and grounding for me. You've cut though our morass of words with crystalline clarity. Thanks for reminding me of where my real commitments need to be as I play verbal chess.

Not in a vacuum indeed.

Your comment also makes me think the following: part of what upsets some readers about a sociological/political/contextual critique is that it disturbs their ability to read a book in a vacuum, yes?


Jessmccoy Exactly! That's what I thought when I read the comment that "The relationship between an author of fiction and a reader of fiction takes place in a world of fiction." That seems to trivialize fiction to the point of making it irrelevant. But it also keeps you quite safe as a reader of fiction, doesn't it, when your act is inconsequential in the "real" world.

message 29: by Mystique (last edited Feb 29, 2008 03:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mystique Should I feel unsafe when I read my fiction? I had no idea that reading fiction was such a perilous proposition!

I should also add that I have written fiction and aspire to write more, so there is certainly no intent to trivialize it. I am answering the question posed to me.

message 30: by Naeem (last edited Feb 29, 2008 02:05PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Welcome back Mystique.

Jessica, since Mystique is responding to your language, please have a go. And Anne, not to mention the rest of you quiet readers, please do join in. The water is fine, if a bit perilous. Why not make this a multi voiced adventure.

To get things going. As of a few minutes ago, on Goodreads, Kite Burner has 7030 reviews. Unexpected Light by Jason Elliot has 16. Interpretations of juxtaposing these two numbers?

Mystique Dear Naeem,
I am genuinely pleased with your response. Thank you!

I am beginning to better understand your position. I see that you do still believe that accuracy is the responsibility of the author to a degree, but that you also agree that it is also the responsibility of the reader. When I think of fiction, I think of literature that is written from the mind of a person, so therein may lie our disagreement. This may also be a product of the fiction that I write. I can write about my experiences, but they may be different for you. For instance, you and I may both walk down the streets of New York. We may speak to the same people, and enter the same buildings. Afterward, we may write two completely different essays on our experience. If I fail to mention one particular street, or you fail to flesh out one particular character to the same degree, I would say that neither you nor I have been inaccurate to our own experience. Does that make sense? So, when we relate this to a fictional novel, because no one else is where the author is, I don't understand how one can claim that the author's vision/experience is inaccurate. It is the author's own experience in a world of fiction.

What I am reading in your reply that truly brings me joy is that you feel that the author has inaccurately represented Afghanistan. Whether or not this is "Hosseini's Afghanistan", I suppose we cannot really know. Whether or not it is "Naeem's Afghanistan", we can clearly know. I feel much better about your review knowing that you believe that Hosseini has misrepresented what you feel, think, and believe about Afghanistan. Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, but until now, this was not my understanding of your initial review. I hope I have understood you clearly here, and not placed words into your mouth (or pen, as the case may be).

Upon reading your initial review, I did not read you to be unimpressed by the book's portrayal of Afghanistan, the backdrop against which the entire tale is told, but the Taliban, more of a collective character in the book. The fact that you would not like the book based upon your opinion that the entire backdrop of the story does not match with what you know to be true in your own experience makes perfect sense to me.

My interpretation of your latest reply comes from your recommendations of further reading for the reader who genuinely wants to "find Afghanistan". I appreciate these recommendations, and although I must tell you that I read The Kite Runner only for its entertainment value (and not for an accurate picture of Afghanistan), I actually may read your recommendations. Through our conversations, and the comments of others, including Jessmccoy's, my interest has been piqued. Interestingly, your recommendations are written by Anthropologists and (ostensibly) autobiographers, not writers of fiction. I believe you are basically saying the same thing.

When you reply that I can use "Fear and Loathing..." and "Las Casas de Los Espiritos" in my education on drugs and Spanish, I believe you've helped me make my point. These texts would be supplemental perhaps, but not thorough enough to complete my education on these topics.

You've asked if I think that Hosseini is encouraging his readers to do further research (I think you mean on Afghanistan). You think my answer will be, "Well of course, he is," but no. I would say that he is not. My opinion of The Kite Runner is that it is a story, a tale, nothing more, nothing less.

I do understand what you opine about Hosseini not being curious enough to coax curiosity out of his readers. I will say that I have a curious nature, so I may not be the best person to address this particular flaw to you. I cannot tell you that I am not curious, however; I also cannot tell you that this does not have as much to do with our conversation as with the book. It can be difficult to tell where one curiosity ends and another begins.

I also appreciate your clarification around why you gave the book one star. I admit to being more annoyed than anyone should rightfully be by the fact that you started out with glowing comments about the book, and then gave a few negative comments and ended up at one star. Your addressing of that issue satisfies my curiosity to a great degree, and I thank you. I understand the feeling of betrayal when one spends time and energy on a book, only to find it is not nearly as satisfying as one had hoped.

Perhaps I have addressed the responsibility question earlier in this review to your satisfaction, but if not, please let me know and I will return.

Today, I feel much better than I have in days past, and I feel that our conversation is on stable footing. Thank you for YOUR KIND words. I feel that I can say that to you with all genuineness.


Mystique Hi Anne,
Thank you for your comments. I certainly would not argue with how you feel on the topic and I do agree that Hosseini missed the boat by not putting more into the Taliban (perhaps intentionally, as you've supposed). They've fallen flat, and faceless, as villians go. Frankly, it was my least-favorite part of the book. I simply can't disregard the rest of the book at its expense. The other rich relationships make it "worth it" for me, but I do hear what you're saying about being lied to for profit. When I read your post, I can see how a person would feel that - here we have a good book, and in the middle of it...perhaps we have propaganda?
Again, thank you posting your opinion. As Naeem said, it is grounding.

Mystique O'Purr

message 33: by anne (new) - rated it 1 star

anne Mystique,

In response to your statement: "So, when we relate this to a fictional novel, because no one else is where the author is, I don't understand how one can claim that the author's vision/experience is inaccurate. It is the author's own experience in a world of fiction."

In good fiction this is true. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Pilar Ternera drops five beans and they land forming a perfect star and I believe that they did. In the Unbearable Lightness of Being, Tereza complains that Tomas' hair smells like the crotches of other women and I believe that it did. Vonnegut says that Ice-9 made the whole world freeze, and I believe him.

Get it?

In good fiction, there's no "inaccuracy" because everything in the story seems to stem from this organic place. The author ALWAYS has the power to manipulate what you know/do not know in a story, but in good fiction, in my opinion, there is space to question, you can peek behind rocks, and trust that what you are seeing is what the author is seeing, whether or not what they are seeing is based in "reality."

With this book on the other hand, which I will easily call "bad" fiction, based on my own scale of good-bad, it is painfully obvious that Hosseini is aware of his power to manipulate. He is showing you, not what he sees, but what he wants you to see. Your word "propganda" is probably an apt description.

An Unexpected Light on the other hand, is a beautiful book. It is non-fiction, and so the basis of the conversation changes a little. Oops, just ran out of time to finish this thought . . .

best, anne.

message 34: by Mystique (last edited Feb 29, 2008 07:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mystique Hi Anne,

I am beginning to see that my difference of opinion on the overall goodness/badness of The Kite Runner stems from my focus, and that with which I walked away. When I walked away from this book, I did not remember Afghanistan. I did not remember the Taliban. I remembered relationship between the Amir and Hassan.

When I wrote my own review, I did briefly think back on the portrayal of the Taliban, and then I realized that it was under-developed, but I was not particularly bothered as I read the story. If, at the time that I read the story, I had been bothered, I can imagine being so annoyed that it would have affected my overall experience with the book.

To a degree, I believe you're right in that each of us has our own gauge of good vs. bad fiction. For instance, neither I, nor my friend Molly (I mention her because she is in my review of the book, and I am in hers), has any particular love for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. We both find it to be a particularly self-serving novel, and believe that Kundar wrote it primarily to bring himself glory, and to write a best-seller.

In the end, this may have to do with preferences, or it may just have to do with where our focus lies as we read each story. I wonder if I went back and read The Kite Runner 5 years from now, if I would feel the same. Conversely, if I read The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 5 years, would I like it any better?

Thank you for listening,

message 35: by Naeem (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Hi Mo’P, Jessica, and Anne,

I am offering more clarifications that I think will differentiate my take from Anne’s and probably create some distance (at least initially) from Mystique’s.

First Anne: You say, “what is more interesting here is not what Hosseini should have done, but what he HAS done.” Let me pick some nits here. Your critique of what he has done implies what he should have done – even if you don’t state the “shoulds”. Likewise, my claims about what he could and should have done emerge directly from what he has done. These seem to me to be two sides of the same coin.

Further, I am uncomfortable with this claim: “my personal opinion is that each writer has their own set of values, thus their own responsibilities.” Mystique would be happy with this claim, yes? I am not. I worry that such language of personal or individual values and responsibilities overstates our agency, our individuality, our freedom to make choices. I suspect that the opposite the case, namely, that our values and responsibilities are manifestations of collectives, of ideologies, of world views. I will get to this more directly with my response to Mystique.

Mystique: our strongest disagreement, as you predicted, is here: “When I think of fiction, I think of literature that is written from the mind of a person, so therein may lie our disagreement.” I cringe at this language and for so many reasons. I think there is mind, and I think there are persons but I am not sure that we can assign a mind per person, like we can with heads and brains. There might just be Mind (one large but internally differentiated entity) – not minds. Or individual mind might be partly individual and partly collective. So while I might agree that fiction comes from the act of a writer writing, I am not sure that the writing comes from the mind of the writer. Note that I am only placing doubt here, not negating the claim.

Therefore when you end your very clear paragraph with “It is the author's own experience in a world of fiction” – I am not sure I agree. Yes the author writes the experience but I am uncomfortable with the claim that this experience is the author’s. That remains an unchecked hypothesis, and a hypothesis about which I have doubts. Your example that we can walk down the same street, speak to the same people, enter the same buildings, and then write different things makes perfect sense to me. But in my view, what is creating the difference in our writing of that experience is not individual interpretation or individual experience but rather politics. I think it is our different politics that determine the difference in our writing; different conceptions of what the world is, what it has been, what it should be, how it works, how it ought to work. In my view, these political conceptions, not individual creativity or experience, are foundational to writing. As the pianist Keith Jarrett says, “the music flows through me, I am merely a its medium.” So also for writing: it comes from the collective unconscious in a particular way through each of us and when we make ourselves worthy, we can become its medium. When, on the other hand, we impose our “will” on it – as I believe did Hosseini -- it comes out bad.

On to whether Hosseini or I represent Afghanistan more accurately: let me start with disclosure. I was only in Afghanistan for 7 days or more during two trips in 1972 and 1973. Even though I was raised in Peshawar (technically in Pakistan but always considered the capital of “Pushtoonistan” an ideological and actual space between the two countries) I cannot say that I can “represent” Afghanistan as well as others, perhaps including Hosseini. As a part of this disclosure I have posted an autobiographical essay, “Something There: Love, War and Basketball in Afghanistan,” in the section of Goodreads labeled “my writing.”

Nevertheless, I stand by my claim to greater accuracy in representing Afghanistan. This claim comes from my politics. Such politics insist that: the partial benefits of, and the Afghan people’s partial complicity with, the Soviet occupation be taken seriously; the reasons for the emergence of the Taliban and the Afghan’s peoples partial support of the Taliban be taken seriously; the reasons for US’s initial entrapment of the Soviet Union into occupying Afghanistan and the US’s precisely calibrated support (not too little and not too much) of the Mujahideen be taken seriously; the US’s complicity in turning both Afghanistan and Pakistan towards Islamicism, towards massive weaponry, and in moving them towards drug addicted societies be taken seriously; and the continued resentment of the majority of the people in Afghanistan towards all occupiers – Soviets, Pakistanis, and USAers be taken seriously.

Hosseini leaves us blind to this political landscape – a landscape that occupies Afghanistan as centrally and as massively as do the vast mountains in this country. To miss this terrain is to describe Afghanistan’s topography and leave out its mountains. It would be as if you and I took a walk (to get back to your example, Mo’P) on September 12, 2001 and failed to write about the fallout of the previous day, including its larger context. If I wrote a story about that day without mentioning the attack on the Trade Towers, would you not suspect me of creative autism or at least of bad faith?

What we get from Hosseini is a book precisely calibrated to exploit the US reader’s need for information (so well described by Anne’s note) but without that information implicating our lives here. It is a book that wants to enter and sustain a vacuum; a vacuum defined by the US public’s desire to consume information up to, and only up to, the point where it remains comfortable. Such fine-tuning comes, I am guessing, only from a master propagandist or from twenty or thirty re-writes commanded by his US editors. But it also comes from, I am guessing, from a desire to deny attributes of Afghans, as well as to deny the holism of Afghan history and culture.

We live in a world that denies the Third World its history and culture. Hosseini and the US public participate actively in this denial. Such denial, such deception, such cultivated ignorance, borders on the criminal. In the past I have participated in such criminality (and might still be doing so); I think I understand its temptations and seductions. Another part of me, a healthier part I would like to think, wants to call out this denial and to fight it.

Counting: 8294 = reviews of Kite Runner
17 = reviews of Unexpected Light

message 36: by Naeem (last edited Mar 16, 2008 07:51AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem Friends,

check out this short essay on the rules of publishing. Kiter Burner is mentioned in paragraph 6.

Here is that para by novelists Uzma Aslam Khan:

"In Khaled Hosseini's wildly successful The Kite Runner, an Afghan-American returns to Afghanistan to save the son of his childhood servant and friend. Again, the West liberates the East, with an immigrant author suitably positioned in the West. "I was freed in America!" is a jarring flag to wave, given that the novel uses the US bombing of Afghanistan as its frame."

message 37: by anne (new) - rated it 1 star

anne Naeem,

[sigh] always you are forcing my brain to expand in ways it hadn't anticipated. for this I am often uncomfortable, but also incredibly grateful.

this morning I woke with the thought in my head that your statement "such language of personal or individual values and responsibilities overstates our agency, our individuality, our freedom to make choices" itself seems to create a context for a sort of complacent inaction.

if my thoughts and values are not truly my own, then am I in some way exempt from the consequences of them? what if I truly allow the words to "flow" through me and what comes out is a hateful diatribe? or are you saying that IF we let "it" flow through us then there's no way we could write something bad? (I don't remember what bad means.)

and also how do I reconcile it when my thoughts and feelings are in direct conflict with what I understand as the collective that surrounds me? (as they often are) is there some point at which a person transitions from MORE (affected by the experience of being an) individual to more (affected by the) collective? or vice versa?

rereading your comments this morning, I see that there are some things I missed on my first reading. I hear you saying (writing) that you suspect we are part individual and part collective. (I think you'll like this by the way:

are you saying that what we "choose" (not sure you would use that word) to see/hear/feel/experience is colored by the lens of our politick which is really another word for collective norms/dominant ideologies? or maybe that our politick is defined by our acceptance/rejection of those norms/ideologies? so much happening at a subconscious level (!)

I don't know why I am still obsessed with understanding this idea of responsibility. I guess I haven't figured it out yet.

thoughts, thoughts

message 38: by Al (new) - rated it 2 stars

Al I'm not much of a fan of this book, but after reading it, i did have some of the same questions that you pointed out about how was the taliban able to come to power. While i didn't expect to get a complete answer from this book, i agree that hosseini cheats us out of at least a partial explanation. He broaches the discussion a couple of times and then pulls away. For instance, rahm khan says that they celebrated when they first came and you cant help but keep asking why, why why, but the answer never comes.

The best thing that i can say about this book is that it opened up my curiosity and led me to reading the looming tower, which led me to more readings. I appreciate the book for giving me introducing me to things like to khyber pass and peshawar. It served as a pretty good primer for learning more about afghanistan.

After gaining more of an understanding of Afghanistan, i have to say that your review is pretty harsh. Although it fails in explaining some of the dynamics behind the the rise of taliban, i think his portrayal of afghanistan during that time and the refugee experience very authentic.

I have very mixed feelings about this book. The story is contrived, but I think that reading it is a good way of introducing someone to Afghanistan.

April This thread of commentary on this particular book has been way too cerebral. I liken the author to the protagonist in that when challenged to write about Afghanistan by his countrymen, he tells them that he is not that kind of writer. He is a storyteller, not a historian.

Granted, fiction can be very effective in educating the masses and therefore bears some sort of responsibility, but I'm under the impression that this book was written mostly with the theme of fathers and sons in mind. It is a little bit heavy handed, predictable, and contrived, but as with Amir's tale of the magic cup which turned tears into pearls, in no way do I get the sense that the author set out to do anything but tell a story that would pull at people's heart strings. In other words, the depiction of the Taliban might not have been plausible or accurate, but neither is the existence of a magic cup.

You can like or dislike the book for what it is, but I just don't think it was meant to educate or enlighten anyone on the Taliban.

That said, it did inspire me to read more books about Afghanistan, and thanks to your recommendation I have added Jason Elliot's book to my already extensive to-be-read list.

message 40: by Martin (new)

Martin Hi Naeem, I have come to trust your book reviews and recommendations. I will stay away from this one. Seems like the author has fooled a lot of people.

message 41: by Martin (new)

Martin I don't know why my comment showed up 8 times!

message 42: by Claire (last edited Sep 08, 2009 09:26PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Claire Monahan This is one of the most fascinating threads/conversations I have yet read about a book on Goodreads. Thank you all for your great contributions to this discussion.

That said, I just wanted you to agree with you, Naeem. Two years ago when I first read this book, I could not clarify what it was about it that I just didn't like. Now that time has passed, I have put it out of my mind and have not thought about it seriously since then. However, I think your review truly captures and pinpoints many of the things I found wrong with it. But from what I remember, it was the relationship of the boys that made me ultimately give the book two stars, since this I felt was the most endearing part of this work of fiction.

message 43: by Sandy (new) - rated it 1 star

Sandy Naeem wrote: "I have been asked by a few people to clarify my position on the Taliban. Here is one question from a kind critic: "would you explain how your view of The Taliban differs from what Hosseini portrays..."

Indeed. And also the Afghani communists. They are also cartoons here. The final straw came at the end when it seems the americans have fixed everything and the king will be coming back soon. WOW, The KING! That'll be perfect.

Minhazul Hoque I developed some interpretive questions that you may want to answer:
1.Why does Amir use a bear to represent his problems and how he fought them?
2.Why does Rahim Khan send Amir the letter?
3.Why does Amir fight Assef?
4.Why does Amir feel proud of fighting his personal bear and what does it now show that he can do that he wasn’t able to do before?
5.How can Amir be good again?
6.Why does the Taliban’s Interpretation of the Koran affect society and Amir?

message 45: by Naeem (last edited Nov 29, 2010 07:09PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem "It is possible to be good again."

Apparently, I am still thinking about this book. But not so much as text. More so as a commodity and as phenomena. I have an additional thought about its popularity. Or rather, a revelation -- since it has come to me so late.

Recently, I have been doing some reading on what people call the "tragic vision" or the "tragic sensibility." The sensibility involves a simultaneous commitment to: (1) the idea that it is not possible to be good; that we are born with inheritance of murder, war, genocide, empire building and that no claim of innocence can actually wipe out the taint of our inherited complicity in such tragedies; however (2) having accepted this tragedy we do not mire ourselves in it, do not become paralyzed by it, do not celebrate it. Instead, from within the space of tragedy, we still reach and strive for ideals. Somehow.

Kite Runner's phenomenal success as a commodity rests, I want to suggest, on first decoupling these two elements of the tragic sensibility and then seducing us into making two moves: First, having gestured towards the tragedy of Afghanistan, it asks us to overlook it. Second, overlooking the tragedy and especially our complicity in the tragedy (crucially) allows the reader to receive the book's central message: "it is possible to be good again." To be innocent again, to wipe out the stain of tragedy, to transform impurity into purity.

The seaming gravity of the book comes from alluding to the tragic sensibility. But if it settled there it would not sell. Thus the allusion to tragedy must be negated and replaced with a redemption.

The book works by placing itself in the tragic but then offering us easy and instant redemption. It gives as redemption without asking us to do any work for it. We merely have to turn the pages. And to turn off our critical senses. (which does require some work and this is the real cost of reading it.)

The compact between the author and his readers is sealed, not in grit or pain or anything resembling truth, but in the melancholy of false tears.

We cry not because the book accomplishes some insight about how the world works and how we might live within it. We cry because we can sense that we have bypassed the work we might do. We bypass the work necessary to make redemption feel real and become actual. We cry because we are mourning our own incapacity to do work. We say to ourselves: "oh how I wish I could be good again. But I know I cannot. But this book makes me feel for a moment that I can."

The book takes us towards the tragic and just as we are about to arrive in its mountains, it jets us above them so we can look safely down not upon a land that his been decimated by the Cold War and the hot wars now going past 30 years.

Rather than engaging a tragic sensibility, this book is part of the tragedy. The book mocks itself. And those of us who love it or consume it uncritically, do the same: We mock our better selves.

Still, its success as phenomena and as commodity gives us a pretty good read on the contemporary condition: the book and our love for it is an offering to a temple of illusions.

Let us admit that this is where we are and start from here.

message 46: by Naeem (last edited Nov 18, 2010 05:17PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Naeem The score:

Kite Runner: 27,236
An Unexpected light: 43

Marsha Well said.

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

Praj Commercialization weighs more than authenticity. The question arises of how can one break the already embedded stereotypes only to be further enhanced by marketable literature.

message 49: by Blondy (new) - added it

Blondy Not every character and group in a novel is meant to be characterized to show every angle. Every book has flat characters, and needs them or the book would become far too long, and detailed. While I agree he portrayed them as flat, I don't think it was neccesary for his book to go further into their characterization. Also many of the minor non named Taliban didn't seem as cruel as Assef. I think the way he characterized them fit with the story though I am with you and don't agree with the stereotyping.

Munema Thank goodness for this review, and others like it. Would you be very much saddened to learn that this was part of my grade 11 English curriculum, and that I was the only one in a class of 30 who thought it was rubbish?

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