Flight of joy and de­spair

The Herald - Arts - - Books -

KhaledHos­seini Ali and Has­san grow up to­gether in 1970s Kabul. They could not be more dif­fer­ent – the first is a rich Pash­tun Sunni, while the sec­ond is his ser­vant, and a Hazara Shi’a. One is in­se­cure and in con­stant emo­tional tur­moil, while the other is good and loyal, and has a pure heart. Yet the two boys share the most ex­traor­di­nar­ily close friend­ship, one that binds them more tightly than brothers. Along with ev­ery other Afghani boy, they spend their days kite-fight­ing. Th­ese are hazy, hal­cyon days, when a peace­ful and rel­a­tively tol­er­ant Afghanistan has not made its dread­ful mark on the map of hu­man con­flict. One cold day, how­ever, ev­ery­thing comes to a bru­tal end. At the age of 12, Ali wit­nesses some­thing ter­ri­ble hap­pen to his friend, in one of the most har­row­ing scenes you are ever likely to read. From then on, in a grim par­al­lel with the coun­try’s des­tiny, ev­ery­thing in the boys’ lives changes. Ali re­sorts to cow­ardice and avoids his friend, with­out telling him why, while Has­san and his fa­ther de­cide to flee Kabul. With his coun­try and his heart in tur­moil, Ali also leaves, and even­tu­ally em­i­grates to Amer­ica with his beloved and noble fa­ther, Baba – much like Hos­seini him­self, who was granted po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in the United States in 1980. He pre­tends to start a new life, but one day a mys­te­ri­ous phone call tells him there is a way to atone for his sin. But that means go­ing back to Afghanistan, by then wounded and torn apart by Tal­iban vi­o­lence. Hos­seini paints a ter­ri­fy­ing por­trait of mod­ern-day Afghanistan – Ali has to wit­ness am­pu­ta­tions, mu­ti­lated peo­ple forced to sell their pros­thetic limbs to feed their fam­i­lies, and chil­dren raped in or­phan­ages. But the trip has a sur­pris­ing out­come – se­crets are re­vealed, and in a touch­ing twist, the past is laid to rest. Like Atiq Rahimi and Saira Shah be­fore him, Hos­seini has brought Afghanistan and its re­silient, charm­ing peo­ple to life in the most beau­ti­fully po­etic of man­ners. The Kite Run­ner’s cen­tral story may be heart­break­ing, but there is room for hu­mour and joy. The au­thor uses both tra­di­tional Afghani sto­ry­telling skills andWestern plot­ting tech­niques, and the re­sult is charm­ing yet full of twists and turns. Fun­da­men­tally, how­ever, this is the sim­ple tale of aman who has been de­stroyed by re­morse, and of his over­whelm­ing de­sire for re­demp­tion. It’s easy to see why the novel has been ex­tremely suc­cess­ful, both with crit­ics and read­ers ev­ery­where. The au­thor Is­abel Al­lende even said that ev­ery­thing she read af­ter­wards seemed dull in com­par­i­son. When the end of The Kite Run­ner came, I closed it, put it down on my lap and did some­thing I had never done af­ter fin­ish­ing a book – I sobbed. I sobbed for Amir and Has­san, for their friend­ship and the ter­ri­ble way it was lost, but most of all, I cried for the Afghan tragedy and the gi­gan­tic waste it rep­re­sents. Now, how­ever, a few months af­ter I first met the boys, what I re­mem­ber most is a kite fly­ing high in the sky, like hope spring­ing eter­nal.

SARA VALENTIN

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