After September 11th, as it became apparent that the United States would bomb Afghanistan, an open letter written by an Afghan appeared on the Internet. It pleaded with Americans to realize that Afghanistan was already a devastated country. It needed food, not vengeance; sympathy, not hate. The Kite Runner, a novel by Afghan-American writer Khaled Hosseini, takes this clarification one step further. The first novel to be written in English by an Afghan, it spans the period from before the 1979 Soviet invasion until the reconstruction following the fall of the odious Taliban.

The novel portrays the Afghans as an independent and proud people who for decades have defended their country against one invader after another. But the narrator wonders if his people will ever transcend the tribalism that continues to threaten Afghanistan's integrity. "Maybe," he thinks, "it was a hopeless place." As a boy, Amir cravenly betrays his servant and best friend, the Hazara boy Hassan.

When the Russians come, Amir and his father move to California, where Amir becomes a successful writer. He embraces America because it "had no ghosts, no memories, and no sins." But when Amir learns that a childhood mentor is ailing back home, he returns to discover that his relationship to Hassan had been deeper than he realized. This leads him on a hazardous journey to rescue and adopt Hassan's son, whose father the Taliban had executed.

The novel derives its name from the Afghan custom of doing battle with kites. Although the book can sometimes be melodramatic and garrulous, it provides an extraordinary perspective on the struggles of a country that, until that doleful September day, had been for too long ignored or misunderstood. And despite its grimmer episodes, the novel ends with a note of optimism about Afghanistan's future, an optimism that the whole world would prefer to see unspoiled. Inshallah, as Afghans say: God willing.

Kenneth Champeon is a writer based in Thailand.

 

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