Sunday, May 20, 2007

Childhood 3



Childhood 3

One of the most moving and well crafted books I have read recently is The Kite Runner (Bloomsbury, 2004) by Khaled Hosseini. The author was born in Afghanistan and his family received political asylum in the USA in 1980. He has a wonderful internet site at http://www.khaledhosseini.com/ He is a doctor and lives in California and The Kite Runner is his first book. It is a marvellous first work, well written and it captures childhood very well indeed. This book runs the whole gamut of emotions from joy to sorrow and back again and again. I wish I could write like Hosseini, but much more I wish I had such a moving story to tell. It is refreshing to read books by Afghanis because such a much abused and suffering country needs to have its voice heard. Well done Khaled!

The blurb captures well the depth and strength of emotions within the covers. The reviewer in the Daily Mail had this to say: “Rings true with tenderness and truth” while The Daily Telegraph’s counterpart praised it as “a devastating, masterful and painfully honest story.” This book kept my interest from start to finish – I read it over 4 or 5 days while visiting Rome this Easter. I chanced to pick the book up in the wonderful “San Francisco Book Shop” in Paris a few days earlier while I stayed there with my friends Mat and his wife Isabelle.

The story is one of both recapturing the innocence of childhood and facing squarely the selfish betrayal by twelve-year-old Amir (of the Pashdun people, mostly Sunni Muslim) of his close friend and loyal servant Hassan (of the Hazara people, mostly Shia Muslim – a small minority tribe). Hosseini does not spare the truth and tells it with sincerity in a simple disarming style.

Hosseini’s own site gives a wonderfully simple summary of this novel:

Kite Runner is the unforgettable, beautifully told story of the friendship between two boys growing up in Kabul. Raised in the same household and sharing the same wet nurse, Amir and Hassan nonetheless grow up in different worlds: Amir is the son of a prominent and wealthy man, while Hassan, the son of Amir's father's servant, is a Hazara, member of a shunned ethnic minority. Their intertwined lives, and their fates, reflect the eventual tragedy of the world around them. When the Soviets invade and Amir and his father flee the country for a new life in California, Amir thinks that he has escaped his past. And yet he cannot leave the memory of Hassan behind him.

The Kite Runner is a novel about friendship, betrayal, and the price of loyalty. It is about the bonds between fathers and sons, and the power of their lies. Written against a history that has not been told in fiction before, The Kite Runner describes the rich culture and beauty of a land in the process of being destroyed. But with the devastation, Khaled Hosseini also gives us hope: through the novel's faith in the power of reading and storytelling, and in the possibilities he shows for redemption.” See http://www.khaledhosseini.com/

What entranced me above all about this novel is its searing honesty. I liked especially the fact that Amir’s father Baba (Persian for Daddy) was an unbeliever, that he did not tow either the party line or a specific religious line. He was as far away from a “fundamentalist Muslim” as possible. For us here in the West who are victims of a propaganda that paints all Muslims as extremists, reading this novel is refreshing, inspiring and heartening.

On page 57 we read these typical words of a 12 year old child longing for his father’s affection: “But all I heard – and I willed myself to hear – was the thudding blood in my head. All I saw was the blue kite. All I smelled was victory. Salvation. Redemption. If Baba was wrong and there was a God like they said at school, then He’d let me win… But this was my one chance to become someone who was looked at, not seen, listened to, not heard…I was going to win. It was just a matter of when.”

Then, on the next page we cannot help rejoicing in the child’s perceived newly won favour with his cold and distant father: - “Then I was screaming, and everything was colour and sound, everything was alive and good. I was throwing my free arm around Hassan and we were hopping up and down, both of us laughing, both of us weeping. “You won, Amir Agha! You won!”…”Then I saw Baba on the roof. He was standing on the edge, pumping both of his fists. Hollering and clapping. And that right there was the single greatest moment of life, seeing Baba on the roof, proud of me at last.” (p 58)

Some pages later we read of the dreadful rape of Hassan by Assef as he bravely and loyally redeemed the blue kite for his friend Amir. All the while Amir was watching this awful spectacle, cowering fearfully and cowardly in hiding nearby without coming to his loyal friend’s aid. This is Amir’s shame and it is a shame which the central character seeks to expiate on his road to redemption. This painful road to redemption is what this novel is essentially about. The words describing this dastardly deed are spare and pointed: “Hassan didn’t struggle. Didn’t even whimper. He moved his head slightly and I caught a glimpse of his face. Saw the resignation in it. It was a look I had seen before. It was the look of the lamb.” (p. 66)

For all readers that wish to recapture a little innocence, the pain of growing up, the tortured mind of a friend who is the betrayer, the first realization that we all are sinners and wrong doers to a greater or lesser extent, that the friendships of our youth can and do endure despite setbacks and that real courage and loyalty do exist and that finally redemption is possible, then this is the book for you. This is a hopeful book, a wonderful work of deep humanity, full of compassion and all of it told with an honesty that is at once moving and uplifting. Truly a marvellous read. Ten out of ten!!

The picture I have uploaded above is one of me aged around 6 or 7.

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