A while back, Susanne inspired me to start a reading list. I tend to read nonfiction because I'm always trying to improve myself somehow, but this time I chose fiction that was on the New York Times' list and received the kind of reviews authors dream about.
It's called The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.
The title refers to a sporting tradition in Afghanistan as well as other countries, in which boys gather in the streets with their handmade kites and spools of kite string (somehow encrusted with ground glass, but I never completely understood that). The goal is to get their kites up and then cut down every kite but their own by looping, pulling, yanking and ultimately cutting the other's string. As the kites fall, the boys chase after them. The winner returns with the last kite.
Kite running is the backdrop for the introduction and conclusion to the story that spans many years and involves complicated relational issues between a boy, Amir, and his wealthy father, as well as between Amir and his closest friend since birth, a Hazara named Hassan. Hazaras are second-class citizens of Mongol descent.
The story, which mainly delves into emotional fall-out from relational betrayals, is woven throughout the violent history of Afghanistan from the 70s to the present. If I had to choose one word to describe the theme, it would be "redemption."
My personal feelings about the story:
-The cultural differences are interesting and educational. Since traveling to Kazakhstan, I'm interested in ancient, foreign Islamic cultures. One fun example is the reference to "rosewater ice cream." Can you imagine?! I loved the author's descriptive details about the beauty of his homeland and then how he contrasted the beauty with the destruction after the Russians and the Taliban invaded.
-There are several references to sacrificial lambs, literal sheep, and what the symbolic significance of those are. As a Christian, those scenes in the book were particularly moving to me.
-The violence, particularly against children, was horrible to read, and horrible to accept as having occurred and as continuing to occur all over the world. These heinous, despicable crimes (even "sins" doesn't seem harsh enough a word) were overwhelming, and I did have to skim over some because I could not stomach the horror. There is also a stoning scene I could not read completely.
-I think Hosseini did a wonderful job exploring the complexities of sin, guilt and redemption, friendship, familial relationships, re-discovering faith, and pure, noble romantic love. Hosseini is a medical doctor who writes plainly and suspensefully. I found myself ending chapters and immediately picking the book back up because Hosseini had set me up to crave to see what happened next.
-The ending makes the heart-wrenching worth the experience as a reader.
-I have an even better understanding of Islamic culture, and a greater burden for sharing the Gospel of Christ, which I know is a completely unacceptable politically incorrect thing to say here, but that was my reaction.
I would recommend this book with the caveat that you have been warned about the worst abuses you could imagine. It is a story that will stick with you forever, so much so for me that I had to Google images of a Hazara (here, a boy making tea) and kite running. My emotional reaction to these pictures after reading the book is very poignant and tender. Amir and Hassan are like real people in my heart.