The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
A rich boy grows up with a terrible sense of shame for a childhood act of cowardly betrayal, and only decades later redeems himself in a punishing campaign requiring great courage. This is the story thread for a book that is really about the traumas of Afghanistan, in its several stages: from the almost feudal stability under the king (overthrown in 1973), when the narrator's widowed merchant father and others in the dominant Pashtun ethnic group could live very comfortably at the expense of the despised Hazara servant caste, to the Communist government where the push for rapid reforms and the rise to power of other ethnic groups (including Hazara) roused violent resistance, to the triumph of the Taliban, celebrated as liberators but then quickly become far worse tyrants than any of their predecessors. The descriptions of how such a rapid chain of disasters affected the urban, educated Kabul élite are vivid and memorable. Also closely observed and moving is their struggles to cope with their sudden plunge of status as exiles in California, the narrator's once-powerful father as a gas station attendant, an ex-general living on his pride and the dole, and both of them trying to sell junk in a weekend market. All this makes the book worth reading — though the story is too melodramatically neat, every punishment exactly fitting the crime. There's also a movie, which is much weaker and insipid, because it leaves out all that makes the book's episodes scary in order to focus on the thin story of redemption.
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The book should be a stimulus to find out more of what's behind the current disasters of that country. Hosseini does not pretend to any political acuity, that is, he does not attempt to evaluate or explain these huge events, but he may lead the reader to try to find out more. The conditions of the Hazara people , for example, have been a major part of the nation's drama but little discussed outside the country — or even among Afghans, because it's a source of shame. We really need to re-examine the Communist period, which began to accomplish many good things, especially in reforming ethnic relations and opening opportunities to women, before the resistance by patriarchal tribal leaders, abetted by the U.S., escalated the violence and the Soviet army invaded with all the usual clumsiness of invaders, causing the violence to escalate even more, and so on. There were some missed chances for creating a freer society.