Friday, May 15, 2009

Chasing Salvation: The Kite Runner

Review by Bill Doughty

Kite flying in Afghanistan is expected to draw blood. That’s one revelation in Khaled Hosseini’s masterpiece The Kite Runner.

Blood links together the main characters, so there's little surprise when, early on, the “hero” ends up with blood on his hands, both literally and metaphorically.

Will he find redemption?

All of the main characters have deep flaws; they must come to terms with their circumstances in a violent society: internal implosion, Russian occupation, Taliban corruption, war.

It’s clear that this book is on the Navy’s reading list because of its power to introduce us to Afghanistan’s culture and history, where honor and tradition in a patriarchal caste society is a double-edged sword -- grounding people but grinding them, as well.

Afghanistan is a place where respect, loyalty and honor are absolutes... depending on your point of view.

This is the story of a father/son relationship, where a young man learns what it means to have moral courage and take a stand.

The book moves from the greener, freer past of Afghanistan to the dusty oppression of today.

Here’s how a character describes the Taliban's version of Sharia (Muslim religious law) midway through the novel:

“They don’t let you be human.” He pointed to a scar above his right eye cutting a crooked path through his bushy eyebrow. “I was at a soccer game in Ghazi Stadium in 1998. Kabul against Mazar-i-Sharif, I think, and by the way the players weren’t allowed to wear shorts. Indecent exposure, I guess.” He gave a tired laugh. “Anyway, Kabul scored a goal and the man next to me cheered loudly. Suddenly this young bearded fellow who was patrolling the aisles, eighteen years old at most by the look of him, he walked up to me and struck me on the forehead with the butt of his Kalashnikov. ‘Do that again and I’ll cut out your tongue, you old donkey!’ he said.” Rahim Khan rubbed the scar with a gnarled finger “I was old enough to be his grandfather and I was sitting there, blood gushing down my face, apologizing to that son of a dog.”

The violence depicted can be excruciating, especially at the start and end of the hero’s journey of redemption. But the blood-letting is balanced by the sensual prose describing a peaceful pre-war Afghanistan:

We sat against the low cemetery wall under the shade thrown by the pomegranate tree. In another month or two, crops of scorched yellow weeds would blanket the hillside, but that year the spring showers had lasted longer than usual, nudging their way into early summer, and the grass was still green, peppered with tangles of wildflowers. Below us, Wazir Akbar Khan’s white-walled, flat-topped houses gleamed in the sunshine, the laundry hanging on clotheslines in their yards stirred by the breeze to dance like butterflies.

The Kite Runner explores the relationships between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It shows how India’s influence abounds in references to food “tandoor,” tea “chai,” and music and entertainment. We come to understand more how the cultures evolved long before some of these countries were created.

Like great literature, this novel is filled with allegory and irony, pathos and hope.

Anyone touched directly or indirectly by events in Afghanistan (which means anyone) will benefit by reading this novel and understanding some of the cultural differences -- and similarities -- presented.

I’ve already started Khaled Hosseini’s follow-up novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns . . . no surprise that it too starts with flawed characters in a melancholy world.

Will they find redemption?

(Which books do Sailors and Marines recommend for long deployments? What titles should be on Navy Exchange book shelves for military spouses? Which children's books make the best read-alouds for deployed moms and dads to record? We hope to explore each of these questions -- and more -- in the months ahead. And, there are plenty more book reviews to come. Your comments are always welcome!)

For more information about the Navy Reading Program:

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Gladwell, Navy and Diversity in San Diego

By Bill Doughty
Are good athletes, high achievers and strong leaders born that way or are they developed - or both?
The question was posed by Rear Adm. Patrick McGrath, the Commander of Naval Air Forces Reserve at this past week’s Fleet Diversity Council in San Diego.
The Council, led by Navy Capt. Ken Barrett, was titled “The Power of What If?: An Open-Minded Approach to Diversity.”
Rear Adm. McGrath shared the insights of Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, Tipping Point and Outliers.
In Outliers, Gladwell shows how an accident of birth may give an arbitrary advantage in size and experience to children who play organized hockey, an advantage that continues into their pro careers.
Those born in January, February and March, right after the age-class eligibility cutoff of Jan. 1, are naturally bigger and stronger than the younger kids, so they get more playing time and coaches’ attention.
The same circumstances occur in baseball and soccer, creating bias against kids with the “wrong” birthday, according to statistics cited in Outliers. Last December ESPN verified the stats for National Hockey Players, showing that 158 players had birthdays in Jan., Feb. and Mar., while only 97 players had birthdays in Oct., Nov. and Dec.
Gladwell is one of the authors featured in the Navy’s Reading Program. His work keeps coming up in the context of diversity and the Navy’s achievements at recruiting, retaining and rewarding its total force.
Are we moving toward a "tipping point" in understanding, accepting and implementing diversity now that the Navy has been selected as one of America’s Top 50 employers?
At the Diversity Council Rear Adm. McGrath and DiversityInc CEO Luke Visconti spoke about the business of diversity: get the best people and keep the best people... and listen to alternative voices.
As the Chief Executive Officer for DiversityInc, Mr. Visconti is a renowned lecturer who has appeared on FOX, MSNBC, CNBC and NPR. His magazine DiversityInc has a circulation of more than 200,000.
Key business points from Mr. Visconti:
-- Diversity management increases engagement; engagement drives innovation and productivity in quantifiable, measurable ways.
-- Representation, recruitment and retention are linked.
-- Communication and mentoring are critical.
Next, communication expert Dr. Steve Robbins gave a powerful talk about critical thinking as an antidote to unintentional intolerance.
A flexible, adaptable and engaged mind - one that reads! - is better able to overcome adversity and become a better leader and achiever.
Be more mindful and less mindless...
...It’s good business.
Recently, the CNO recognized the Navy’s Strategic Diversity Working Group which received the 2009 Diversity Council Honors Award. Adm. Gary Roughead said, “Your demonstrated results and commitment toward measurement, accountability, communication and education have set the standard for others to follow.”
The group met in San Diego Apr. 29 after the Fleet Diversity Council, where they planned community outreach events and conducted other Navy Diversity business.

It was a busy week for Navy diversity professionals, many of whom attended the 29th annual professional development and training symposium of the Association of Naval Services Officers (ANSO) nearby.

Lt. Lori Campbell, of Navy Recruiting District San Diego, speaks with members of the La Habra High School Navy Junior ROTC program at ANSO's Youth Outreach Program Apr. 28, 2009. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Smart)

Once again, books were part of the discussion. Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsmen were treated to a keynote speech by Joachim de Posada, author of Don’t Eat the Marshmallow...Yet! -The Secret to Sweet Success in Work and Life.
Attendees also received a copy of Juan Gonzalez’s Harvest of Empire - A History of Latinos in America, which the New York Times called, “A serious, significant contribution to understanding who the Hispanics of the United States are and where they come from.”
Some key points from Dr. de Posada’s book and motivational talk:
-- “Each morning in Africa a gazelle wakes up and knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, and each morning a lion wakes up knowing it must run faster than the slowest gazelle.” But, applied to competition and cooperation between countries, “Technology has made this world a level playing field.”

Community Outreach: Cmdr. Yvette Davids, of the Association of Naval Services Officers, presents a certificate of commendation to Cadet Seaman Emmarow Taledo, a freshman in the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps , at Junipero Serra High School for maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. (Photo by MC2 Daniel Taylor)
-- “If people feel passion for what they do, they will do well.”
-- Successful people are willing to delay gratification (“think long term”), keep promises, assume responsibility/accountability and “do what unsuccessful people are unwilling to do.”
-- Teamwork: “None of us is worth more than the sum of all of us.”
Of course, there was a lot more happening at ANSO all week long, with participation by numerous flag officers, senior and junior officers and enlisted leaders and people from all three naval services. Vice Adm. D.C. Curtis, Commander, Naval Surface Forces gave a passionate talk about Maritime Strategy and leadership empowerment at a luncheon on Apr. 30.

A big part of ANSO's agenda was reaching out to the community, including a youth outreach program with a Coast Guard vertical delivery demonstration, a Marine Corps weapons booth and K-9 (working dog) demonstration, Navy SEALs demonstration and Navy SPAWAR static display.
Kids from different schools and organizations around San Diego County grab Navy gear at the youth outreach program during ANSO Apr. 28, 2009. (Photo by MC3(SW/AW) David Smart)
For more information about ANSO and to learn how to join, visit their website at
Diversity Update...
We just had to share this great photo from the Naval Service Training Command, Navy City Outreach, Chicago; the photo was taken June 10 at the Rickover Naval Academy commencement :
Valedictorian and Cadet Commander Jaqueline Duarte is overcome with emotion during her remarks to the first graduating class of the Rickover Naval Academy in Chicago. Mrs. Eleanor Rickover walked from her seat on stage to provide Duarte with a much needed hug and words of encouragement. Duarte will be leaving for Plebe Summer at the U.S. Naval Academy in 19 days. (Photo by Lt. Jeffrey S. Gray.)
We’ve been mining from the diversity vein since the beginning of this blog and have seen how the Navy Reading Program relates... Next we’ll turn the page to The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. An awesome read.
What's on your book shelf?