I hated this book. I know that it’s super popular and everyone has raved about how Khaled Hosseini is a rising star, and The Kite Runner is an ingenious and personalized look at the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, I wanted to throw it across the room every few pages. Truthfully, I only finished it because I figured the positive reviews had to be based on something (anything!). But no, they’re really not.
The major overriding issue with this book is that the narrator is not sympathetic. At all. He is a spoiled, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, post-hoc rationalizing loser. I really wish that weren’t the case, but as mentioned above, I was looking for anything to redeem this book and didn’t find it. The worst of it is, the novel holds out hope of redemption — which is fine, great, good, I’m totally ok with a narrator’s repulsiveness being a lead-up to a character-challenging moment of introspection and change — and then doesn’t deliver. To say that it doesn’t deliver is also, unfortunately, the understatement of the year. The narrator’s choices at the end of the book, while in character, make the narrator in the beginning of the book as appealing as a beagle puppy. Had there been character growth by the end of the book, the entire novel would be a different experience. The choices made by the narrator early on are the choices of childhood, which are categorically forgivable. Or would be forgivable, if the adult narrator behaved differently. Which, as I think I’ve made clear, he didn’t.
The icing on the cake of this book, though, is the racialized brother. It’s not enough that he’s to be low-caste, born out of wedlock, raised by a cuckold, a servant in his father’s house (as was his mother before him), and subjected to violence. He also plays the part of the idyllic slave, the character who forgives any wrong done him out of an innate (pastoral) goodness and better nature. Blech. Maybe this portrayal is meant to make the narrator’s treatment of his brother less repulsive, but it only serves to make the entire thing more unpalatable.
Now, maybe I missed the point of this book entirely. Maybe the point is something like ‘caste systems really mess up the people who grow up in them and teach them to act like repulsive human beings all the time.’ Or, ‘no matter how much you try to move beyond your early choices, you will always be inherently the same.’ Possibly even ‘just when you think it can’t get any worse, meet the Taliban.’ Which are all good true points. About life. Not so much the makings for a novel, though.
I suppose it’s telling that there is so little information available in the United States about daily life in Afghanistan — before, during, or after the Taliban — that books with even a tiny window into that reality are hailed in this way. Nonetheless, my advice is this: read something else.