Set mostly in Afghanistan from the fall of its monarchy to the Taliban regime, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a flawed but ultimately satisfying novel of betrayal and redemption that provides insight into the Afghan culture as well as powerful emotional impact. Hosseini takes on social issues such as ethnic prejudice, gender politics and adolescent bullying, and the result is a story that delivers on a grand scale by being both socially significant and intensely relatable.
The Kite Runner is narrated by Amir, a Pashtun-American man who returns to his home country to redeem himself for the betrayal of his friend, Hassan, when they were children. Much of the novel is made up of flashbacks to Amir’s childhood, growing up with his strict father and struggling to fulfill his expectations. He and Hassan, the servant’s son, grow up together, partaking in the sport of kite fighting, which pits them against the neighborhood bullies.
Amir is not a likeable character, as he is cowardly and disloyal towards Hassan. However, Hosseini succeeds in making him an effective protagonist in that he does not shy away from Amir’s flaws, nor does he go out of his way to make him sympathetic. Amir is raised within the patriarchal ideology that enforces traditional forms of masculinity, and he buckles under the pressure of winning his father’s approval. While this doesn’t excuse his actions, it provides background and motivation for them and makes him believable.
Hosseini’s primary weakness as a writer is that characterization is not his strong suit. The characters of Amir and his father are satisfactorily well-developed and absorbing. The rest, however, are one- to two-dimensional. The development of Hassan is hindered by Hosseini’s intention to portray him as the innocent victim of Amir’s treachery. The romantic subplot between Amir and a Pashtun-American girl, Soraya, is underdeveloped and poorly done. These characters are restricted by the roles they fulfill within the story, in the times when Hosseini lets plot override all else.
With The Kite Runner, Hosseini shines light on the injustices ingrained in cultures and the social constructs that shape a person’s identity and their subsequent actions. The novel also shines light on his strengths and weaknesses as a writer, and the pros far outweigh the cons. The Kite Runner is moving and memorable, and highly recommended.