Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Middle East Separate Peace

The Kite Runner
by Khaled Hosseini
Published by Riverhead Books
3 Out of 5 Stars

Consider me underwhelmed. The Kite Runner isn't a bad book, nor is it a particularly good book. Two boys are the best of friends, until a tragic incident tears them apart. One is doomed to live his life filled with guilt and the other is doomed to be unbelievably good no matter how tragic life becomes. Basically, it's A Separate Peace set in Afghanistan and, for my money, A Separate Peace is a far superior, more nuanced work. Despite my lukewarm reaction, I certainly wouldn't discourage anyone from reading it as there are some things to like. Let's review the good and the bad in list form, shall we? 

Things that I liked:
*In terms of description, Hosseini is a gifted writer. His descriptions of people and of Afghanistan before and after the Taliban took control show the stark contrast between the more prosperous, westernized Afghanistan of the 1970's and the desperate, impoverished Afghanistan that was created by Taliban rule. I appreciate Hosseini's depiction of how some Middle Eastern countries have been crippled by Islamic extremism. For that alone, the book is worth the read.
*Okay, in hindsight, I now realize that I probably should have titled that section "Thing that I liked" because I am drawing a blank.
*Oh, hey! I thought of something else. I appreciate that it didn't have a "happily ever after" ending, which I thought it was recklessly careening toward. I thought Sohrab's reaction to his new surroundings as he coped with his past was authentic and heartbreaking.

Things that I didn't love:
*The relationship between Baba and Amir inexplicably changes after they arrive in America. While it is later revealed why Baba's attitude toward Amir changes, it seems too little too late.
*I have to admit, I didn't like the two characters I was supposed to care the most about. Amir was self-centered and petty, while Hassan was unbelievably, ridiculously, annoyingly, and cloyingly good. 
*The obvious symbolism and predictable plotting began to wear on my nerves--especially toward the end. It's similar to those intricate domino designs that someone so elaborately and painstakingly sets up to knock down, all for the sheer joy of watching one domino slap into another. Each event so obviously leads to the next that I was constantly aware of the narrative as something contrived and something clever. I could never fully suspend disbelief. In fact, I began to play a game with myself: when presented with a new plot "twist," I'd predict what it would lead to and then wait to see if I was right. I was always right.

If I had read the book before all of the hype began, something might have been salvaged. However, given how ridiculously high my expectations were, the novel can't be entirely at fault for not living up to them. I still plan to read A Thousand Splendid Suns as I've been told it far exceeds The Kite Runner, but I'm quite willing and ready to leave the story of Amir and Hassan behind me.

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