The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini appears often on lists of great books and is identified as a favourite of readers and book clubs. I had never read the book so I thought that my 60 Books from 60 Years challenge was a good opportunity to rectify that. I listened to the audiobook which was read by the author.
The book is set in Afghanistan starting in the 1970s. Amir is the only son of a wealthy and prominent man. He lives in some luxury and is sent to school but finds it hard to gain the approval of his widowed father who considers him weak. Also living in the house is Ali, a servant, and his son Hassan who Amir sometimes thinks is preferred by his father. Hassan and Amir are friends and do everything together but because Hassan is a servant and a member of the Hazara people Amir will not acknowledge their friendship in public. Hassan always defends Amir and fights for him.
To gain his father’s approval Amir takes part in a kite flying competition which he wins. He sends Hassan to retrieve the losing kite which is a great honour and Hassan is attacked in a terrible way. Amir sees what has happened but does not intervene or help and, because of his guilt, he ends up forcing Ali and Hassan away from their home. Amir always feels unhappy about what he has done and he finds a way to atone many years later.
Amir is spoiled and often nasty. He has the opportunity to teach Hassan to read but instead he reads to him and changes the stories. He rejects Hassan in public and occasionally mistreats him at home. He is jealous of Hassan and wants to appear more like him but instead of emulating his friend he tries to destroy his credibility. Over and over again he regrets his behaviour and wishes that he had behaved better to Hassan but he never changes what he does. Even when he is approached later in the book with an opportunity to help Hassan he has to be tricked and shamed into it. Amir is a coward, which he knows, but he is also deceitful and selfish. He spends most of this book being saved by Hassan or his father or other people and when he ends up facing his fears he has to be rescued from that situation too. His self-centredness causes others to suffer and he fails to understand their points of view because he sees everything from his position of privilege. I didn’t think that his actions at the end of the book really redeemed him in any way – although I am very much in the minority in this opinion judging from other reviews I have read.
I found Amir very wearing and because the book is written from his point of view this meant that I spent long hours in the company of someone I didn’t like who was doing things of which I didn’t approve. This book did not work for me but I acknowledge that others have loved it and find it very moving.