The Kite Runner is a novel, published in 2003 and written by Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan-American and medical doctor with no previous experience as an author. The book was very successful as a piece of literary fiction. I found my own copy on sale from the Multnomah County Library, which had bought many copies as part of their Everybody Reads program.
The action of the book takes place in the early 1970s, in Afghanistan before the Afghan Civil War; in the United States during the 1980s, and back in Afghanistan right before September 11th, 2001. Although the recent history of Afghanistan is the backdrop of the book, it is not a book about these events per se.
The books succeeds at the first thing any book should do: it is very readable, something I personally find a little too rare in literary fiction. I read the book in a single Saturday, due to the ease of the style and my curiosity about how the plot twists would finally come to rest. Another thing the book succeeds at, especially in the first part, is seeming to be very true. I assumed the book was a thinly fictionalized memoir, and was somewhat surprised to find out that the only detail that the author and protagonist of the book shared was to be middle class Afghanis who emigrated to America after the Soviet invasion.The author seems to have spent some time putting himself into the eyes and feelings of the protagonist.
There is one major literary shortcoming to the book, which is that for a 'serious' novel such as this, there is a rather soap-operatic twist near the end, where a character from the beginning of the book shows up, more evil and more overblown than could be believed, as a junkie-nazi-bisexual child molester. To me, this overdone symbol of evil distracts from, instead of illustrates, the crushing oppression the Taliban inflicted on Afghanistan. However, I will let this particular literary flaw go, especially since this book is the first work of the author.
The biggest question left incomplete in the book is not literary, as such. There is a reason this book has become so popular, why people want to read a book about Afghanistan, and why similar books by writers from say, Tanzania or Paraguay aren't so well known. And that is that this book is meant to give us some insight into the life and thoughts of Afghanistan, a country that is vital to our future. For me, the book doesn't give me such insights, although it does offer hints. One of the major aspects of Afghanistan portrayed is that it is a very conservative society, where family, lineage and reputation are impossible to escape. Another aspect that might be being suggested as a part of Afghan society, or is perhaps just a theme of this book, is the strong sadism (illustrated in many cases by rape) that can be present in that society. What I would like to know is how much the author is suggesting that these two aspects are tied together, or what is the root cause of the sadism, and whether this streak of cruelty is an aspect of the culture, or just a part of human nature he is incidentally addressing in the book. Although the book touches on these things, it doesn't seem to get to the bottom, or draw any conclusions about them. But of course, the purpose of art is not always to give us a solution, but simply an illustration.