Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Kite Runner - Audio Book Review

Amir and Hasan are two young boys growing up in an Afghanistan where tradition rules, gardens bloom and boys play with kites.
Amir's childhood is idyllic, and his relationship with Hasan is set up very similarly to the age old story of The Prince and the Pauper.  Hasan's father is a servant in Amir's household which is run by Amir's father, Baba.  Therefore, Hasan and Amir grow up together as brothers, even though they are separated by two distinct classes.

Amir's father Baba is a man's man.  He's a businessman who also helps look after his community; he is wealthy, well respected and people know that they can count on him.  Amir is nothing like his father, prefering books over being outside, playing sports, etc.  Those who knew Amir's mother, who died while giving birth to him, say that Amir is more like her than Baba.
Amir dreams of being a writer.

Amir and Baba clash constantly, and Amir grows jealous of Baba's attention shown toward Hasan. 
This jealousy begins to drive a wedge between Hasan and Amir with Amir acting at times like a spoiled brat and Hasan accepting Amir's treatment as a consequence of his position and the way things are supposed to be. 
One day after school Amir and Hasan meet up with a known crowd of bullies, and Hasan suffers a lifechanging horror while Amir simply watches.  Amir eventually flees the scene and pretends it never happened.
Thus began the downfall of Amir and Hasan's relationship.

Even after the horrific event, Hasan's love for Amir is still as complete as ever.  Amir, however, is still eaten up with jealousy, but now also overcome with grief and guilt.  Yet, Amir still takes his emotions out on Hasan.
All of their lives are interrupted by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and life as they know it ceases to exist.  By the time the Taliban takes control, they must flee their homeland in order to survive. 
Through a clandestine effort of great and sometimes unbelievable difficulty Baba and Amir are able to escape in the middle of the night with nothing but the clothes on their backs to California where they begin to build some semblance of a life, albeit nowhere near the one they had in pre war Afghanistan.

In California Baba and Amir continue to wrestle with their relationship but are finally able to find a comfort zone of sorts with one another while they both adjust to their new lives in America.  They find a home within a community of other Afghan refugees with the knowledge that the land of their birth is gone forever.  Ironically, it is here that Amir is finally able to come to terms with his culture, the traditional roles embraced so by the older generations, including his father, while at the same time forging ahead with his own ideas and goals.

Amir's mature acceptance of his new life, however, also keeps him from true happiness because he cannot forget Hasan and the events surrounding their disintegrated friendship.  Hasan was forced to remain in Afghanistan, and communication between those who escaped and those who remained is non-existent.  Amir begins a quest to find Hasan and right the wrongs of their childhood.   
It is through this frustrating and exhausting quest that Amir learns the secrets of his family including Hasan and his father's connection.

My Thoughts:
It has been difficult for me to review The Kite Runner...I actually finished it over a month ago.  I couldn't write anything about it at first.  I needed to just let it work its way through every pore of my brain (do brains have pores?). ;)

There were many times in the audio that I wanted to just grab Amir by the shoulders and scream at him to GROW UP!!! and think of someone besides himself. The horror that occurs shocked me; I didn't expect it, nor was I prepared emotionally for it...especially Amir's response; he literally and symbolically deserted Hasan.  I had a very difficult time liking Amir after this event.

The descriptions of pre-war Afghanistan surprised me.  I'm embarrassed to admit that.  As an American it is difficult to think of Afghanistan in any other way besides the way the media has portrayed it.  After the events of September 11, Afghanistan became a place of "bad people" and still is for many Americans.  Tragedy has a way of swaying perspective.
I am an intelligent person.  I should know better.  I've spent a great deal of my life encouraging students to keep their eyes open and to always remember there are more sides to the story than just the one you think you see.
The teacher learned a lesson this time.
The descriptions of Soviet controlled Afghanistan and especially Taliban controlled Afghanistan disturbed me as much as scenes I've read describing The Holocaust.  I guess I'm just naive enough to keep hoping that this kind of evil does not exist.
Unfortunately, my adult brain knows that it does.

Another very interesting aspect of reading The Kite Runner is how I will now teach the excerpt in our Comp I reader, simply called Baba and Me.
I'm ashamed to admit that I have been teaching Baba and Me for quite some time without having read the novel. 
As an academic who has been trained to think about these things way too much, I now wonder if we are really doing our students any favors by throwing so many snippets of all of these works of art at them.  Would it not be better to give them a complete picture of fewer selections rather than a cursory read (or not) of as many as we can fit in a semester??
Most of my students hate Baba and Me.
The few who have actually read the novel, however, love it.
Go figure.
I'll no doubt have to blog more about this later, whether or not this is an academic blog ;)
My read of The Kite Runner also took place within an audiobook format.  The author as narrator kept me involved in the story...his language, the dialect, the Afghan words spoken with beauty and flowing from the mouth of someone who is obviously a lover of language, his language, is an experience in itself.  Wow!

The ending of The Kite Runner is perfect...and realistic...the ending is not simple and all is not "happily ever after," but if it had been, the story would have then become unrealistic. In life most of the time there is no way to just say "I'm sorry" and fix all the wrongs of the past. We also are changed by events that occur outside our control.   While we get to go on with our lives, we take the consequences of past choices and events with us forever. Hopefully, we learn from those events and they help us to become who we eventually are. I believe this is what finally happened with Amir.

The Kite Runner will go down in history as being one of those books that changed my perspective and opened my eyes.  If the definition of a literary work includes those texts that permeate every inch of a person and make the reader go through an entire gamut of emotion while reading...and then change that person's life, perspective, existence in the process...then this is one of those books.

P.S. I have not and will not see this movie.  I want to keep the story just as it is in my head :)
I'm sorta silly that way ;)


  1. I'm with you on many of your thoughts on this one ... it was a powerful book (and I listened to it on audio too). Also agree with you about the movie version. I rarely watch movies that have been books, but this is one that I'd like to just preserve the literary version in my mind.

  2. What a great review! I've heard of this book, but don't seem to get an opportunity to just borrow it from the library and read it. My mom read it, however, and loved it. She said something similar to what you said: that it was such a book that totally opened her eyes and made her see things differently. I guess there is a beauty to Afghanistan, we just fail to see it because of the impact of 9/11.

  3. This is one of my favorite books too, and I never have seen the movie. I'm not so much opposed to the idea as just reluctant. I hate to be disappointed by a movie after I've loved the book.

    I think I liked Hosseini's next book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, even better than the Kite Runner. The main characters in it are women, and I really felt like I learned a lot about conditions for women under the Taliban. I think I have it on CD if you want to borrow it. The audio book is beautifully done.

  4. Melissa, if I really enjoy a book, I do not usually watch the movie. It's not a rule for me or anything, but a bad movie can actually ruin a book for me. Sometimes it doesn't matter one way or the other...but in this case, it matters a lot. :)

    Irena, read this book or listen to the audio. You won't be the same.

    Sharon, I'd love to borrow the audio version of A Thousand Splendid Suns. I have it on my TBR list but I kinda did want to listen to it, especially since Hosseini is the reader.

  5. What a thoughtful review. I loved this book as well for how it opened my eyes to another way of life. I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns even more though. I think it would be wonderful to listen to the author narrate the story. May have to check it out from the library just to experience that. I refused the movie also.

  6. I only began reading this novel recently. It was all over the bestseller lists in 2006 - but I only picked it up recently because it was one of the texts my son had to study. I grew up in India, where kite-flying is very popular in summer.

  7. I also listened to the audio book and loved the book, but the story was so painful. (The movie was good, IMO, but not as good as the book itself. I also enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is about time for another book by this author.

  8. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I'm now following yours :)

    I have a copy of this book reserved at my local library and after reading your review, I can't wait to get my hands on it!

    Sam at Tiny Library

  9. I read this as part of my book club and we all had a hard time discussing it so soon after reading it. It also took us awhile to process the story. There was just so much there.

    I agree too about seeing the movie. There are several movies from books I love I won't see (The Time Traveler's Wife is another off the top of my head). I don't know if they will change the was I feel about the book. But I think they'll change the vision of the book in my head and I don't want to lose that.

    Thanks for reminding me how much this book meant to me.

  10. One of my favorite books! We also read it as part of a book club! I've never seen the movie because I liked the book too much :)

  11. I'm mad at myself that I have yet to read this book -- this is a wonderful and open, honest review, well done! Thanks for putting this back on my "must pick it up NOW" list!

  12. I love this book too much and I can't stop crying when reading this book. I put this book as my object of my thesis for my bachelor degree. I analyzed the psychoanalysis on Amir character. Well, I'm from Indonesia so pardon me if my english not good.