Have you read the book the Kite Runner that everyone is discussing? The Kite Runner is a melancholy first novel written by Khaled Hosseni. Today we only hear about the horrors of war in Afghanistan, but there was a time back before 1979 when things were not always that way. The beginning of The Kite Runner takes place in the early and mid seventies when the main characters Amir and Hassan are still children. Amir and Hassan view each other as the best of friends, even though the latter is the servant to the former. However, both boys grew up with out their mothers and were nursed by the same women, so the book notes that they have a strong bond that can never be broken.
The Kite Runner is one of those books that draws one in from the start, which is refreshing after reading a series of books that were good, but not as engrossing as this one. Amir constantly tests Hassan and asks him things such as would he eat dirt for him, which shows he is abusing their friendship on many levels. However, Hassan is a good spirited person and says he would do anything for Amir, but would Amir return this favor? Amir is jealous of the love that his father (Baba) shows towards Hassan and he often wishes he were the only one around. Baba expresses his disappointment with Amir and remarks to his good friend Rahim Khan that he is tired of Hassan always having to protect his son. Baba does not understand why Amir likes to read and write and wishes he liked sports like soccer instead.
Amir feels inferior in the eyes of his father and wants to win his respect. Hassan protects both him and Amir one day when the Aryanistic bully Assef and his friends try to beat them up, which compounds Amir's desire to show his dad that he is not a complete disappointment. The opportunity to show his father that he is worthy of his love comes during a kite flying contest that Amir intends to win. Amir cuts down a blue sky that has been flying for a very long time, and Hassan runs to get the kite because he is a very talented kite runner. Amir loses track of Hassan in his quest to find the kite, but then he sees something very horrible happen to his friend and walks away. I will not tell you what that horrible thing is because you will have to read the book if you want to find out.
The sad thing is Amir wins the contest and the short term respect from his father, but this is short lived when Amir asks to have Hassan and his father Ali sent away. Baba is angered by this because his father had adopted Ali and he considers both Ali and Ali's son Hassan to be their family. After this tensions grow between Baba and Amir with both pretending to have a good time at Amir's thirteenth birthday party. Rahim Khan knows something is not right and tells Amir he can clear his conscience with him if he ever likes. Rahim Khan even buys Amir a writing book, which is the only the only gift that the boy seems to appreciate at this party. After the party things go down in Afghanistan and we meet up with Amir and Baba in 1981 when they are being smuggled out of the country. Amir learns that his father is not afraid to stand up to their Russian oppressors when one of them wants to rape one of the refugee women traveling with them, which makes the now eighteen year old man feel like even more the coward.
Life in the United States was not as posh for Amir as it had been in Afghanistan, but he and his father seem to have a better relationship living in a run down apartment and working low income jobs. Amir shares with his father that he plans to go to college and become a writer and his father finally supports his dream. Amir and Baba continue their bonding process through their weekend ritual of attending garage sales to buy items that they sell for a marked up prices at a local market. At this local market Amir meets the love of his life Soraya, but it take awhile before they can get married and start a life together. Amir's life seems to go on until one day in the year 2001 he receives a call from Rahim Khan telling him there is a way he can correct past wrongs, which results in Amir going to the Taliban ruled Afghanistan to rescue a dear friend he has never met. The Kite Runner is a book that sad, happy, triumphant all at the same time, but it is a book that comes highly recommended. After reading The Kite Runner I decided to do some research on the history and culture of Afghanistan, which helps me to feel I have a deeper understanding of the book and characters.
A Short Overview of Afghanistan
Afghanistan is a country that has been ravaged by war over the last thirty years. During the seventies Afghanistan was still a peaceful country where children did not hear shooting in the streets as noted in the Kite Runner, but this changed in 1979 with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in support of the communist influence People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan. Many well to do Afghanis such as the family of Khaled Hosseini were able to escape and receive political asylum in western countries. However, the fighting between the Soviet backed communist Afghani party and the mujahideen, which was backed by the United States, Pakistian, and Saudi Arabia, destroyed the countryside and render many people homeless. The Soviet Union withdrew in 1989 due to extreme pressure and because it was a lost cause with the end of the Cold War. Hosseini does a good job of explaining these observations through his characters, even though this is a work of fiction.
Afghanistan continued to face social turmoil, but it seemed stability had been achieved when the Taliban took over the government in 1996. The characters in the Kite Runner talked about being excited when the Taliban tanks rolled into Kabul, but this thrill was short lived. The Taliban enforced strict dress codes for women such as the full face covering burqa, which made it impossible for many women to work and girls to attend school because they could not afford this garment. Often sick women could not go to the doctor because they were required to be examined by a female doctor and these were not in high supply. Some women even began to disguise themselves as men so they could leave the house and find work to make money for their impoverished families.
The Taliban also enforced strict rules of dress for men. Soccer players had to wear pants and loud cheering was not allowed at games. However, worst of all was the violence that the Taliban exacted upon the general population. The Pashtun majority of the Taliban were Sunni Muslims and did not like the Hazara population, which tend to have Asian features and practice Shia Islam. Thus, the Taliban massacred many Hazaras and young Hazaras today often recall their first memories of the Taliban coming into their villages and burning down their schools and houses. In the Kite Runner Assef praises the the Pashtun history and compares it to that of the Nazis in Germany, which is an very accurate historical observation that Hosseini points out on several occasions. The Taliban fell from power after the US and British led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but stability in the region is a slow process and fighting of the Taliban continues in several parts of the country. However, as the BBC has noted we hear less about the conflict in Afghanistan on other news stations and websites, so I suggest people turn to that site to find up to date information on the continuing war. I often check the BBC website because it has some of the most well researched news stories to be found on the Internet. Life in Afghanistan will never be what is was before 1979, but there is hope that some sembalance of peace and stability can be achieved one day.
Afghan Lentil Soup
Lentils are an economical dish that are eaten in many different cultures, especially during the reign of the Taliban when only the rulers were able to have meat. This was actually mentioned in The Kite Runner, which shows the depth of historical research Hosseini put into his book. Lentils are rich in protein and contain approximately eighteen grams of protein per serving. In this recipe on youtube is making an Indian lentil soup that is similar to Afghan lentil soup, except the latter usually has chopped plums and uses red lentils. Many Middle Eastern, Indian, Afghan, and Pakistani people eat lentils because these are easy to cook and simple to make.