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Book Review: The Kite Runner
Dispelling Muslim Stereotypes
Hoa K. Vu

Before I read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, I thought Afghanistan was only a haven for terrorists. But now I realize it’s a country just like ours with people who are just like me.

The novel is about a friendship between two boys growing up in war-torn Afghanistan. Amir comes from an elite family and Hassan is a servant in his household. Although it is uncommon for a member of a privileged house to be friends with servants, the boys have a special bond.

One of the early scenes centers on a kite tournament, an Afghan tradition among the children. The competitors try to both keep their kites in the air and cut the strings of their opponents’ kites. It requires a lot of jerking and tugging on their lines. The tournament ends when there is only one kite left in the sky. When the kites fall, the players run for them; the last fallen kite is the tournament prize. Amir successfully cuts the last kite and everyone cheers. Hassan goes after it. When Hassan is gone for too long, Amir tries to find him.

Amir spots Hassan in an alley, and he witnesses two boys holding him down while another is raping him. But Amir runs away rather than intervening. This cowardly act haunts him for the rest of his life. “I had one last chance to make a decision. One final opportunity to decide who I was going to be. I could step into that alley, standing up for Hassan…and accept whatever would happen to me. Or I could run. In the end, I ran.”

Amir’s guilt doesn’t leave him. Years later, he recalls Hassan telling him that he’d be a great writer one day. He says to himself, “There was so much goodness in my life. So much happiness. I wondered whether or not I deserved any of it.”

A Horrific Homecoming

Soon after Hassan’s assault, the Soviet Union invades Afghanistan and Amir and his father Baba escape from Kabul and land in Fremont, California. Amir loses track of Hassan.

About 25 years later, Amir receives a call from his friend Rahim in Afghanistan telling him that he is near death. So Amir goes to back to Afghanistan to be with Rahim in his final days. When he arrives, Rahim tells him about Hassan’s situation. (I can’t tell you what it is without it being a spoiler.)

image by Riverhead Books

Upon Amir’s return to Afghanistan he learns that the Taliban has forced out the Soviets. The Afghan people think the Taliban will bring peace. Rahim says, “The war is over…. There’s going to be peace, Inshallah, and happiness and calm. No more rockets, no more killing, no more funerals!” This hope is shattered when the Taliban starts to patrol the streets and murder people.

Amir can’t believe how much his country has changed. “We had crossed the border and the signs of poverty were everywhere. On either side of the road, I saw chains of little villages sprouting here and there, like discarded toys among the rocks, broken mud houses and huts consisting of little more than four wooden poles and a tattered cloth as a roof. I saw children dressed in rags chasing a soccer ball outside the huts.”

A Country Just Like Ours

The book gave me an intimate look at how war affects regular people. When I heard about the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, I didn’t think about citizens having to hide or being killed in their streets. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be afraid of being killed just by going outside your front door.

When Amir sees the children dressed in rags, I felt sheer sadness. Maybe it’s because I grew up in poverty. Maybe it was because I remember sitting outside my apartment building with all my stuff when I became homeless. When I read how bad it was in Afghanistan I realized that at least I had a glimmer of hope; but their hope came and went like the tanks that rolled in and out of their country.

In the end, Amir connects with Hassan, but not in the conventional way. You will have to read the book to see what happens between the two friends, and how Amir finally takes revenge on Hassan’s attacker from that childhood day in the alley.

What stood out for me the most about reading The Kite Runner was my realization that I had misconceptions about the Afghan people. In a world where there are so many misconceptions like mine, I can see how easy it is for someone like Donald Trump to sell the American people on shutting out all immigrants who come from that part of the world.

But we can’t do that. Many people who live in war-torn countries need safe places to escape to. They just want to work, feel safe, and go to school. I understand that the Taliban is a militant group based in Afghanistan, but there is a saying that applies well here: Even if there are a couple of dirty drops of water, it does not corrupt the whole ocean.

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