What can I say about Kite Runner that has not already been said. It is a beautiful book; there can be no two opinions about that. The story is about two friends Amir and Hassan bought up in turbulent Afghanistan. Amir is a son of a rich businessman and Hassan in the son for his servant. It is a simple and a sensitive story of the relationship between these two boys.
There are many layers to the story. There is Amir’s battle with his cowardice, his confusion at the double standards of the society he lives, his struggle to be a good son and his guilt at being a bad friend. Then there is a country deserted by the world, caught in a time warp and struggling with its grim realities. But to me, more then anything else, The Kite Runner is about two strong emotions. Emotions that are so universal, that every adult can relate to them. I wonder if this is the secret of its appeal. Maybe each of us is left with a feeling of having been there.
First, it is about nostalgia. All of us have experienced the longing for things of the past. Although they may not have been perfect there is something absolutely magical about them. But can life ever remain the same. They say you can’t step into the same river twice. I think it is true about a place too. Everyday something changes. Slowly and relentlessly, the goddess of time destroys the old and replaces it with new. That’s why, even if we were to go back to our old school or our childhood haunts, they don’t feel the same. The magic seems to have gone. That’s why we can understand Amir’s longing for his kites even as he enjoys the security of an American home. When he returns to Kabul and feels shock at the way it has changed, you can experience it too. Not as a third person empathizing with a stranger’s tragedy, but as someone who has been there. Who has felt it, may be not in such a dramatic fashion, but felt it all the same. Felt it when you saw your granma’s home being torn down to make way for an apartment, when you saw a happy friend of your childhood broken by hardships in life, when you heard about the death of your favorite teacher….
Another predominant emotion in The Kite Runner, is guilt. That is one feeling that Amir lives with throughout his life. He watches his friend being raped by bullies and does not go to help. He finds it impossible to live with this guilt. He just wants to banish the object of his guilt from his life. He falsely accuses Hassan of stealing money and sends him out of his house. It gave me a new insight into the nature of meanness. What prompts people to me mean, cruel, unkind? Maybe it springs from unhappiness, an underlying sense of inadequacy. Can a truly happy person ever be cruel?
For the rest of his life Amir is haunted by guilt. It makes him a better person, a more accepting person. He marries a lady, who had eloped with another man and returned in dishonor. For an Afghan, it is a huge sacrifice. He also realizes that his father, whom he thought was infallible, had committed what was according to him, the greatest sin. It makes Amir wonder if that’s what made his father the person he was – a great human being, capable for huge generosity and courage. Maybe that’s why all religions of the world place so much emphasis on sin. Perhaps, the awareness of our fallibility makes us better human beings.
When Amir returns home with the son of his friend, Hassan, you realize that finally Amir has found his freedom. What can be more liberating then a heart without burden? In the last lines of the book, as he runs after the kite, you feel that Amir is well on his way to re-discovering the lost magic of his childhood.
Footnote: I read this book last weekend. Coincidentally, two of my friends have read the book around the same time and written about it in their blog. You can read Ganesh’s great review here and Sarawathi’s take on how the book influenced her, here.