1 January 2006 - Sunday

The Kite Runner

It's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.

Khaled Hosseini's novel The Kite Runner opens in Kabul in the years before the Soviet invasion. It ends in California in early 2002, shortly after the American invasion. The tribulations of Afghanistan serve mainly as a backdrop to the protagonist's search for individual absolution, but they lend his quest a broader symbolic meaning.

Amir and his lower-caste best friend Hassan grow up in Kabul in the 1970s. Amir is affluent; Hassan is a hereditary servant. When Amir betrays his devoted companion, he breaks families apart. The Soviet occupation soon drives Amir to the United States. Years pass.

In the summer of 2001, a telephone call summons Amir back to his country. The caller offers "a way to be good again." Amir races to rescue a remnant of his past. In the process, he stumbles into an old and powerful enemy.

Atonement is the central theme of the novel. Amir discovers his need for restoration -- discovers that forgiveness comes through his courage to face his memories, but also that only God can deliver him from his guilt. The protagonist must act, reverse his moral cowardice, yet in the end he lacks the power to rescue himself. Only God can grant Amir the final measure of peace.

The novel, I think, is an apologetic for Islam. Amir's search for redemption parallels not only the wars of his homeland but also the pain of Muslims who have seen their faith implicated in evil. The author mocks self-righteous, legalistic, and violent Muslims throughout the novel, but eventually forces his agnostic protagonist to his knees: "There is a God, there has to be .... I pray. I pray that my sins have not caught up with me the way I'd always feared they would."

The novel is excellent, heartrending work. It brought me nearly to tears more than once. Occasionally its symbolism is a little predictable, and the chief villain fits a familiar literary type, but these are easily forgiven as elements of an effective magical realism.

| Posted by Wilson at 16:29 Central | TrackBack
| Report submitted to the Humanities Desk