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My Impressions After Reading "The Kite Runner"

Worry not! I haven't forgotten about our posts in English. What I've been focusing on these days, is to make the blog bilingual. I want to post regularly both in English and in Spanish. The content will be, more or less, half half.

Today i would like to present you the book we've talked about in Donostia Book Club in May: Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner". And same as during our meeting, first I'll try to describe Afghanistan's political background. I'm not an expert, so don't doubt to comment or send me an email if you would like to correct or add something.



Afghanistan’s main ethnic composition includes the Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Baluchi, and Turkoman people. The Afghan nation is a very heterogeneous population, comprising at least 22 languages, of which Dari and Pashto are officially recognized in the constitution. Practically everyone in Afghanistan is Muslim representing both Sunni and Shia Muslims. The majority of Hazaras and Qizilbash are Shia, while the majority of Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Turkoman, and Baluchi people are Sunni. Until recent times, other religions were also represented in Afghanistan. 


In Kabul and in a few other urban cities, exclusive communities of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews coexisted within the Muslim population. Like similar societies, Afghan traditions have been preserved because of the prevailing influence of religious customs and tribal culture. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are the last ethnic group still having an operational tribal system, known as Pashtunwali (Code of the Pashtuns). However, the Pashtuns are divided into hundreds of tribes and clans. Nonetheless, all Afghan ethnic groups have been able to preserve their kinship, village, and regional ties. The country has inherited a rich linguistic and cultural heritage dating back thousands of years. 

Afghanistan is a mountainous, arid and landlocked country often called the ‘heart of Asia’, sharing borders with Pakistan, Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and China. Not only has the geographic location of Afghanistan been important strategically, but it was also a highway for trade, raids, and military marches. Afghanistan emerged as a nation-state in the 18th century after centuries of invasions and conquests. begins in 1973, when the army overthrew the monarchy led by Zahir Shah. He was forced into exile in Italy by his cousin and son-in law, Daoud Khan, who declared himself president of the republic. Daoud Khan spoke about ending corruption and being true to the revolution but it became apparent the regime change was only a transfer of power. Resistance against the new regime formed immediately by Islamic guerrilla rebels. By 1975, the regime began purging from the government all officials with socialist or Marxist ties. After a series of socialist leader assassinations, Daoud Khan was overthrown by the same military that brought him to power. The coup brought to power two factions of a socialist organization in what would be described as the April Revolution. 


From April 1978 until December 1979, the Khalq (Masses) faction led by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin forced socialist reforms which incited the tribal and religious institutions to revolt. Various resistance groups united along one front called the mujahidin (holy strugglers) and declared a jihad (holy struggle) against the Afghan state. Fearing the fall of the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Returned from exile was Babrak Karmal, head of the Parcham (Banner) faction, who quickly announced general amnesty for political prisoners which included prominent mujahidin leaders and invited moderates to cooperate in the reconciliation. However, Karmal’s measures were damaged by the brutal military operations of the Red Army and misuse of power by certain Afghan bureaucrats. In addition, the billions of covert military aid provided by the United States, Saudi Arabia and other countries to the mujahidin escalated the war and reduced any chances for an Afghan reconciliation. In 1986, Dr. Muhammad Najibullah, head of the notorious secret service, replaced Karmal. 


After a decade, the Soviet army withdrew, leaving the state split among many ethnic factions. In 1992, the mujahidin takeover of the state ignited into a civil war between mujahidin warlords, and later between the warlords and the Taliban. In the 1990s the Taliban assumed control and introduced strict adherence to Islamic law. Between 1992 and 2001, Afghanistan became the site for the worst battles, ethnic genocide, pillage, famine, and misery since Genghis Khan had swept through the region centuries earlier. The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, had also built training camps in Afghanistan. While most of the world condemned the Taliban, they were officially recognized by three countries: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

 After September 11, 2001, the Taliban refused to hand over Bin Laden, leading to a U.S. led coalition military campaign. By November, 2001, the Taliban lost control of Kabul. A new government, the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan was established in December 2001. Assisted by the international community, the Afghan state is trying to rebuild the war-torn nation, as well as establish economic and political stability. Despite its efforts, the Afghan government faces the same obstacles as faced by the government during the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. While President Hamid Karzai and prominent members of his cabinet and the elected parliament call for reconciliation and ceasefires with the Taliban; internal discord in the government, misuse of donor aid, bribery and corruption of state officials, the drug trade, promotion of warlords, the inability to control the untamed military campaigns of foreign troops such as collateral damage, the inability to understand the culture and customs of Afghans, and support for the Taliban resistance across the border in Pakistan has stymied any hopes for democratization and peaceful reform.

The story of The Kite Runner is fictional, but it is rooted in real political and historical events ranging from the last days of the Afghan monarchy in the 1970s to the post-Taliban near present. It is also based on Hosseini's memories of growing up in the Wazir Akbar Khan section of Kabul and adapting to life in California. 
In a 2003 interview with Newsline, Hosseini specified that the most autobiographical parts of The Kite Runner are those about "the difficult task of assimilating into a new culture." He also revealed, "My father and I did work for a while at the flea market and there really are rows of Afghans working there, some of whom I am related to." 

Hosseini with his father

Since he didn't return to Kabul until 2003, after The Kite Runner's publication, much of his portrayal of Afghanistan after the Soviet takeover is based on research. Hosseini's choice of time period for the book, though corresponding with his own life, also went beyond his personal experiences. He has said that he did not just want to call attention to the devastation in Afghanistan; he set out to remind the world that until the last few decades, before the world's eye was drawn to it by violence, Afghanistan was a generally peaceful nation.

Structurally,The Kite Runner can be divided into three sections: memories of pre-conflict Afghanistan, adjusting to life in America, and returning to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Thematically, it can be divided into just two: life before the rape and life after the rape. From any angle, The Kite Runner is a tale of love, betrayal, and redemption and it gained an enthusiastic audience from the start. 

After its 2003 release, The Kite Runner became a New York Times Bestseller and was eventually published in thirty-eight different countries, although not yet Afghanistan. Critics praised the book's intimate examination of relationships amid the fraught and very topical environment of Afghanistan. Many of them, however, expressed disappointment regarding some coincidences, specifically the way that Amir and Assef reunite. One reviewer called the moment "more suited to a folk tale" and another even deemed it worthy of a "B movie." Despite such comments, critical and popular response to The Kite Runner was almost universally positive.

The Kite Runner's most adoring readers and also some of its most critical are Hosseini's fellow Afghan expatriates. Hosseini said in a 2003 interview, "I get daily e-mails from Afghans who thank me for writing this book, as they feel a slice of their story has been told by one of their own. So, for the most part, I have been overwhelmed with the kindness of my fellow Afghans. There are, however, those who have called the book divisive and objected to some of the issues raised in the book, namely racism, discrimination, ethnic inequality etc." In addition to the deep feelings Hosseini's first novel aroused in the hearts of fellow Afghans, it also spurred a more lighthearted response, the resurgence of interest in kite fighting in America. The American invasion of Afghanistan may have 'put Afghanistan on the map' for Americans, but The Kite Runner goes farther by giving a detailed, human account of life and survival there. Its author continues this service to the world by serving as an activist in addition to writing. Hosseini has said, "If this book generates any sort of dialogue among Afghans, then I think it will have done a service to the community." As we know The Kite Runner has sparked conversation among Afghans and countless other groups of people worldwide. It is not such a surprise to Hosseini's admirers that a physician, accustomed to caring for people's bodies, has made such a graceful transition to caring for their histories and spirits

Themes: • Bullying • Role of books, literacy • Friendship, guilty & redemption • Fathers & sons • Coming of Age • Resilience of the human spirit • Man's inhumanity to man • Discrimination, prejudice, bigotry, class structure • Master/slave relationships: loyalty & devotion vs. Duty

Some important quotes to discuss:
"There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft"
"A boy who won't stand up for himself becomes a man who can't stand up to anything" 
"Baba loved the idea of America. It was living in America that gave him an ulcer." 
"For me America was a place to bury memories. For Baba, a place to mourn his." 
"People need stories to divert them at difficult times."
"A man who has no conscience, no goodness, does not suffer."

"Perspective was (is) a luxury when your head was (is) constantly buzzing with a swarm of demons."

Let me know if you enjoyed the book and what were your impressions!