I finished the first book in my “From the Stacks” challenge – only four more to go. And no, don’t bother looking down by sidebar to see what other books I will be reading or for some cool new graphics – I am just too lazy to update those parts of my blog right now. Hope to get to them tomorrow…or thursday…or next Saturday. Onto the thick of it.
I felt a little trepidatious, beginning Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. I feared I’d heard too many raves about this book to properly appreciate it, like the time I saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” after everybody else and ended up sorely disappointed, thinking “that’s it? That’s what all the hype is about?” Because everybody tells you about the windex scene so even that I didn’t find funny. But I digress.
Trusted reader-friends (and family) of mine recommended Hosseini’s novel, though, specifically my mom and my dad and A. This is how each recommended it:
My mom: You have to read it. It’s just so sad. It’s more sad than The Bridges of Madison County.
My dad: You have to read it. It demonstrates how difficult it is to leave the past behind, and you’ll appreciate how he loops the story back, and there are some old Hemingway themes running through, and it’s written with simple, elegant language, and the symbolism of the kites can be read in a variety of ways, some going hundreds of years, and…
A. : I liked. You’ll like it. We like the same books. It’s really good.
I didn’t just like it – I found it beautiful. When I began I wasn’t sure how I’d feel since the narrator was (a.) a writer and (b.) motherless, because his mother died giving birth to him. I don’t like the ease of choosing a writer-narrator for a first novel – I find it reeks of arrogance. I don’t like children who lose their mothers in childbirth because of the implicit guilt said child will carry around and, well, it’s just been done to death, I think. But Hosseini carried both off successfully enough.
As I finished this book last night, staying up way to late in order to find out poor Sohrab’s fate, I found myself reminded of something S. said when he returned from South Africa years ago. He told me, and I remember this so specifically, he said that he thinks the worst thing that can happen to a human being is to lose hope. He said he saw desperation every where he turned, and that it’s impossible to understand what an utter lack of hope does to a person – the violence it ignites, the despair it brings. He said he imagines that’s what suicide bombers feel when they throw themselves into cafes – their future just must be a big void with absolutely no hope left. I’ve often thought about that, especially when I studied inner city conflicts. I have never NOT known hope. I’ve never not known that no matter how badly I screw up, how many mistakes I make, I have a safety net in my family and even in some of my friends. Hosseini’s novel is full of characters who never even had the chance to experience gladness, the opportunity to hope for the future. His depictions of war-torn Afghanistan gripped my heart and made me despair on behalf of Afghanis, on behalf of much of the Middle East. Sohrab’s story I found particularly harrowing, and the scene after he finds out he might have to go to an orphanage is the one that kept me reading into the late hours of the night (it’s so hard to write about books without giving them away completely). This book illuminated, for me, the beauty and power of Islam and the connection between place and spirit. I actually think this book should be mandatory reading for Americans right now, walking around as we do with a collection of stereotypes and fears in our heads after 9/11, all the while forgetting that hearts break just as easily no matter what country you’re from.
I would love to discuss the last couple of passages, which are just incredibly beautiful, but that would give away the ending so instead I’ll leave you with a wonderful scene from the last 1/3 of the book, when Amir and Farid rent a motel room the night before confronting a member of the Taliban. I think it exemplifies both the joy and despair the novel so wonderfully evokes.
Just when I thougth he had fallen asleep, Farid chuckled. “Agha, did you hear what Mullah Nasruddin did when his daughter came home and complained that her husband had beaten her?” I could feel him smiling in the dark and a smile of my own formed on my face. There wasn’t an Afghan in the world who didn’t know at least a few jokes about the bumbling mullah.
He beat her too, then sent her back to tell the husband that Mullah was no fool: if the b astard was going tobbeat his daughter, then Mullah would beat his wife in return.”
I laughed. Partly at the joke, partly at how Afgan humor never changed. Wars were waged ,the Internet was invented, and a robot had rolled on the surface of Mars, and in Afghanistan we were still telling Nasruddin jokes.
More than anything, I think this book is about redemption – the redemption of Amir’s dignity and even, perhaps, his soul – redemption for Sohrob, and by extension for Hassan, redemption for Baba and Ali and all the mistakes we make. MOst importantly, this book emphasizes that redemption can be found through the human spirit, in connecting with one another and overcoming prejudice and hate. Isabbel Allende says this book is about love, honor, guilt, fear, redemption…really, can you ask for anything more than that?
Not sure what text from my stacks is next, but I doubt it will compare to the luminous Kite Runner.