The Kite Runner

Hope Giddings, Ryan Sprugel, Jordan Givens

Context

When and Where:

The Kite Runner is set in Afghanistan from the 1960s to the early 2000s. The story starts begins “in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, a new and affluent neighborhood in the norther part of Kabul” that bustles with “long-haired, bearded tourists” and “families out for a day in the sun” (Hosseini 4-14). Upon his return to Afghanistan many years later, Amir finds himself feeling “like a tourist in [his] own country” (Hosseini 231). The new Afghanistan littered with “burned carcasses of old Soviet tanks” and beggars “squat[ting] on every street corner,” and Amir witnesses the full cruelty of the Taliban, including a public stoning (Hosseini 243-5). The dichotomy between the peaceful, prosperous country of Amir’s youth and the broken, war-torn one of his adulthood reflects the emotional shifts in his life: his loss of innocence, his increased cynicism, and his decaying morality.


Social Context:

The strict traditions that bind Afghan society place strict limits on the characters in The Kite Runner. Amir says of his friendship with Hassan, who belongs to an ethnic and religious minority, “history isn’t easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi’a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing” (Hosseini 25). This unwritten rule penetrates every aspect of Afghan life; even Amir’s teacher “wrinkles his nose” at the word “Shi’a” (Hosseini 10). Amir also reflects on “the position of power [he was] granted, and all because [he] had won at the genetic lottery that determined [his] sex” (Hosseini 148-9). Even in America, idle talk in the Afghan community could “prove lethal to a young woman’s prospects of marrying well,” which would ruin a woman as “every woman needed a husband. Even if she did silence the song in her” (Hosseini 148-78).


Political Context:

Over the course of the novel, Afghanistan is in constant political transition. After a coup disposes the long-time king, the country passes through the hands of the Soviets, the Afghanistan Mujahideen Alliance, and the Taliban in a series of bloody regimes. Amir’s friend describes the war-weary Afghans, saying, “People were so tired of the constant fighting, tired of the rocks, the gunfire, the explosions” that “when the Taliban rolled in and kicked the Alliance out of Kabul, [they] actually danced in the street” (Hosseini 200). The Afghanistan that Amir returns to is one after the Taliban have established power; their novelty is worn out amid public executions and wanton destruction, including reducing the orphanage Amir’s father once built to “just another pile of rubble” (Hosseini 200).

Content Components

Modern Context:

When Amir returns to Afghanistan in the second half of the book, he notes that the country he knew is “long dead” (Hosseini 216). The social and political turmoil that form new, “real Afghanistan” in the book form the context of a modern Afghanistan (Hosseini 204). Although we may hear about Kabul and Kandahar in the news, it’s difficult to fully understand the ramifications of a war on the other side of the world in a culture that is very different from our own. Hosseini’s vivid and heartbreaking descriptions of the “collateral damage” that accompanies war and universal themes of friendship and forgiveness allow a diverse audience to appreciate the struggles of a foreign nation (Hosseini 200).


Significance to Your Peers:

One of the primary themes of The Kite Runner is the lasting impact of choices and the devastating toll of regret. Amir makes a choice that profoundly affects the course of his life, and it teaches him that you can never truly “bury” the past, because it will “claw its way back out” (Hosseini 1). Although the choices we face in our day to day lives may not be of the same caliber as the ones Amir deals with, they are no less important. Even as high schoolers, our choices matter. Someday, our adult lives will be built on the pasts we’re living now, so laying the foundation for a good one is tremendously important.


Literary Value:

The Kite Runner deals with themes that are prevalent in many other literary works, most notably, the ideas of regret and atonement. The works of F. Scott Fitzgerald also explore this theme: characters in “Babylon Revisited” struggle with the way their past decisions influence their present conditions, while characters in The Great Gatsby actively try to repeat it. The nonlinear structure of the story is also echoed by literary works from Wuthering Heights to Naked Lunch, where jumbled plotlines layer time periods for dramatic effect.

Review

Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is a tale of redemption in Taliban Afghanistan. Throughout the book, Hosseini’s poignant writing complicated entanglement of loyalty, tolerance, and forgiveness that compose friendship.


The story follows Amir, a Pashtun boy and the son of an affluent businessman in Kabul. Amir’s closest friend is Hassan, a Hazara and Shi’a who is the son of the family’s servant. In a society bound by tradition, Hassan and other minorities are treated as second-class citizens, and Amir struggles to rationalize their friendship with his family’s influential position. Amir eventually betrays Hassan, and, shortly thereafter, he and his father leave Afghanistan in the wake of Soviet occupation, but Amir quickly finds that the past is not so easy to bury. Years later, he returns to Afghanistan in an attempt to right a wrong and redeem himself.


Over the course of the novel, Hosseini not only tells the story of Amir, but the story of Afghanistan. From the peaceful and prosperous place of Amir’s youth, the country transforms through a series of brutal occupations and regimes into the broken and war-torn land of today. The stark contrast between the Afghanistans of Amir’s past and present creates a backdrop that perfectly echoes Amir’s search for morality in an increasingly depraved world.


Despite dealing directly with the struggles of an exiled Afghan, Hosseini’s beautifully woven tale transcends culture as it grapples with themes of acceptance, fidelity, and redemption. The Kite Runner is ultimately the timeless story of friendship and deserves a well-earned spot on any summer reading list.

Recap Video

The Kite Runner Review

Other Books Like This

Citations

Books:

Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Thomas Cautley Newby, 1847. Print.

Burroughs, William S. Naked Lunch. New York: Grove Press, 1959. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. "Babylon Revisited." Babylon Revisited and Other Stories. New York: Collier Books, 1960. Print.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Schribner's, 1925. Print.

Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. Print.


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