Two books about Afghanistan and Pakistan in three months? If I'm not careful, I'm actually going to learn something about that troubled and enigmatic part of the world. Recently I asked a friend what she thought of The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, and without hesitation she blurted out, "It's horrible!" She immediately qualified that statement, saying that while the graphic violence was difficult to deal with, it was very moving and is the kind of book that stays with you for years to come.
Now that I've read it, I know why her response was so mixed. It is horrible. But not in a gratuitous kind of way that makes you doubt the author's humanity. In fact, it is a very human book dealing with themes of filial love, compassion, redemption, forgiveness, cultural identity, and how the horrors of war strip away humanity and leave both the aggressors and the victims living like animals.
Much of the story is told as a flashback. Amir is a wealthy Afghan boy who has a confused friendship with a servant boy of lesser ethnic status, Hassan. When Amir watches Hassan get brutally attacked and doesn't intervene, he is filled with guilt and devises a cruel plan to drive away Hassan as a way to escape his own self-loathing. His selfish cowardice continues to haunt him years later as he and his father escape Russian-occupied Afghanistan and build a new life in America. Amir is finally forced to face the demons from his past (both figurative and literal) when he returns to Afghanistan under the Taliban's regime many years later. He tries to atone for his past mistakes by rescuing Hassan's only child, but soon finds that as complicated as it is to physically save the boy, emotional and spiritual rescue will be even more difficult.
This is a very brief synopsis of a mutli-layered story featuring complex characters and how they respond to the end of the world as they know it. It is a somber story punctuated by moments of joy, courage, and deep love. It provides an interesting look into a culture with rich heritage and strong traditions, and evokes compassion for those who suffer at the hands of evil all over the world. And it explores universal themes that lie at the very core of what it means to be human.
Is it horrible? Yes. In some ways, it is one of the most disturbing books I've ever read. But it is also beautiful and painful and ultimately hopeful, and therefore one of the most moving books I've ever read too. Don't take it on lightly, for it will not treat you gently as a reader. But when it's finished with you, you will be more compassionate, more attuned to suffering, and hopefully....more human.