Having read A Thousand Splendid Suns I thought I better take the opportunity to read the best-selling (over 21 million copies sold worldwide according to the cover) and the first of Hosseini’s books. It has been made into a film (as many books have these days), and I haven’t seen it, but I endeavour to get around to it at some stage. Both books were set in Afghanistan, though in The Kite Runner we move to America, but both cover very similar time periods, with the various upheavals of Afghanistan playing a large role in the novel. I personally preferred A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I don’t think I would want to read several more books of this sort. But there’s no denying that it is a good book, but it’s not something I would want to reread. I thought that it was the themes which made the book stand out.
The book is focused on Amir, who happens to have a pretty good life in Afghanistan, they even have what I guess is ‘hired help’, a Hazara father and his son, the father grew up with Amir’s own father. The story is really about father and sons, and in fact, there’s very few female characters at all. Amir’s mother died in childbirth, and Hassan’s, the Hazara boy, mother ran away. So already that makes quite a difference compared to Splendid Suns in that we are seeing things from a male perspective.
The story has strong themes about secrets, forgiveness and the relationship between a father and son. Amir is very much motivated by trying to win his father’s affection and acknowledgement of him as an equal. So he tries to impress him, and succeeds at one point, but he then fails Babi in the worst way possible.
There were some very serious themes here, with rape, homosexuality, stoning for crimes and violence, with some occurring to children. All of this makes the book quite depressing, it certainly isn’t a happy book. It really looks at our responsibility for our action, or inaction, and what impact that can have on our lives. For Amir, his inaction changed his life dramatically, and it was a challenge for him to ever forgive himself. I think it’s powerful because in some way each of us can relate to having regrets, in this case it’s just a pretty big regret. And it questions what we would do in that situation, would we be frozen with inaction as well? What could you do when you’re only a child?
Spoilers from here on: There came to be a sort of ‘twist’ in the book, which I picked up on very early, so wasn’t surprised about. It was supposed to be the family’s secret, and helps explain a lot of Amir’s father’s behaviour. It certainly heightens some of the emotional impact, but less so since it was pretty obvious in my view. The twist is revealed when Amir returns to Afghanistan at the call of his father’s friend, Rahim Kahn, who turns out to be dying. He reveals that Hassan is in fact Amir’s half brother, which is why Baba always gave Amir presents, and was so sad to see him go. Amir is faced now with the news that Hassan has a son, and he is still in Afghanistan, and he should be the one to go and get him. I found it unthinkable that at first he doesn’t even think to go and get him out of Afghanistan, and then he is set on giving him away. Hello, this is your nephew, who’s parents were killed in front of him, and you damn well owe Hassan for all the shit you gave him.
And it comes to the end and is so depressing. Hassan’s child just doesn’t get a break, and he shuts down after trying to commit suicide to stop going to another orphanage. Even the last scene isn’t overly joyous, as it harks back to earlier in the book and the symbolism of the kite running.
Overall, I did like the book. I thought it was very powerful and insightful, and is definitely a book that would create discussion (which it obvious did). But it’s not really the sort of book that I really like to read, I rather something more enjoyable than overly depressing, and there wasn’t much joy here. That doesn’t make it bad at all, and certainly doesn’t diminish my appreciation of the book. It’s a book that should be read, should be experienced, and should be thought about.