This book… wow. Where to begin. It actually took my breath away.
No matter where you think this book is going, you’re wrong. There’s so much of it I didn’t see coming. It is tragic, and it is beautiful. It resonates in a deep place. It deals with father/son relationships, best friend relationships, loss of innocence, betrayal, brokenness, emptiness, sacrifice, suicide, standing up for what is right, and redemption.
It deals with the cost/benefit ratio of relationships: What if you could get the one thing you’ve always wanted, but it would cost you your best friend? What happens when you get what you wanted, but the cost was so great you can’t enjoy it?
Also, it’s really hard to talk about without giving things away.
Amir grows up in Afghanistan during the 70s and 80s – the fall of the monarchy, war, and Soviet takeover – and makes it out as a refugee before the Taliban gain control. Near the end, an orphanage worker aptly sums up the experiences of the children in this novel: “What I have in ample supply here is children who have lost their childhood. But the tragedy is that these are the lucky ones.”
Here is a quick sketch of some components of this novel:
- Amir’s relationship with his father, Baba: “With me as the glaring exception, Baba molded the world around him to his liking. The problem, of course, was that Baba saw the world in black in white. And he got to decide what was black and what was white. You can’t love a person who lives that way without fearing him, too. Maybe even hating him a little.”
Amir constantly feels that he doesn’t live up to his father’s expectations, both because he isn’t the larger-than-life figure Baba is and because his mother died in childbirth. He says at one point that he believes if he wins the kite-fighting competition, he’ll be pardoned for “killing” his mother.
- Rahim Khan, the one person who seems to be “on his side” as Amir grows up (and, indeed, throughout his entire life), tells Baba: “Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.”
- The innocence and absolute trust of Hassan, Amir’s childhood best friend and servant. Amir says that Hassan always meant everything he said, so he expected that other people did too. “Hassan was so pure he made you feel dirty.”
- “In Kabul, hot running water had been like fathers, a rare commodity.”
- Amir, in the hospital, praying for [a character, I’m trying not to give things away] to live: “I see now that Baba was wrong, there is a God, there always had been. I see Him here, in the eyes of the people in this corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find Him, not the white masjid with its bright diamond lights and towering minarets. There is a God, there has to be, and now I will pray, I will pray that He forgive that I have neglected Him all of these years…
This book is also full of beautiful artistry – especially balance and contrast – but I really can’t say how without giving so much of the story away. I think I can safely give only two examples:
Amir marries a girl who, like himself, is a disappointment to her father – but they are disappointments in different ways.
Then, Amir and Hassan, the two boys who grow up together as best friends, almost brothers, both end up with a scar on their lip: one receives it at birth, the other at near death.
The other thing that struck me about this book was the depth of the brokenness, both of individuals and of relationships. And how fragile childhood is, how easily innocence is stolen: sometimes it’s not even something happening to you. Sometimes it’s something you see happen to someone else.
So, you should read it. And prepare yourself for difficult, weighty things. It is so worth it.