Sunday, 17 December 2006

Book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Lowdown: The rise and fall and rise of an Afghan child who is not that dissimilar to Darth Vader.
The Kite Runner is one of those books that really makes you want to read them quickly because it's so intriguing and you just need to know what happens next. Anyone who read The Da Vinci Code will know what I'm talking about here.
The book tells the story of a kid growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the seventies. His father is rich, and his best friend is the similarly aged son of their servant. Together they have lots of fond childhood memories, especially memories to do with flying kites. However, the hero kid is always jealous for his father's love, feeling the servant's kid gets too much of it. And while the servant's kid is always loyal to the hero the reverse does not apply, and when put to the test the hero betrays him in a very tragic way. The rest of the book follows the hero as he tries to redeem himself, while in the background we get to hear of all the calamities that befell Afghanistan as the story unfolds all the way to post 11/9 Afghanistan.
To paraphrase on Beavis & Butt-Head, those great oracles of book reviews, The Kite Runner is full of ism. Mainly symbolism and analogies, with the events taking place on the hero's soul mirroring what takes place over Afghanistan and vice versa. Together with the enticing plot, and the fact it is very well written (Or is it very well translated? After all, I read the Hebrew version) the book is quite a pleasure to read.
That said, readers of this blog will know that a book like The Kite Runner is not my usual cup of book material. I would not, under normal circumstances, read a book like this; I did it because my father bought it to me as a gift. The fact he kept nagging me to read it helped, too. I guess what I'm trying to start saying here is that despite it being an exciting read, I cannot endorse the book as a truly good book. Allow me to elaborate.
I'll start with something that will probably annoy most of you. During the redemption process the hero goes through, he goes through a process that a person living in a mostly Christian country would refer to as "finding Jesus" (or, in the hero's case, finding Muhammad). I know people tend to fall down such traps when times are hard - as in, believe in things that don't exist in order to make life's ordeal easier to accept - but I cannot be said to enjoy reading about it.
However, if that was the only problem with the book, I wouldn't have even mentioned it. The main problems are to do with its similarities the book has to that notorious book I've already mentioned, The Da Vinci Code. For a start, both books are written like a cinematic script, flashbacks included; I think there are better ways to do things in a book than to write according to a cinematic formula, thus accepting the limitations of the language of cinema in a format that does not need to be so limited.
Second, both books don't have much in them that we haven't read about before. The Da Vinci Code might have excited people with so called "revelations" about the true nature of Jesus (most of which are fictitious bullshit), but as stories go it has nothing we haven't read about before. The same applies to The Kite Runner: this story of brotherly jealousy, betrayal and then redemption is nothing new; we've read about it in books and seen it in the cinemas many a time, with the best example being the story of one Darth Vader. While there is no "Luke, I am your father" scene in the book, it comes pretty close to that. I would argue the only place where the film breaks new ground is in telling the story of Afghanistan, a land we all prefer to forget.
The third negative is the most serious one: just like The Da Vinci Code, the book is all so predictable. If a character is saying something or holding something in the beginning, you know it would be referenced again later on. Nothing the book throws at the reader can really said to be surprising, and it's not because the book doesn't attempt to surprise and thrill its reader; it's all to do with its lack of originality.
The book concludes with an optimistic view that Afghanistan's fate might now change for the better with the American led invasion and a newly elected president. I'm wondering what Hosseini makes of it now, some four years after he wrote the book; I suspect he would not be the careful optimist he was when the book was first published.
Overall: It's a question of how you would rate the book being well written and thrilling on one hand to it being less than original and predictable on the other. Personally, I would give it a 3.5 star rating, but I would also recommend it overall as a good read regardless of ratings.

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