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Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.

    If you want to discover Afghanistan this indeed is the book. Afghanistan always gives you that eerie feeling because of its difficult terrain and the exploitation and devastation by Taliban. In The Kite Runner the author while narrating the story takes you through the length and breadth of Afghanistan in terms of its socio-politico nuances. From an Indian perspective it even highlights the similarities between the cultures of the two countries and that makes the book even more interesting.

    ‘The Kite Runner’ is the first novel by Afghan American author Khaled Hosseni. It was published in 2003 by Riverhead Books. The price of this book in Amazon is Rs 319 for a print copy and Rs 179 for a kindle copy. It tells the story of Amir, a young boy, a Pashtun, from the Wazir Akbar Khan district of Kabul, whose closest friend is Hassan of Hazara tribe, and therefore, considered a lesser human being in Afghanistan and especially among the Pashtuns. The story is set against a backdrop of tumultuous events, from the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet military intervention, and the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime.

    Hosseini considers The Kite Runner to be a father–son story that emphasises familial aspects of the narrative, an element that he continued to use in his later works also. Themes of guilt and redemption feature prominently in the novel, with a pivotal scene depicting an act of sexual assault that happens against Hassan that Amir fails to prevent. The situation is the primary reason why Amir and Hassan’s friendship ends. The latter half of the book centers on Amir’s attempts to make amends for this mistake by rescuing Hassan’s son two decades later.

    The Kite Runner became a bestseller after being printed in paperback and was popularized in book clubs. It was a number one New York Times bestseller for over two years, with over seven million copies sold in the United States. Reviews were generally positive, though parts of the plot drew significant controversy in Afghanistan. A number of adaptations were created following publication, including a 2007 film of the same name, several stage performances, and a graphic novel. The book classifies under Historical fiction and completes in about 372 pages.

    I particularly liked the flow, the language, the construction of sentences and the analogies used in certain sentences to explain what the author intended to say in the book. The detailing is superb and so are the coincidences. The language is high-flown, verbose but to give parochial affect the author has often used local Afghan words. Upon completing the book an Indian reader will be able to make out the similarities between the cultures of India and Afganistan, even when the author touches Hindi at one place in a slightly derogatory manner.

    Khaled Hosseni worked as a medical internist at Kaiser Hospital in Mountain View, California for several years before publishing The Kite Runner. In 1999, Hosseini learned through a news report that the Taliban had banned kite flying in Afghanistan, a restriction he found particularly cruel when that was the biggest sport of Afghanistan. The news “struck a personal chord” in him, as he had grown up with the sport while living in Afghanistan. He was motivated to write a 25-page short story about two boys who fly kites in Kabul. Hosseini submitted copies to Esquire and The New Yorker, both of which rejected it. He later discovered the manuscript in his garage in March 2001 and began to expand it into a novel format at the suggestion of a friend. According to Hosseini, the narrative became “much darker” than he originally intended. His editor, Cindy Spiegel, “helped him rework the last third of his manuscript”, something she describes as relatively common for a first novel.

    The Kite Runner covers a multigenerational period and focuses on the relationship between parents and their children. Hosseini developed an interest in the theme while in the process of writing. He later divulged that he frequently came up with pieces of the plot by drawing pictures of it. For example, he did not decide to make Amir and Hassan brothers until after he had doodled it.

    Like Amir, the protagonist of the novel, Hosseini too was born in Afghanistan and left the country as a youth, not returning until 2003. Thus, he was frequently questioned about the extent of the autobiographical aspects of the book. In response, he said, “When I say some of it is me, then people look unsatisfied. The parallels are pretty obvious, but … I left a few things ambiguous because I wanted to drive the book clubs crazy.” Having left the country around the time of the Soviet invasion, he felt a certain amount of survivor’s guilt. “Whenever I read stories about Afghanistan my reaction was always tinged with guilt. A lot of my childhood friends had a very hard time. Some of our cousins died. One died in a fuel truck trying to escape Afghanistan [an incident that Hosseini fictionalizes in The Kite Runner]. The book talks about his guilt. He was one of the kids who grew up with flying kites. His father was shot.” Regardless of that, he maintains that the plot is fictional. 

    Riverhead Books published The Kite Runner, ordering an initial printing of 50,000 copies in hardback. It was released on May 29, 2003, and the paperback edition was released a year later. Hosseini took a year-long sabbatical from practicing medicine to promote the book, signing copies, speaking at various events, and raising funds for Afghan causes. Originally published in English, The Kite Runner was later translated into 42 languages for publication in 38 countries. In 2013, Riverhead released the 10th anniversary edition with a new gold-rimmed cover and a foreword by Hosseini. 


Part I Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood in Kabul

    Amir, a well-to-do Pashtun boy, and Hassan, a Hazara who is the son of Ali, Amir’s father’s servant, spend their days kite flying in the hitherto peaceful city of Kabul. Flying kites was a way to escape the horrific reality the two boys were living in. Hassan is a successful “kite runner” for Amir. He knows where the kite will land without watching it. Both boys are motherless. Amir’s mother died during childbirth, while Hassan’s mother, Sanaubar, simply abandoned him and Ali. Amir’s father is a wealthy merchant. Amir affectionately refers to him as Baba, who loves both the boys—Amir and Hassan. He makes a point of buying Hassan exactly the same things as Amir, much to Amir’s annoyance. He even pays to have Hassan’s cleft lip surgically corrected. On the other hand, Baba is often critical of Amir, considering him weak and lacking in courage, even threatening to physically punish him when he complains about Hassan. Amir finds a kinder fatherly figure in Rahim Khan, Baba’s closest friend, who understands him and supports his interest in writing. In a rare moment when Amir is sitting on Baba’s lap rather than being shooed away as a bother he asks why his father drinks alcohol which is forbidden in Islam. Baba tells him that the Mullahs are hypocrites and the only real sin is theft which takes many forms.

    Assef, an older boy with a sadistic taste for violence, mocks Amir for socializing with a Hazara, which according to him, is an inferior race whose members belong only to Hazarajat. Assef is himself is half Pashtun, having a German mother and a typical blond haired blue eyed German appearance. One day, he prepares to attack Amir with brass knuckles, but Hassan defends Amir, threatening to shoot out Assef’s eye with his slingshot. Assef backs off but swears to take revenge one day.

    One triumphant day, Amir wins the local kite fighting tournament and finally earns Baba’s praise. Hassan runs for the last cut kite, a great trophy, saying to Amir, “For you, a thousand times over.” However, after finding the kite, Hassan encounters Assef in an alleyway. Hassan refuses to give up the kite, and Assef severely beats him and buggers him. Amir witnesses the act but is too scared to intervene. He knows that if he fails to bring home the kite, Baba would be less proud of him. He feels incredibly guilty but knows his cowardice would destroy any hopes for Baba’s affections, so he keeps quiet about the incident. Afterwards, Amir maintains a distance from Hassan. His feelings of guilt prevent him from interacting with the Hassan. Hassan’s mental and physical well-being gradually begins to deteriorate.

    Amir begins to believe that life would be easier if Hassan were not around, so he plants a watch and some money under Hassan’s mattress in hopes that Baba will make him leave; Hassan falsely confesses when confronted by Baba. Although Baba believes “there is no act more wretched than stealing”, he forgives him. To Baba’s sorrow, Hassan and Ali leave anyway, because Hassan has told Ali what happened to him. Amir is freed of the daily reminder of his cowardice and betrayal, but he still lives in their shadow.

Part II

In 1979, five years later, the Soviet Union militarily intervenes in Afghanistan. Baba and Amir escape to Peshawar, Pakistan, and then to Fremont, California, where they settle in a run-down apartment. Baba begins work at a gas station. After graduating from high school, Amir takes classes at San Jose State University to develop his writing skills. Every Sunday, Baba and Amir make extra money selling used goods at a flea market in San Jose. There, Amir meets fellow refugee Soraya Taheri and her family. Baba is diagnosed with terminal cancer but is still capable of granting Amir one last favour. He asks Soraya’s father’s permission for Amir to marry her. He agrees and the two marry. Shortly thereafter Baba dies. Amir and Soraya settle down in a happy marriage, but to their sorrow, they learn that they cannot have children.

    Amir embarks on a successful career as a novelist. Fifteen years after his wedding, Amir receives a call from his father’s best friend (and his childhood father figure) Rahim Khan. Khan, who is dying, asks Amir to visit him in Peshawar. He enigmatically tells Amir, “There is a way to be good again.”

Part III

    From Rahim Khan, Amir learns that Hassan and Ali are both dead. Ali was killed by a land mine. Hassan and his wife were killed after Hassan refused to allow the Taliban to confiscate Baba and Amir’s house in Kabul. Rahim Khan further reveals that Ali was sterile and was not Hassan’s biological father. Hassan was actually the son of Sanaubar and Baba, making him Amir’s half-brother. Finally, Khan tells Amir that the reason he has called Amir to Pakistan is to ask him to rescue Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from an orphanage in Kabul.

    Amir looks for Sohrab, accompanied by Farid, an Afghan taxi driver and veteran of the war with the Soviets. They learn that a Taliban official comes to the orphanage often, brings cash, and usually takes a girl away with him. Occasionally he chooses a boy, recently Sohrab. The orphanage director tells Amir, how to find the official, and Farid secures an appointment at his home by claiming to have “personal business” with him.

    Amir meets the Taliban leader, who reveals himself as Assef. Sohrab is being kept at Assef’s house as a dancing boy. Assef agrees to relinquish him if Amir can beat him in a fight. Assef then badly beats Amir, breaking several bones, until Sohrab uses a slingshot to fire a brass ball into Assef’s left eye. Sohrab helps Amir out of the house, where he passes out and wakes up in a hospital.

    Amir tells Sohrab of his plans to take him back to America and possibly adopt him. However, American authorities demand evidence of Sohrab’s orphan status. Amir tells Sohrab that he may have to go back to the orphanage for a little while as they have encountered a problem in the adoption process, and Sohrab, terrified about returning to the orphanage, attempts suicide. Amir eventually manages to take him back to the United States. After his adoption, Sohrab refuses to interact with Amir or Soraya until Amir reminisces about Hassan and kites and shows off some of Hassan’s tricks. In the end, Sohrab only gives a lopsided smile, but Amir takes it with all his heart as he runs the kite for Sohrab, saying, “For you, a thousand times over.”

By Kamlesh Tripathi




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