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 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

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.

Childhood 2

Childhood 2

I have just been flicking through Michel Rosen’s beautifully edited book called The Penguin Book of Childhood, (1995). Therein we read some wonderfully apt quotes on childhood. I’ll mention a few of the more apt and funny ones below here:

 “From the day your baby is born, you must teach him to do without things. Children today love luxury too much. They have execrable manners, flaunt authority, have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their parents or teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?” Socrates 469-399 BC

 “Don’t pick your nose!” John Lydgate’s advice, among other things, to a boy serving at table, England, around 1400 A.D.

 “As soon as I am cum into the schole, this fellow goith to make water.” Words of some frustrated teacher in England, c 1450 A.D. I understand his sentiments well.

 “Beat him!” Advice of Henry IV of France to his son’s tutors, 16th century.

 “Children under 14 years of age, and above 5, that live in idleness and be taken begging, may be put into Service by the Governors of Cities, Towns, Etc. to Husbandry, or other Crafts or Labours.” Act of Parliament, under Henry VIII.

 The St Paul’s choristers were “pissing upon stones in the Churche…to slide upon as upon ysse.” Choirboys in winter, London, 1595.

The pictute above shows my father with me and my brother Gerard at our maternal grandmother's house in Crumlin around 1960 or so

To be continued

Childhood 1

Childhood 1

As a teacher for the best part of thirty years I am well acquainted with young people in the age group 11 to 18/19, the years of secondary schooling in Ireland. Needless to say I am also familiar with it in so far as I once was a child or a youth many years ago. Also as I have grown older, and hopefully a little wiser, I have also read much and attended many conferences on child psychology, counselling and psychotherapy and how to handle discipline problems as regards the students whom I teach. With all of this as a background I feel I know not a little about childhood.

What inspires these thoughts, these ciphers upon this page? Well, yesterday some 8 other teachers and I, along with 20 or so students, all around 15 or 16, attended the Month’s Mind of our recently deceased student, young Stephen Dowdall. The sense of the “lostness of childhood,” if I may coin a phrase which I shall explain more fully further on in these musings, that sense of trust in adults, that sense of looking to us teachers and other adults for direction, if not for some meaning and support in life in the face of that same life’s ultimate and unavoidable extinction hit me forcefully. In fact I felt humbled as I, too, inwardly to some extent was lost – perhaps not as lost as the youngsters. The only thing we adults had on our side were our years of lived experience of life, a certain equanimity that comes with age and a hard won wisdom garnered from whatever personal pains we had suffered.

Since Freud et al and the emergence of modern psychoanalysis and all other cognate therapies, childhood has been studied as if it were a quarry for all our “hang ups” and neuroses, for all our fears and phobias. We adults are forever chasing our elusive child deep within us. Most modern therapies not alone allude to, but recommend the healing of our “inner child.” We are called to “parent” or even to “re-parent” our “inner child” and by doing so allow ourselves to be healed of our neuroses which we can trace back to the bad parenting skills of our own families.

At college I, along with my fellow student teachers, had been informed that we not alone were educators, but also that we were “in loco parentis”, in the very place of parents while we were exercising our educational roles. This theory of education is so true, and it really struck home for me yesterday as I sat there surrounded by our “lost sheep” who were looking up to us for support and guidance. “They’re only children!” as one of my colleagues said to me. Indeed they are, and we’re not too far ahead of them either, I’m thinking!

The picture above from 1962/3 shows from left myself, my brother Gerard and our friend Gerard Fitzpatrick. To be continued