The themes of friendship, loyalty and redemption, while ubiquitous in literature, always succeed in pulling at our heartstrings. Redemption in particular seems to ignite something latent in all of us to get a second chance to correct a past wrong. Khaled Hosseini combines these resonant themes and uses them against the backdrop of strife-torn Afghanistan to tell the poignant story of Amir and Hassan.
Amir is born into privilege. As the only child of a prominent and wealthy man, Amir has access to education and all the other accoutrements of wealth. Hassan is the motherless child of Amir’s father’s servant, born to a life of servitude and scant prospects. Hassan faces a double whammy, in that he is also a Hazara, a member of an ethnic group that is shunned by the rest of the country. He is both literally and symbolically the perennial kite runner, someone who hunts down, at personal risk, something that rightfully belongs to another.
The friendship between the two boys grows amidst the backdrop of an increasingly disturbed country. In a startling change of pace, Hosseini introduces a hauntingly narrated incident that shatters the friendship, forcing the servant boy and his father to leave the employment of Amir’s father. The changing political scenery brought about by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan forces Amir and his father, like many wealthy Afghanis, to flee the country and take refuge in the United States.
As Amir and his father rebuild their lives in California, they come in contact with the Afghan Diaspora. In the touching yet charming mid-section of the novel, Hosseini introduces several displaced Afghans, once well-connected and wealthy, now desperately (and often comically) hanging on to the shards of their dignity. Amir meets and marries Soraya, one such émigré, and hopes to lead a contented life. A letter from a family friend, now settled in Pakistan, makes this unlikely because it ends with the haunting sentence, “There is a way to be good again.” This sets Amir on a journey back home, a home that is now run by the Taliban. In a long and occasionally melodramatic denouement, Amir’s past and present fuse in telling style to lead to a surprise ending.
The book, originally published in 2003, became an international phenomenon mainly because it gave Western readers a glimpse into a country and culture that we knew very little about. The current edition is filled with lavish black-and-white and color photographs of Afghanistan and its people, complementing the story and its setting fittingly.