Review: The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner (Book) by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner (Film) directed by Marc Forster

One Thousand Splendid Suns (Book) by Khaled Hosseini

Reviewed by Jared Phillips

The Kite Runner (novel)

Despite workers’ and students’ democratic uprisings throughout the 1960s, Khaled Hosseini depicts relative social stability in Afghanistan up until the succession of the republic in 1973. The decades of unrest and persecution that follow are the context in which the story begins. The Kite Runner is centred around the betrayal by the considerably wealthier of two boys who are friends in Kabul. The wealthier is a Pashtun, a dominant ethnicity, and his servant friend is a Hazara, an ethnic minority.

Hosseini’s description of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan deals a blow to ‘the tankies’ – the pro-Soviet communist parties that supported Soviet interventions. To escape the persecution of the Soviet intervention, and to escape the war between Soviet and Peoples Democratic Party Afghanistan forces on one side and the U.S-backed Mujahadeen on the other, the Pashtun family seeks refuge outside of Afghanistan. In 1989 the Soviets withdraw and the PDPA is soon after overthrown by the Mujahadeen. The alliances within the Mujahadeen splinter and deliver more war and chaos until they are out-warred by the fundamentalist Taliban, who cast more death over Afghanistan. On the carnage, one character reflects, ‘I have been dreaming a lot lately…some of them are nightmares, like hanged corpses rotting in soccer fields with bloodred grass’ .

By the time of Taliban rule the boy from the Pashtun family is an adult living more comfortably in East Bay California. He is told by a family friend that there is a way for him to make up for his childhood betrayals. He is told that ‘There is a way to be good again’. This is the tagline for The Kite Runner movie.

The Kite Runner (film)

The adaptation to film, directed by Marc Forster, screenplay by David Benioff, is very satisfying. In particular, the fitting-in of the whole long line story is relieving although it makes the film slightly fast-moving. Presumably for a more popular audience, the film is more palatable. For instance, a brutal suicide is omitted and a drag-out, one-on-one, fight-to-the-death becomes a fist fight ending with far less injury. With great visual effect (filmed in China), the film drives at the dusty and deadly environment enforced by the Taliban. The film is a bit light on the Soviet intervention, just showing some red flags marching into town will do the audience. The disappointment of The Kite Runner, book and film, is that it doesn’t explore the next chapter of oppression in Afghanistan, the oppression of the U.S-led war.

A Thousand Splendid Suns (novel)

Again, Hosseini explores how relationships endure, or not, under extreme conditions. This time he develops a friendship between two women, with a lot of difference between them, who share equivalent hardships. Their relationship with a man serves as a metaphor for the conditions women in Afghanistan have endured prior to the Taliban and then under the fundamentalism of the Taliban.

In The Kite Runner there are moments of mysticism, for example, the young servant knows where to stand, without looking, to catch his friend’s kite. One Thousand Splendid Suns is more realist, and has more emphasis placed on political and historical detail. The story captures the Taliban’s public hanging of former President and PDPA leader Mohammad Najibullah. It details the factions in the Mujahadeen, including that led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who was, in his student days, aligned with the PDPA and rose to fame in 1972 when he assassinated Maoist leader Saydal Sokhandan (within the republican movement the Maoists were the main organised counter-weight against the increasingly soviet-dominated PDPA), and then went on to become Prime Minister after helping to lead the Mujahadeen to force soviet withdrawal.

The author spends quite a bit of time on health and education, and has to concede that under the PDPA regime there was improved healthcare and, in the cities at least, vast and extensive progress made for women, especially in the field of education. Hosseini identifies the movement towards womens’ equality as one of the main factors in the anti-Soviet resistance, led from the countryside. This brings attention to the complexities of advancing social progress when large parts of the public support the current culture. In relation to soviet intervention, Hossieni shows that progress can’t be imposed by an outside force, especially one that subverts everything to the agenda of a foreign state. However, he doesn’t reach the same conclusion in relation to the United States and Operation Enduring Freedom which is still, of course, imprisoning, claiming life, and preventing national sovereignty. Hosseini’s story concludes that life under Enduring Freedom is improving, albeit slowly. At the end of Splendid Suns it becomes more obvious that Hosseini is a mix of liberalism and philanthropism. It seems he believes what the Bush administration knows is propaganda. But he is nevertheless an outstanding writer.

Other issues Hosseini explores in both stories include the refugee crisis, and ethnic discriminations that transform into sectarian violence under the Taliban.

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