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:


Tom Copeland said...

Note that "The Kite Runner" is also on the Coast Guard reading list!

Christine - PAO reservist deployed to Afghanistan said...

I don't know if these are universal, but before I left, people recommended "Lone Survivor," which is Marcus Luttrell's account of the battle that killed the rest of his Seal team in the mountains of Afghanistan. Also recommended were A Thousand Splendid Suns and Three Cups of Tea. I'll confess that I've only gotten to Lone Survivor myself (I read The Kite Runner awhile back), but the others are on my list.

I'm a huge reader -- my Kindle is my prized possession here, right behind my laptop. I don't watch a lot of television, and I haven't even looked at the 300gb of movies I brought with me. Instead, I read a lot of fluff -- pure escapist nonsense. Some of it with more literary merit than others. I do like to read the books that I learn something from, but it's also important to have the fun reads.

haoleboy96789 said...

Your comment wrapped up Kite Runner like the crib notes of a good book report. I like the way that you tied up the analogies for me. The book was riveting for me on two personal paths - spiritual and relational. It was interesting to reflect on my adherence to and divergence from my religious beliefs. Seeing the son attempting to be himself and please his father, whom he respected immensely brought me to reflecting on my relationship with my father, growing up, and my relationship with my son.
The Thousand Splendid Suns is even more poignant regarding the place of women in Afghan society.
Both books are must reads to get prepared for a deployment here. The service member must remember though that people are individuals. Although there is societal adherence to Islam, there is some variation as to how conforming people are just as in the U.S. people profess one religion or another, but live varying degrees of it.
Three Cups of Tea is recommended for those deploying too. It is much more positive than the other books mentioned here. Spouses and loved ones remaining behind should read Three Cups so that they have something positive to contemplate in the absence of their service member.
Dennis M. Hansen

Cabrinha Kiteboard said...

I have read this novel and enjoyed it a lot, I still have it with me, my friends often like reading the novel, it's indeed a great and very well written novel, anybody would want to read it!