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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #7 (February 14, 2006), page 16.

"There is a way to be good again"

The Kite Runner
By Khaled Hosseini
Riverhead Books, 2003
Paperback, 371 pages, $14.00

By Josephine Bridges

"This isnít you, Amir," the narrator of The Kite Runner tells himself as he prepares to rescue the slave of a sociopath. "Youíre gutless. Itís how you were made. And thatís not such a bad thing because your saving grace is that youíve never lied to yourself about it. Not about that. Nothing wrong with cowardice as long as it comes with prudence. But when a coward stops remembering who he is Ö God help him."

Multnomah County Libraryís fourth annual "Everybody Reads" selection is Khaled Hosseiniís astonishing tale of two boys coming of age in Kabul, Afghanistan, in the shadow of two and a half decades of their countryís suffering. The narratorís servant, "even in birth ... was incapable of hurting anyone. A few grunts, a couple of pushes, and out came Hassan. Out he came smiling." Hassan is not just good natured and honest; he also embodies integrity under terrible pressure. Amir, on the other hand, must seek redemption for his series of betrayals of Hassan, the constant companion who is not quite his friend. "In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shiía, and nothing was ever going to change that."

"With me as the glaring exception," Amir explains, "my father molded the world around him to his liking." The boy goes on to describe his, and Hassanís, favorite story from "the tenth-century epic of ancient Persian heroes" called the Shahnamah, in which Rostam unwittingly kills his long-lost son Sohrab. "Personally I couldnít see the tragedy in Rostamís fate. After all, didnít all fathers in their secret hearts harbor a desire to kill their sons?"

"Kites were the one paper-thin slice of intersection between those spheres" which Amir and his father separately inhabit, but Amirís triumph in a winter kite-fighting tournament only briefly satisfies his father. Worse, Hassan, the kite runner of the title, is brutalized when he refuses to relinquish to the novelís antagonist the last kite to fall, which he believes is Amirís rightful prize. "One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be," notes Amir as he hides and watches. "In the end, I ran."

"There is a way to be good again," Rahim Khan, Amirís fatherís best friend, tells Amir on the telephone 26 years later. The Kite Runner is ultimately the story of Amirís penance, his quest for the forgiveness he has denied himself since he was 12 years old. A word of warning: just when you think things couldnít get worse, they do. Expect tears, and expect nausea. There is not one gratuitous phrase in this novel, and there are tremendous rewards, but it is rough going. Reading it along with the rest of the county and taking part in "Everybody Reads" events may help.

Replete with deftly realized literary techniques such as doubling and foreshadowing; rich in minor characters as well as those with central roles; brimming with lavish descriptions of ordinary and transcendent sights, smells, and sounds of three countries; and unflinching in its presentation of both horror and hope, The Kite Runner would be an admirable tenth novel. It is Khaled Hosseiniís first. His second novel, Dreaming in Titanic City, is scheduled for publication this year. Also spanning several decades, it is a story of Afghan women.

"I learned that, in America, you donít reveal the ending of the movie, and if you do, you will be scorned and made to apologize profusely for having committed the sin of Spoiling the End. In Afghanistan, the ending was all that mattered." The ending of The Kite Runner is not so much a tidy conclusion as the place where the words stop while the motion forward continues, "not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night."


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