A review by lpm100
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini


History, imagined

Reviewed in the United States on March 19, 2020

On the one hand, if you want an idea about some snapshot in time..... biographies / semi-biographical novels are probably the best way to go. They lend character development and humanity in a way that a simple historical book never could.

On the other hand..... I know that most dramatizations of things like this are something like 100% false. I have in mind Alice Walker's "The Color Purple."

There are several telltale signs.

1. The first is that this author left when he was 12 years old, and people don't "see" many things at that age. His memories of the country may have been a bit.....suspect.

2. The second is that there was the tried-and-true Reductio ad Hitlerum. In a country with a literacy rate less than 15% and people who thought that John Wayne was Persian, how many of them could be expected to know about Adolf Hitler? Let alone enough to find a biography in Farsi and present it as a gift.

3. The "dancing boys" (bacha bazi) have been covered in more than one documentary about Afghanistan. As much as the author tried to use the pedophilia of the pedophiles who happened-to-be-Taliban to smear them, this tradition of dancing boys LONG predated them.

Does it really make sense that there would be no pedophilia for however-long Afghanistan-existed, and then in the last few years after the Taliban took over that they would suddenly come out of the woodwork?

Is it a coincidence that the antagonist was 50% German? And then, that that antagonist showed up decades later conveniently for the denouement? (Let me sum it up again, because the plausibility is so low: 1/2 blooded German who happens to be a fan of Adolf Hitler joins the Taliban and provides a biography--in Farsi-- and then he shows up for the final fight.)

In a way (p.232), the author concedes that he may have had a romanticized / incomplete view of his life in Afghanistan. (Let's remember that he lived out of it more years than he lived in it, and he was 12 years old when he left.)

If you talk to the few remaining black people who lived through Jim Crow in the United States, you will find that they lived in a somewhat comfortable modus vivendi with their white neighbors. It is only later authors that made the events much worse than what they likely were, even though they did not live through it. (Mildred Taylor. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" Alice Walker. "The Color Purple")

I'm not sure what reason I have to believe that it would be any different with the Hazara (i.e., they too would have found some way to live with their Pashtun neighbors)

The book had a great deal of (undeveloped) potential:

1. There is the rich tapestry of ethnicities that makes up Afghanistan. (Their theme was not developed; If Hosseini could have just even given us a single paragraph about each of them, we would have come away a lot richer).

I found myself looking up information on Wikipedia that was not offered in the book-- and it should have been. (For instance, did you know that there are actually more Tajiks living in Afghanistan than in Tajikistan proper?)

2. Could he have given us a better picture of Hazara? What does it means for the author to keep stating that Hazara cannot read. (Afghanistan has an illiteracy rate of 68%, and Hazara are only 10~12% of the country.)

3. There was a cursory glance at an extremely middle Eastern culture. But Afghanis are not Arabs, nor are they Persians. Although they did follow and almost identical historical trajectory to the Persians (a relatively moderate Islamic society under a decadent government that fell and was replaced Islamic hardliners) but how were they different?

Could the purpose of this book have been to humanize Muslim refugees? (We see how well that's worked out in Germany and other parts of Europe.)

The book itself has a LOT of, um, feminine overtones:

1. The protagonist is extremely girlish.

Weeping and crying and vomiting all over the place.

As an adult in the book, he does not act particularly manly about approaching his love interest. More like a love-struck junior high school girl.

2. Everything is such a *big* secret. "Big secrets" are the backdrop of a large number of novels written for women.

3. Lots of whinging about the unequal status of Afghani women. Is this something that men really think about? Especially if they're on the winning side of it.

A glossary would really have been nice.

Verdict: $6 and a couple of afternoons of reading time.

And that's about what it was worth.

It was a decent read, but won't be a re-read.