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Kite Runner (Hosseini)

The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini, 2003
Penguin Group USA
400 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781594480003


Summary
I sat on a bench near a willow tree and watched a pair of kites soaring in the sky. I thought about something Rahim Khan said just before he hung up, almost as an afterthought, "There is a way to be good again.

Amir and Hassan are childhood friends in the alleys and orchards of Kabul in the sunny days before the invasion of the Soviet army and Afghanistan’s decent into fanaticism. Both motherless, they grow up as close as brothers, but their fates, they know, are to be different. Amir’s father is a wealthy merchant; Hassan’s father is his manservant. Amir belongs to the ruling caste of Pashtuns, Hassan to the despised Hazaras.

This fragile idyll is broken by the mounting ethnic, religious, and political tensions that begin to tear Afghanistan apart. An unspeakable assault on Hassan by a gang of local boys tears the friends apart; Amir has witnessed his friend’s torment, but is too afraid to intercede. Plunged into self-loathing, Amir conspires to have Hassan and his father turned out of the household.

When the Soviets invade Afghanistan, Amir and his father flee to San Francisco, leaving Hassan and his father to a pitiless fate. Only years later will Amir have an opportunity to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan to begin to repay the debt long owed to the man who should have been his brother.

Compelling, heartrending, and etched with details of a history never before told in fiction, The Kite Runner is a story of the ways in which we’re damned by our moral failures, and of the extravagant cost of redemption. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—March 04, 1965
Where—Kabul, Afghanistan
Education—B.S., Santa Clara University; M.D., University
  of California, San Diego School of Medicine
Currently—lives in northern California

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and History at a large high school in Kabul. In 1970, the Foreign Ministry sent his family to Tehran, where his father worked for the Afghan embassy. They lived in Tehran until 1973, at which point they returned to Kabul.

In July of 1973, on the night Hosseini’s youngest brother was born, the Afghan king, Zahir Shah, was overthrown in a bloodless coup by the king’s cousin, Daoud Khan. At the time, Hosseini was in fourth grade and was already drawn to poetry and prose; he read a great deal of Persian poetry as well as Farsi translations of novels ranging from Alice in Wonderland to Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series.

In 1976, the Afghan Foreign Ministry once again relocated the Hosseini family, this time to Paris. They were ready to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then Afghanistan had already witnessed a bloody communist coup and the invasion of the Soviet army. The Hosseinis sought and were granted political asylum in the United States. In September of 1980, Hosseini’s family moved to San Jose, California. They lived on welfare and food stamps for a short while, as they had lost all of their property in Afghanistan. His father took multiple jobs and managed to get his family off welfare.

Hosseini graduated from high school in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California-San Diego’s School of Medicine, where he earned a Medical Degree in 1993. He completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles and began practicing Internal Medicine in 1996. His first love, however, has always been writing.

In 2003, Hosseini published The Kite Runner, which became a runaway bestseller and film in 2007. He followed up with his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns in 2007, also a bestseller. His third novel, And the Mountians Echoed, was published in 2013.

Hosseini has vivid, and fond, memories of peaceful pre-Soviet era Afghanistan, as well as of his personal experiences with Afghan Hazaras. One Hazara in particular was a thirty-year-old man named Hossein Khan, who worked for the Hosseinis when they were living in Iran. When Hosseini was in the third grade, he taught Khan to read and write. Though his relationship with Hossein Khan was brief and rather formal, Hosseini always remembered the fondness that developed between them.

In 2006, Hosseini was named a goodwill envoy to the UNHCR, The United Nations Refugee Agency. (Adapted from the publisher.)

Extras
From a 2004 Barnes & Noble interview:

• During his years in the U.S., Hosseini has soaked in more than his share of American culture. He professes to be a fan of such U.S. institutions as the music of Bruce Springsteen and football. Still, he admits that he simply cannot appreciate baseball, saying, "I think that to fully appreciate baseball, it helps to have been born in the U.S."

• When it comes to chickens, Hosseini is a chicken. "I'm terrified of chickens," the writer confesses. "Absolutely petrified. This intense and irrational fear is, I believe, caused by the memory of a black hen we owned in Kabul when I was a child. She used to peck her own chicks to death as soon as the eggs hatched."

• When Hosseini isn't writing or tending to one of his patients, he enjoys games of no-limits Texas hold 'em poker with his brother and friends.

• When asked what book most influenced him, here is what he had to say:

I remember reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school in 1983. My family had immigrated to the U.S. three years before, and I had spent the better part of the first two years learning English. John Steinbeck's book was the first book I read in English where I had an "Aha!" moment, namely in the famed turtle chapter. For some reason, I identified with the disenfranchised farm workers in that novel—I suppose in one sense, they reminded me of my own country's traumatized people. And indeed, when I went back to Afghanistan in 2003, I met people with tremendous pride and dignity under some very bleak conditions; I suspect I met a few Ma Joads and Tom Joads in Kabul.



Book Reviews 
This is a top book club read, many claiming it as one of their favorites. And for good reason.... The first third of the book shows us a world of enchantment. We see Afghanistan in the 1960's and early '70’s, a long-lost land of brilliant skies and lushly cultivated gardens. Once the storyline moves to the U.S., the book takes a more prosaic turn.
A LitLovers LitPick  (July '07)


In The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini gives us a vivid and engaging story that reminds us how long his people have been struggling to triumph over the forces of violence — forces that continue to threaten them even today.
Edward Hower - The New York Times


Intimate account of family and friendship, betrayal and salvation that requires no atlas or translation to engage and enlighten us.
The Washington Post


Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official.

The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium. (June 2) Forecast: It is rare that a book is at once so timely and of such high literary quality. Though Afghanistan is now on the media back burner, its fate is still of major interest and may become even more so as the U.S.'s nation-building efforts are scrutinized.
Publishers Weekly


This painful, moving, remarkable debut novel depicts the childhood, adolescence, and adulthood of a deeply flawed protagonist. Growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, Amir feels unloved by his widowed father, who seems to care more for Hassan, the son of their Hazara servant, Ali. Amir and Hassan are close but not quite friends. On what should have been the best day of his young life, when he wins a kite-flying contest and finally some respect from his father, Amir betrays Hassan and becomes haunted by guilt. Amir comes to California when the Soviets invade his country but returns years later to rescue Hassan's orphaned son from the Taliban and redeem himself. Hosseini, a physician in the San Francisco area, has a wonderful gift for developing distinctive characters and creating a strong sense of place. While far from polished, his narration offers a profound sincerity that might have been missing with a professional reader. A sad and violent yet beautiful and unforgettable story; highly recommended for all collections, especially those with interests in the American immigrant experience. —Michael Adams, CUNY Graduate Ctr.
Library Journal


Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past. Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the "sociopath" Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef.

And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from aTaliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending. Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. The novel begins with Amir's memory of peering down an alley, looking for Hassan who is kite running for him. As Amir peers into the alley, he witnesses a tragedy. The novel ends with Amir kite running for Hassan's son, Sohrab, as he begins a new life with Amir in America. Why do you think the author chooses to frame the novel with these scenes? Refer to the following passage: "Afghans like to say: Life goes on, unmindful of beginning, end...crisis or catharsis, moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of kochis [nomads]." How is this significant to the framing of the novel?

2. The strong underlying force of this novel is the relationship between Amir and Hassan. Discuss their friendship. Why is Amir afraid to be Hassan's true friend? Why does Amir constantly test Hassan's loyalty? Why does he resent Hassan? After the kite running tournament, why does Amir no longer want to be Hassan's friend?

3. Early in Amir and Hassan's friendship, they often visit a pomegranate tree where they spend hours reading and playing. "One summer day, I used one of Ali's kitchen knives to carve our names on it: 'Amir and Hassan, the sultans of Kabul.' Those words made it formal: the tree was ours." In a letter to Amir later in the story, Hassan mentions that "the tree hasn't borne fruit in years." Discuss the significance of this tree.

4. We begin to understand early in the novel that Amir is constantly vying for Baba's attention and often feels like an outsider in his father's life, as seen in the following passage: "He'd close the door, leave me to wonder why it was always grown-ups time with him. I'd sit by the door, knees drawn to my chest. Sometimes I sat there for an hour, sometimes two, listening to their laughter, their chatter." Discuss Amir's relationship with Baba.

5. After Amir wins the kite running tournament, his relationship with Baba undergoes significant change. However, while they form a bond of friendship, Amir is still unhappy. What causes this unhappiness and how has Baba contributed to Amir's state of mind? Eventually, the relationship between the two returns to the way it was before the tournament, and Amir laments "we actually deceived ourselves into thinking that a toy made of tissue paper, glue, and bamboo could somehow close the chasm between us." Discuss the significance of this passage.

6. As Amir remembers an Afghan celebration in which a sheep must be sacrificed, he talks about seeing the sheep's eyes moments before its death. "I don't know why I watch this yearly ritual in our backyard; my nightmares persist long after the bloodstains on the grass have faded. But I always watch, I watch because of that look of acceptance in the animal's eyes. Absurdly, I imagine the animal understands. I imagine the animal sees that its imminent demise is for a higher purpose." Why do you think Amir recalls this memory when he witnesses Hassan's tragedy in the alleyway? Amir recollects the memory again toward the end of the novel when he sees Sohrab in the home of the Taliban. Discuss the image in the context of the novel.

7. America acts as a place for Amir to bury his memories and a place for Baba to mourn his. In America, there are "homes that made Baba's house in Wazir Akbar Khan look like a servant's hut." What is ironic about this statement? What is the function of irony in this novel?

8. What is the significance of the irony in the first story that Amir writes? After hearing Amir's story, Hassan asks, "Why did the man kill his wife? In fact, why did he ever have to feel sad to shed tears? Couldn't he have just smelled an onion?" How is his reaction to the story a metaphor for Amir's life? How does this story epitomize the difference in character between Hassan and Amir?

9. Why is Baba disappointed by Amir's decision to become a writer? During their argument about his career path, Amir thinks to himself: "I would stand my ground, I decided. I didn't want to sacrifice for Baba anymore. The last time I had done that, I had damned myself." What has Amir sacrificed for Baba? How has Amir "damned himself"?

10. Compare and contrast the relationships of Soraya and Amir and their fathers. How have their upbringings contributed to these relationships?

11. Discuss how the ever-changing politics of Afghanistan affect each of the characters in the novel.

12. On Amir's trip back to Afghanistan, he stays at the home of his driver, Farid. Upon leaving he remarks: "Earlier that morning, when I was certain no one was looking, I did something I had done twenty-six years earlier: I planted a fistful of crumpled money under the mattress." Why is this moment so important in Amir's journey?

13. Throughout the story, Baba worries because Amir never stands up for himself. When does this change?

14. Amir's confrontation with Assef in Wazir Akar Khan marks an important turning point in the novel. Why does the author have Amir, Assef, and Sohrab all come together in this way? What is this the significance of the scar that Amir develops as a result of the confrontation? Why is it important in Amir's journey toward forgiveness and acceptance?

15. While in the hospital in Peshawar, Amir has a dream in which he sees his father wrestling a bear: "They role over a patch of grass, man and beast...they fall to the ground with a loud thud and Baba is sitting on the bear's chest, his fingers digging in its snout. He looks up at me, and I see. He's me. I am wrestling the bear." Why is this dream so important at this point in the story? What does this dream finally help Amir realize?

16. Amir and Hassan have a favorite story. Does the story have the same meaning for both men? Why does Hassan name his son after one of the characters in the story?

17. Baba and Amir know that they are very different people. Often it disappoints both of them that Amir is not the son that Baba has hoped for. When Amir finds out that Baba has lied to him about Hassan, he realizes that "as it turned out, Baba and I were more alike than I'd never known." How does this make Amir feel about his father? How is this both a negative and positive realization?

18. When Amir and Baba move to the States their relationship changes, and Amir begins to view his father as a more complex man. Discuss the changes in their relationship. Do you see the changes in Baba as tragic or positive?

19. Discuss the difference between Baba and Ali and between Amir and Hassan. Are Baba's and Amir's betrayals and similarities in their relationships of their servants (if you consider Baba's act a betrayal) similar or different? Do you think that such betrayals are inevitable in the master/servant relationship, or do you feel that they are due to flaws in Baba's and Amir's characters, or are they the outcome of circumstances and characters?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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