The Kite Runner has already been read by millions, translated and subsequently read in dozens of other languages, but I have only just read it. The book was published in 2003, a ripe time in history for considering the Afghan people, and studying their history and culture in detail, if not to completely understand, at least simply to gain some knowledge of what it must be like to be a citizen of that nation today. With U.S. forces in Afghanistan, it is important to know something about the people there, be familiar with some major cities, its religious system, and indeed, with the mindset of an Afghan person. Reading the story of Amir, the narrator, brought me into the mind of a Muslim boy, first, struggling to decide his religious thoughts in the midst of Muslim teachers and the beliefs of his secular father, and then, into the mind of Muslim man, battling his own demons and ultimately coming to terms with his life. The novel tells Amir's story, with amazing characters scattered all throughout the story; some are glorious; some gloriously evil-- all very poignoint and very tangible. I felt I was struggling with the characters through the entire story. When there was death, sadness, joy, celebration, struggle, I left all those things as if they were my own friends and family. Adding to the depth emotion, I felt I could understand the Afghan Muslim mindset, and the code of honor and tradition maintained in the culture, even while being an American woman reading the story. More than anything, the book made me feel for Afghanistan. The last thirty years of the nation's history read like a nightmare: peace in the streets and kite runners battling in them, transformed first by a coup (ending the monarchy), then the invasion of the Russians, then civil war, political factions, and eventually, the takeover by the Taliban. Only recently, I gleaned from the story, is there even the possibility of some governmental proceedings taking place. The story is clearly expresses the sadness author Khaled Hosseini feels over his homeland, and what the last years of violence have done to it. Violence, needless murders, food shortages, missing children and child abuse, bombings, destruction, lawlessness-- the smells and sights described before 1978 are so vivid, and in such direct contrast to the ravaged, littered and dilapidated country Amir sees when he returns in 2001 (having been gone since emigrating in 1981). I had not known a whole lot of Afghanistan's recent history, and when reading this story I really felt an honest, gut-wrenching hatred for the Taliban's policy of violence and murder. I feel more connected to the people living in Afghanistan than I ever have. I feel for them, I hate that children live in squalor with no hope of escaping, and no one to stand up for their rights.
Not meaning for this to sound like a rant or a book review, though I fear it may be a combination of both. What I mean is to express the pain I felt, for the people of Afghanistan. I can never again think of that country as merely a place on map; I feel more connected than ever, even while never having been there, nor speaking the language. But within the history of the last thirty years, I see the strength and courage it takes to live there. Many may have no choice in the end, but hope is powerful force, and I'd like to think there are bright glimmers of hope for Afghanistan.
There is still a lot violence on the streets every day in Afghanistan. For additional reading (besides The Kite Runner, obviously), NPR has a recent report on assassinations of political, social, and religious leaders and activists. I also read a really interesting collection of stories from various peoples' lives in Afghanistan now, but cannot seem to relocate that report now that I'm trying to find it. Expect an update later if I have luck.