The Kite Runner

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When I picked up The Kite Runner, upon seeing it was written by someone whose name I couldn’t pronounce, I was intrigued. Kahli-, no, Kahled Ho-, Hosen-, Hosseini? Like Houdini? Ckah-lead ho-see-knee. We’ll stick with that. And upon realizing that it was written by an Afghani, a nation that most Americans fear and hate for the “world-splitting” event of 9/11, my interest was doubly intense. I prepared for controversial material, and I was disappointed.
Despite being written by an Afghani, The Kite Runner has a distinctly western feel. Its descriptions of Afghani life fit our current cultural narrative well – almost too well. Looking up Hosseini on Wikipedia, I found that he was born in 1965 and moved to the US when he was fifteen. He is now 46 and has been living in the US for over 30 years. That being said, it is no surprise he and his novel are wholly infected with American culture.
Throughout the novel a distinct pro-secular sentiment takes hold. Early in the book, before the Soviet invasion of 1979, Amir, the novel’s main character, who was only a boy at the time, asks his father why he is drinking whiskey. Whisky, of course, was and is expressly prohibited by most sects of Islam, which is why Amir found it strange when his father defied his mullah’s instruction. Baba, the father, responds with a quasi-atheist sounding tirade against the Muslim religion, tagging on that “You’ll never learn anything of value from those bearded idiots (Amir’s religious instructors at school)… They do nothing but thumb their prayer beads and recite a book written in a tongue they don’t even understand, and god help us all if Afghanistan ever falls into their hands.” Now, there is nothing wrong with thinking this way, and I would even be inclined to agree, but, from what I know of Afghanistan, this sentiment would be incredibly rare. Surely someone somewhere in Afghanistan thought this, but why show the reader this extreme exception to the rule? As the novel progresses and Amir grows into an adult, we find that he has adopted a similar secular attitude. Why? In all likely hoods, Amir and his father would have been devout Muslims. Again, why give us this extreme exception to the rule? Perhaps Hosseini himself thinks the same way, and he made the characters that way because he identified with that belief. That’s fine, but where does that leave us in evaluation of the novel?
I think it is undeniable that this novel takes a decidedly western view of Islam and middle-eastern society. That makes sense. It was, after all, written by a westerner. But a western view is not a positive view. A western view is one tainted with fear and ignorance: partly justified, partly not. A western view of a Muslim country is almost always a critical one. A westerner will remark about an Islamic country’s brutal treatment of women, repression of basic freedoms, religious fanaticism, and medieval justice before any positive comments emerge. Again, that is fine. The issue is not whether or not westerners are correct or incorrect, the issue is that this is a novel about Afghani life written by someone whose only similarity with Afghani culture is a name and ancestry. Don’t let the Arab-sounding name fool you. In this context Hosseini might as well have been Smith or Jones. And if this novel were actually written by a Smith or Jones, meaning someone with whiter skin and European ancestry, the portrayal of Afghani life seen here would have been at least inflammatory and at most fear-mongering. This novel strays into propaganda territory with its portrayal of the Taliban and its effects on Afghani life, and I often felt that the novel was politically-correct to many American’s current views toward Afghanistan. The political kowtowing to American audiences, however, goes unnoticed because of the author’s name. In our favor to only see the surface, I feel we have neglected to note that this is not an Afghani view of Afghani life, but a western view of Afghani life. And if I wanted a western view of Afghani life, I could just turn on the news. 

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14 Responses to The Kite Runner

  1. ThomasR says:

    What you are forgetting is that the novel is set in the 70s (or thereabouts), long before the rise of the Taliban. Today, you might be correct that few Afghans have such a anti-Islam perspective, but things were significantly different at that time (and for that matter, secularism may also be more prevalent today in Afghanistan than you seem to think).

    • qubitman says:

      To paraphrase TLP: If you’re reading a story about afghanistan and say “this is way more realistic than the media portrayal” or vice versa, you’re in a baudrillard matrix. Get out. Now.

      • Red says:

        As you could surely glean from my post, my powers of analysis aren’t well developed. I was more or less just throwing stuff out there, hoping to “fake it ’till i make it.” You, however, appear to have a good grasp of all this postmodern media analysis business. Any good reading recommendations?

  2. HP says:

    If you’re reading, it’s for you.

  3. AdamSaleh1987 says:

    Instead of senselessly quoting TLP in the hopes of getting a pat on the head from your master, consider this: The reason the book is Americanized is because the “Afghan leisure reading” demographic is not necessarily what it used to be. America has a big stake in Afghanistan and is the main consumer of any media inspired by the situation there. Khaled Hosseini is not a great writer but substitutes subtly for raw, intense emotion and it works (read “A Thousand Splendid Suns”).

    • HP says:

      Well, I’ll stoop to responding, Mr. Slap-A-Vaguely-Arabic-Sounding-Name-In-My-Screenname.

      I knew it was just a matter of time for the “you’re just quoting TLP” to show up; now that it’s here, I’ll explain for you: If you’re the person reading The Kite Runner, then chances are you just happen to fall into exactly the type of demographic that The Kite Runner was written and – more importantly – marketed for. So critique away on a book that’s been out for almost a decade, but know that the rest of us glean a lot from the simple fact that you read a “book about Afghanistan” by a guy who’s really not Afghani.

      TL;DR: If you’re reading, it’s for you.

      • Allie Celeste says:

        Dude, who’s “the rest of us”? You have no idea why someone read any given book, and can’t predict shit about the reader. The novel might have been assigned at school, given as a gift, picked up after seeing the movie, chosen to learn more about Afghanistan or bought as something the reader vaguely remembers people said was a good book and worth reading. Not everyone got to it for the same reasons as you.

        And how’s Hosseini not really Afghani? He was born there and immigrated when he was 15 years old. He continued to live in an Afghani family within an Afghani community. I don’t know if Hoissini chose to portray his culture honestly or if his subculture’s perspective was too strong of a filter, but he has more insight into authentic Afghanistan than you could ever gain, even if you devoted your remaining years to studying that country. Gaining insight into American culture and becoming American doesn’t erase the first culture within a teenage immigrant.

      • AdamSaleh1987 says:

        Vaguely Arab sounding? I am Arab, actually. Afghans do not consider themselves Arab, so good research. Thanks for “stooping” to my level despite that I completely disproved your argument.

        • HP says:

          I’m going to stand by my original “if you’re reading, it’s for you”. Particularly for the vast majority of folks I know who’ve read this (and other material like it), it still holds quite true.

          So far as the rest of my little “snit” goes, you’re both right – on, at first glance, all counts. I humbly retract the rest of my comments, and offer only the explanation that I allowed myself to become annoyed by the tone of the first reply, and reacted more emotionally than logically. And in my defense, I’ve known far more vapid types who stick a generically something- sounding name or term in a screenname than people who legitimately have a claim to whatever it is.

  4. stacy says:

    wow, HP’s a trip.
    Also, I can’t believe someone is trashing on an Afghani American for writing a novel that’s “too Western.” Dude, the guy’s got a right to say what he wants; if you have the real scivvy on the whole Afghani thing, write your own book. Although you do realize you sound mighty white, talkin’ for those Americanized Afghanis who apparently can’t express themselves appropriately enough…for you.
    HP: “I knew it was just a matter of time for the ‘you’re just quoting TLP’ to show up…” Well, just because you anticipated the insult doesn’t make it any less valid. You really come off like a total pompous snit. I wouldn’t compare yourself grandly to “the rest of us;” you appear to be in a class of your own, you really do.

  5. Allie Celeste says:

    Firstly, I’d like to share my perspective as a pre-teen immigrant to America from a larger, and at some point in time more anti-Western country. I’m projecting here, but could it be that the writer wasn’t bowing to the West, but simply wanted to communicate the lifestyle and attitudes of HIS family, not Afghanistan as a whole? In America, we have liberals, conservatives, hippies, cowboys, military brats, goths, WASPS, soccer moms, scene kids, wiggers, ghetto blacks, middle class blacks, upper class conservative preppie type people, upper class liberal bohemian type people, and the list goes on and on and on. They are all authentically American. If John Smith moved to France and wrote about his youth in America which consisted of disliking Bush, watching foreign films, eating organic food, not going to church, sticking a “No War” sign in his front yard and riding a bicycle instead of driving, when possible while showing disdain for the Americans with views different than his own, it wouldn’t be a case of a Europeanized American portraying America through a French filter. Our cities and suburbs are FULL of people like John Smith. Of course, the French might think that Americans are actually all religious Christian, war hawks who drive gas guzzling Jeeps and eat lots of hamburgers, so they might think that John Smith has some special adjenda in misrepresenting American life so. The point is that you shouldn’t expect any given person from Afghanistan to act like the arithmetical mean of people who live in Afghanistan. Your perceptions of what they are like is probably entirely correct about a large chunk of their population. But there are also other large chunks, and small chunks. I’m not talking about individual people or families, but of groups and subgroups. Jayvon Washington who plays basketball in the hood and don’t got no job is a typical black man with many like him. Andre Jones who majored in African American studies, has a job in diversity consulting and likes to argue at Starbucks is also a typical black man with many like him. James Lee, a lawyer whose 2 kids know that they better bring home good grades or else is too a typical black man with many like him. These are just 3 examples of subgroups within an American subgroup. Other countries also have different layers of society and groups with beliefs and attitudes common to those particular groups. TLP forgets that the writer’s family CHOSE to come to America. Could it be that the American culture was acceptable enough to the father BEFORE the family arrived and integrated into the American life which is why the father decided to bring his family here in the first place?

  6. Allie Celeste says:

    Secondly, i kinda disliked the novel. Here’s why: Hassan, the boy who gets raped and who hasn’t received the protection, care and opportunities provided to his brother, is too perfect. By making Hassan a saint to amplify the horror and injustice of what’s happened to him, it’s almost suggested that it would be okay to rape and deny a normal whiny kid who begs for ice cream and doesn’t like chores. I wish Hassan had flaws like Amir. It would make him more real, and more easy to empathize with. A child shouldn’t have to be perfect for it to be sad when he gets raped, abandoned by parents, betrayed by his best friend/brother, wrongly accused or killed. Hassan doesn’t feel like a real person at all. He is merely a tool for Amir’s masturbatory guilt. Tragic events in Hassan’s life, starting with his conception, serve to test Amir, get Amir to face his darker side and learn to incorporate it into the overall good person into which he develops, teach Amir about the evil that lurks in the world, get Amir to know his father as human rather than an icon and help Amir grow and develop as a person. Yet the events in Hassan’s life do absolutely nothing for Hassan, but make him suffer. He was born perfect, so there is no room for character development. It’s bothersome how Hassan is so obviously just a prop in a story about Amir.