Flight of joy and despair
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.