The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.
Amir is a young boy in Kabul, Afghanistan, during the 1970s. He lives with his father, whom he calls “Baba,” and their servants, Ali and Hassan. Ali is one of Baba’s oldest friends, but because he is Hazara, a race of Afghan descended from Moguls, he is considered lower class and must work as a servant. Hassan is Ali’s son and Amir’s closest friend. Because Hassan is also Hazara, he is not allowed to go to school with Amir and must work with Ali.
Amir spends most of his free time playing with Hassan and reading to him, but often plays tricks on his friend by making up the wrong endings to the stories. Although Amir loves Hassan and thinks of him more as a brother than a servant, he cannot help being jealous of him because of the way Baba also loves Hassan. Amir, who is desperate for his father’s approval, doesn’t understand why his father buys Hassan birthday presents or insists on taking him with them on family outings. Even though Amir sometimes treats him cruelly, Hassan always forgives Amir. Hassan stands up to the bullies who pick on them in the streets. One boy, Assef, vows to get his revenge on them after Hassan threatens him with a slingshot to stop him from beating Amir.
Each winter, all of Kabul celebrates a kite tournament. Boys and young men fly kites and try to cut each other’s strings until one kite is left in the sky. Victory belongs not only to the boy who flies the remaining kite, but also to the boy who retrieves the last kite to fall. Amir and Hassan have practiced as a team for years — Amir flying the kite, and Hassan holding the string and running after the fallen ones. When Amir is 12 years old, and Hassan 11, they vow to win both prizes in the tournament. Amir believes his victory will finally make his father proud of him.
The day of the tournament arrives, and Amir is terrified he will fail. Hassan gives him the courage to fly the kite. The two work together, Hassan holding the string, Amir pulling it to dance in the sky and fight with the other kites. At the end of the day, Amir’s is the only kite flying. Hassan runs through the streets, promising to retrieve the last fallen kite so Amir’s victory will be complete. Amir winds his kite in, then searches for Hassan. He finds his friend trapped by Assef and two other boys. Hassan has found the kite, but Assef wants it. When Hassan refuses to trade the kite for his freedom, the boys attack and rape him. Amir watches from the shadows, wishing he had the courage to help his friend. Instead, he runs away before the boys and Hassan see him.
Amir’s guilt at having let Hassan be sodomized destroys their friendship. He cannot look at Hassan without remembering all his friend did in order to get the kite. His guilty conscience eats away at him. After his 13th birthday party, Amir plants money and a watch in Hassan’s house in order to frame him for stealing. Baba questions Hassan, who admits to the theft, even though he is innocent. Although Baba has always said that stealing is the worst crime a man can commit, he is willing to forgive Hassan. Ali steps forward and tells Baba that he and Hassan are leaving. For the first time in his life, Amir sees his father cry. Baba begs Ali to stay, but Ali refuses. The servant looks at Amir, and the boy knows that Hassan has told him everything — about the rape, about Amir’s rejection of him and about him framing Hassan for the theft. It is the last time Amir will see his friend alive.
Five years later, Baba and Amir escape from the Russian takeover of Afghanistan by smuggling themselves out of Kabul in an empty fuel truck. Eventually they travel to America and settle in California. Baba works as a mechanic while Amir finishes high school and starts junior college to study English so he can become a writer. Before Baba dies of cancer, Amir meets and marries Soraya, a young woman also from Afghanistan. Amir becomes a writer while Soraya becomes a teacher. The two are happy, even though Amir is never able to forget the sins he committed as a child. When he and his wife are unable to have children, he believes it is a punishment for what he did.
In 2001 Amir receives a phone call from his father’s old business partner, Rahim Khan. Khan had also been Amir’s confidant and had encouraged Amir to write. Although Amir never told Rahim Khan what he did, he suspects the man knows. Khan tells Amir that he is dying and wishes to see him one more time. Before hanging up, he suggests that there is a way Amir can redeem himself.
Amir flies to Pakistan to meet with Rahim Khan. Rahim tells Amir of the horrendous state of Afghanistan since the war with Russia and the Taliban takeover in 1996. He fills Amir in on all that has happened to his friend Hassan, including his and his wife’s murders at the hands of Taliban officials. Khan then begs Amir to return to Afghanistan to bring Hassan’s son, Sohrab, to Pakistan. When Amir initially balks at the request, Khan tells him the truth about Hassan’s parentage: he was Amir’s half-brother, Baba’s son.
Amir agrees to try and retrieve his nephew from an orphanage in Kabul. The journey is treacherous, and Amir is shocked by the scars left from the war with Russia and the brutality of Taliban rule. When Amir finally locates the orphanage that housed Sohrab, he learns the boy has been sold to a Taliban officer. Amir arranges a meeting to see if he can buy the boy’s freedom. The Taliban officer turns out to be Assef, the childhood bully who’d raped Hassan. Assef is molesting Sohrab. When Amir offers to buy the boy, Assef refuses. He beats Amir almost to death, and it is only when Sohrab manages to shoot Assef’s eye with a slingshot that the two escape.
It takes many weeks for Amir to recover from his injuries, during which he asks Sohrab if he would like to live with him in America. Although afraid to leave his country, Sohrab is more afraid of having to return to an orphanage. He agrees to go with Amir, but government red tape holds up the process. When Amir tells Sohrab he may have to return to an orphanage just until they can get all the paperwork cleared, the boy tries to commit suicide. Amir remains with Sohrab until he is able to travel and then brings him to California. Though Sohrab survived the suicide, he has become a mute, psychologically unable to speak to anyone. Many months later, Sohrab still has not spoken or smiled. Amir and Soraya take him to the park where fellow Afghans celebrate the Afghan new year. Sohrab notices some kites flying, something he used to do with his father. After Amir manages to win a fight with another kite, Sohrab smiles. It is a small step, but one Amir hopes will blossom into healing.
Rahim Khan initially begs Amir to bring Sohrab to an orphanage in Pakistan that is run by a kind Christian couple. A Taliban official, who later turns out to be Assef, approaches a man sentenced to death. His arms are spread out like Jesus on the Cross. Assef throws the first rock to stone the man to death.
Although many of the references to religion correlate to a Christian worldview, the reader must remember that Afghanistan is a Muslim nation, so most, if not all, of the allusions are to Allah and the Muslim faith. As a child, Hassan gives money to have his fortune read. Hassan’s father, Ali, prays every time his son leaves the house.
Baba says the devil shines mirrors to distract Muslims from their prayers. Teachers beat their students if they mispronounce Arabic words because they want to be sure Allah hears their prayers correctly. Baba believes the greatest sin is theft because it incorporates all other sins. Even murder is the theft of a man’s life. Baba is not overtly religious and looks down on those who are. He believes God has more important things to do than worry about people drinking or eating pork. Amir recalls the yearly sacrifice of a lamb by the mullah, or priest, in atonement for their sins.
A woman refugee prays for deliverance, and her husband fingers prayer beads as they are smuggled in the fuel truck. When Baba contracts cancer, Amir prays the verses from the Koran that he learned as a child. A cleric demands the death of two adulterers by stoning because they have thrown stones at Allah’s laws. Sohrab believes he is full of sin because of how Assef and the other officers molested him. Amir assures him that it was not his sin but theirs. After Sohrab attempts suicide, Amir reaches out in desperation to the religion he abandoned. He prays toward Mecca and vows to dedicate himself to Allah and his teachings if he will save the boy’s life.
One of the primary sources of conflict throughout the book is between Amir and his father. Baba is a proud man of courage and strength who can’t understand his son’s passive nature. He is distant from Amir, unable to show his son the affection he craves. When a Russian soldier demands to rape a young Afghan woman in order to let the truckload of fellow refugees across the border, Baba stands up to him and saves the woman from violence. Rahim Khan gives Amir the encouragement he needs to pursue his writing dreams. Although more patient with Amir, it is ultimately Khan’s demands that force Amir to accept his failures and seek to rectify the harm he has caused. Soraya relates a story from her past in which her father threatened to shoot her boyfriend and himself if she didn’t return home with him. Throughout the book, parents are very concerned with the appearance of the family. Everyone must be seen following the customs set by their ancestors. One character comments that Afghans love customs but abhor rules. The strict rules of the Taliban government are seen destroying the Afghan society and way of life. For example, former professors now beg in the streets for food because Taliban officials believe their teachings were too Western.
The world of The Kite Runner is harsh, and much profanity is spoken including the f-word, b–tard, a–, d–n, h—, s— and c–t. Other objectionable words include fart, p— and balls. God’s name is used in vain with forbid, d–n and forsaken. Jesus’ name is also taken in vain.
Assef’s brutality started when he was a child, and Amir relates various stories of his violence. Assef once bit a boy’s ear off; he hit Hassan in the head with a rock; he beats other children with brass knuckles, and his idol is Adolph Hitler. Hassan aims his sling shot at Assef’s eye in order to stop him from beating Amir. Amir describes the pain he felt being circumcised at age 10. Amir turns away before he actually sees Hassan being raped, but he hears it. He also sees blood staining Hassan’s pants when he comes home. Baba tries to choke a smuggler who lied to them. While waiting in a dismal basement with other refugees, Amir hears a friend’s father relate how his son had been raped. When the friend dies from the fumes in the fuel truck, the father steals a guard’s gun and commits suicide.
When he returns to Afghanistan as an adult, Amir hears many stories of death and violence brought by the Russian occupiers and the Taliban. He learns that Taliban officials accused Hassan of living illegally in Baba’s house and then executed him in the street when he denied it. They shot his wife when she tried to protect him. Amir and his driver watch a couple being stoned for adultery. The stoning takes place in the middle of a soccer game. Once the accused are dead, soldiers throw their bodies on the back of a pickup truck, and the game continues.
Assef’s attack on Amir is brutally and graphically described. Assef beats him with brass knuckles, breaking his ribs, his jaw, his nose and rupturing his spleen. Sohrab obliterates Assef’s eye with his slingshot.
A soldier makes crude gestures at Hassan, intimating that he had sex with the boy’s mother. She is described as walking in a way that made men want to have sex with her. Before they marry, Soraya tells Amir about her past relationship. Although he would have preferred to marry a virgin, he will not condemn her because of his past mistakes. After they are married, Amir talks about their trouble having children and reminisces about their lovemaking.
Assef and his gang rape Hassan. Another man tells Baba about his son’s rape by a gang in Kabul. Sohrab is dressed as a girl, complete with make-up, and forced by Assef to dance for Amir. Assef caresses the boy as he talks to Amir.
Lying: Amir lies to Baba when he says Hassan stole his money and watch. Amir reads to Hassan, but sometimes changes the ending of the story to trick him.
Alcohol/Smoking: Baba and other men often drink and smoke cigars.
Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In’s movie review for The Kite Runner.
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