I like to tease my mom about her book club. Frequently, she gives me the list of upcoming titles they are going to read to see if I would like to read any of them as well. Inevitably, the books can be summed up as follows:
"Young boy/girl/family grows up in war-torn/impoverished/war-torn & impoverished conditions. A main character is beaten/starved/raped/sold into slavery and family/social group is torn apart. Perhaps one of the main characters becomes a bad guy. Plot revolves around the strength of the human condition/overcoming heartache and redemption. Ending is, at best, bittersweet."
It is astonishing how many books there are, best-selling books, that can be summed up in this way. I usually reply to my mom that I'm not interested in reading another novel about European potato famine or unrelenting cruelty to innocent girls in foreign countries. Knowing this about me, she nonetheless suggested that I read "The Kite Runner" after her book club read through it. Initially, I brushed it off as just another torture book I didn't need to read. Still, she continued to recommend it to me (she's a persistent lady).
About a month ago, I requested that the readers of this blog give me ideas of books to read and that I would use their advice. Although there were many different books recommended to me both in and outside of the blog comments, my advisers spoke to me in one voice about one book in particular: The Kite Runner. So, in keeping with my commitment to those who took the time to help me out, I have read The Kite Runner.
Normally when I read, I tear through a book in a day, maybe two. It may have taken me a month to read The Kite Runner. As anyone who has already read the book could tell you, I was immediately drawn into its world and the dynamic between Amir, Hassan and Baba. I tore through the early stages of the book with my usual fervor. When Amir makes his first betrayal of Hassan in that alley, I set the book aside for a few days. I was frustrated that the book had become the genre I so detest. Nonetheless, I continued to be drawn to it and picked it up again shortly. As Amir struggles with his actions that day, it immediately became clear to me where this book was heading. The main character, the good guy, was going to betray possibly the most innocent character in recent literature for a second time.
I was NOT happy about this. So much so, in fact, that I read another book in its entirety before I returned to The Kite Runner. Still, I returned to it, partly out of guilt, as if I was betraying Hassan, too, by not allowing the story to be completed. This time, I attacked the book in my usual manner, devouring the final 2/3 of the book last night.
How do I feel now? On the one hand, I was disappointed that the book did become exactly what I had predicted. On the other hand, the book moves through these scenes quickly, trying fruitlessly to forget about them as Amir does. Although this provides a temporary relief to the reader (and Amir) it is always in the back of your mind that eventually these pains are going to have to be dealt with.
I loved the middle third of this book, where Amir and Baba try to forge a new life in a new place and gain new respect and admiration for one another. It is virtually impossible NOT to like Baba. I enjoyed the light-hearted way the author approached Amir's courtship of Saraya, which easily could have been made extremely uncomfortable.
The final third of the book was, while not enjoyable, inevitable and perhaps less painful than it could have been. It was, however, extremely educational, as was the book as a whole. I'm not going to claim that The Kite Runner helped me to understand that part of the world or even that I have new insight into that culture. If anything, it showed me just how little I understand the mindset of middle to southeast Asian cultures. What I did learn, and this is valuable, is that many people living there don't understand it either. The population as a whole doesn't understand when the soccer team has to wear pants and you are punished for cheering. Oppression, even when it is from your own people and religion, is still oppression.
So, does Amir eventually find redemption? I suppose the answer is "yes," but as with all books in this genre, that redemption is bittersweet.
UPDATE: Nancy made the correct observation that this review never states if I actually liked the book or not and if I would recommend it. One could easily get the impression from my comments that I didn't like it, and that would be incorrect. I actually liked it quite a bit and would highly recommend it. Thank you to those who recommended it to me! If I didn't think that the book was worthwhile, I probably wouldn't have finished it.