I bought this book over a year ago, in anticipation of its being a selection for my book club, but the member who was going to pick it ended up dropping out, and I just wasn't motivated to pick it up until another member of the club chose it for our meeting this week.
Despite the fact that everyone I know who has read this book loved it, I've been rather ambivalent about reading it myself, and I'm not sure why. All I really knew was that the novel was about two boys and Afghanistan, and I think I may have been expecting something more "warlike," for want of a better term, and that's really not my thing.
Now that I know better, I am a little sorry I waited so long to read this but I'm glad I finally have. The Kite Runner is about two boys, and follows one of them into adulthood. It's also about family and community, religion and politics, theft and lies. And it is about Afghanistan, a country that's not quite as much in the public consciousness now as it was when this was originally published in 2003 - we've been a bit distracted by other countries in that part of the world - but a place that shapes these characters profoundly. Oh, and the title is explained pretty early in the story.
Amir and Hassan grew up together in Kabul in the 1970's - close in age, both motherless, with Hassan and his father as servants in the home of Amir and his father, but treated as part of the family. This all changes when the boys are twelve, and Amir's inaction upon witnessing a terrible incident involving Hassan creates guilt and conflict that separates the "family." Further separation occurs several years later, when Amir and Baba escape Afghanistan, now occupied by Soviet soldiers, and start a new life in California. Amir marries and becomes a writer but is called back to Afghanistan by an old family friend, who reveals a long-kept secret and sends Amir on a rescue mission back to his native country, now under the control of the Taliban.
Amir is a very human and conflicted character, whose struggles with his feelings of unworthiness and cowardice are relatable. The story is full of drama and well-told. Afghanistan, both before and after its years in turmoil, is vividly drawn and a character in its own right. Themes of self-knowledge, integrity, justice, and redemption underlie the story.
I understand why this book has been so highly regarded by critics and readers alike. I read so much that sometimes things don't stick with me for very long (which is actually one of the reasons I started this blog), but I don't think I'll forget The Kite Runner any time soon. I don't think I can honestly say I loved it, but I was engaged, intrigued, and moved, and I'm not sure a novel can do much better than that.