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Title: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Year: 2003

Can a society be better understood by reading novels about it? Can tremendous changes in a society be more easily grasped from reading stories about them, even if the storied might be fictive? Afghanistan is a country we have lots of facts about, constantly supplied by international media and usually focused on air strikes and suicide bombers, but we very seldom hear about the people in other terms than a number telling us how many were wounded, how many died. It is my guess that the popularity of the Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini at least partly draws from this gaping hole in most people knowledge about the world.

The book tells the story of Amir, the son of the well-to-do business man in the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul. In general, he has a happy childhood, although he constantly tried to prove himself to his father, who is displeased with having a son who seems to be more and more a man of words rather than actions. Amir also has a complicated relationship to Hassan, the son of his father’s servant, who on the one hand is his best and perhaps only friend, but is also, in a strange way, a rival in the struggle to earn recognition from Amir’s father.

Things start deteriorating very fast, however, both in society as a whole when the Taliban take control, and in the personal life of Amir as he has to admit at least to himself the cowardly nature of his being; even though Hassan had stood up many times for his friends, Amir was unable to repay the debt once it was actually needed and Hassan had to pay for it. Is he a true friend or is he a servant? The relationship between these two persons is, in my view, the most important part of the Kite Runner.

Khaled Hosseini has managed to produce a fairly well-written and succinct debut novel and it feels much like reading an experienced author. He is good at not being to long-winded, readily skips passages that might have been dull to move on to the interesting bits and the core themes of the book. The language is sometimes beautiful, but is quite far from being brilliant. The reason to read this book is the portrayal of the main character and his relationship to the surrounding world, especially to Hassan. Focusing only on the story would lead to a somewhat shattered plot with too many small episodes, but I don’t consider that to be a big problem.

So, did I learn anything about Afghanistan? Perhaps a little bit, it provided some understanding about a very small part, but what things I did know before were more or less reinforced. Sometimes the picture I get seems to be too oversimplified, especially the portrayal of the Taliban as being manifestations of pure evil. But even if the window to Afghanistan is tinted and perhaps also narrow, the Kite Runner is still an interesting tale about Amir and his life. It’s not spectacular, but it’s compelling and fascinating most of the time. For that, I award four snails to this novel by Khaled Hosseini.

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