The Kite Runner is simply the most American foreign novel I've ever read. For those who aren't clear on this, that's not a good thing. We'll come back to this...
As a story, The Kite Runner starts a bit slow. I wasn't engaged as a reader until eighty to a hundred pages in. There was just considerable information to process and not much emotional weight to the story. The narrative jumped around quite a bit and it was difficult to follow. Then the tension began to rise. Amir, Hassan, and Baba became real. I was pulled into the narrative and I began to see how this story might actually warrant all the praise it has received. The characters were interesting and the plot was riveting.
For a chunk of this book somewhere in the middle, the story is quite good. There's the divisive heartrending story of the past that haunts our protagonist. His journey into adulthood, marriage, and immigration is insightful and honest. When the time comes for Amir to go back to Afghanistan, I expected the book to reach a satisfying conclusion, quietly observing Amir's past from his new position and providing Amir an opportunity to redeem himself for his past mistakes.
Then Khaled Hosseini did two things to crap all over any hopes I had for this book.
First, he found the cutest little ribbon he could, wrapped it around his story and tied it up so prettily. No, it doesn't end there. He found another cute ribbon. And he wrapped it around the story and the first bow. Then he found another. And another. There are no bloody kite strings in this novel. Those are the most ornate, gaudy ribbons the author could find because he wants you to see all of them. See this pretty ribbon here? Here's how I tie it all together. See this plot line here? Here's how I conveniently finish it off? Didn't see it? Well, let me explain it to you. There's redemption and there's soap opera drama needlessly orchestrated from page one. The Kite Runner is very much the second.
Second, and this is what really offends me, the intention of The Kite Runner is clear: to be a foreign novel that makes Americans happy that they're Americans. It justifies the superiority complex while convincing the reader that they're culturally aware. The western belief that Muslim nations are evil and that they need our salvation is abundant in the later half of this book. The Taliban is painted as a childish, hypocritical caricature with no need for sympathy. The only redeemable Muslim characters are those who reject any expression of faith and embrace western ideas and imagery. But it's all written by an Afghan, so it must be the way things are, right? Yes, The Kite Runner is a book that lets you feel cultured and entirely justified in bombing those bastards overseas.
I know many people love this book. I know that I've probably just stepped on many of their toes. They may think I'm calling them out as an “ignorant westerner.” I'm not. This book perpetuates these ideas, but falling for a good story while missing the underlying colonial notions can happen to the best of us, especially when the author is “one of them.” I do wish I'd read a book from Afghanistan that better represented the nation and its people. Hopefully, someday I'll get back around to it.