Afghan boys fly kites,
compete in contest that will
forever change them.
If I could assign one book to every person in America, it would be The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. But don't worry: it's not just good for you. It's also delicious.
The Kite Runner tells the story of a privileged Pashtun boy in Afghanistan, one who has a fairly idyllic childhood, at least until ... ah, but I can't tell you that.
Here's what I can tell you: Amir craves his father's approval but rarely gets it. His best friend is his Hazara servant boy, Hassan. Theirs was a lifelong friendship, the kind few of us are blessed with, but it was also the source of Amir's biggest shame.
The title refers to a hobby important in Afghani-culture: kite strings are coated with glass splinters and glue. Children fly the kites at city-wide tournaments, and by sawing on a rival's string, a person can set the other kite free. The last competitor with a kite in the air wins.
But a trophy almost equal to winning is to capture the kite of the second-to-last flyer, and that's where a kite runner comes in. Hassan is an uncanny Kite Runner: he seems to know where a kite will come down, and ultimately, this is his story, or rather a story about the effect his life has on Amir.
Like the best epic stories, Kite Runner follows one person's experiences. They are universal in the sense of the "human experience," but at the same time, you get a sense of a specific nation and culture. And by the end of the book, regardless how distant it might be from your life, you will find yourself grieving the Afghanistan that disappeared, forever, after the Afghan Civil War and the Taliban government that followed.
People who discuss literature say that a main character (the "hero") has to have flaws to be "real." Serious writers disparage Mary Sue characters: beautiful people with every noble quality available.
Well, those critics won't point fingers here. Amir is definitely flawed. In fact, for much of the book I was as repulsed by his behavior as I was fascinated, and usually it's a fatal flaw if I don't respect the main character.
But Amir earned my respect by the end of the book.
As did Khaled Hosseini. When I turned that last page, I realized I had changed. I had taken a piece of Afghani culture into my heart, and for the rest of my life, I will carry some grief for the anguish brought to its people.
This is literature at its finest, and also story-telling at its finest. Compelling, perfectly-crafted, life-changing.
If I had to choose, among the books I read during 2006, one best book, it would be this one. I know you've heard about it everywhere, but trust me, it's worth the buzz.
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