Local Commentary

Our Man In Arlington

Okay. Okay. I know this is not supposed to be a book review column. But every once in a while I come across a book that is so exceptional, so moving, I can’t keep it to myself.

This is how I felt about The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. It has the added distinction of being the first novel by an Afghan author in English.

I had been reading about The Kite Runner because of the problem that has arisen in the release of the movie version in the United States. Part of the movie was filmed in Afghanistan, and there was concern that the two Afghan boys who starred in it might be in great danger once the movie was released. There were those who wanted to get the boys out of Afghanistan before general release. Read the book, and you will understand why.

The story begins in 1985 and ends in 2001, through a period of great turmoil in Afghanistan.
The story centers on Amir, the only son of a wealthy Afghan family. Hassan is his best friend and servant, a lower caste Hazara. Hassan is the son of Ali, servant to Baba, Amir’s stern father.

The complex relationship between Amir and Hassan is familiar to many who grew up in the deep south, Louisiana in my case – at least a couple of generations ago.

The book opens with a description of the almost idyllic life of Amir and Hassan in pre-revolutionary Afghanistan. One of the most exciting activities in which they engage is the periodic “kite fighting” festival in which children engage in “slicing” one another’s kites in the air until only one remains aloft.

Amir and Hassan form a team, with Amir the leader. Amir finally wins the battle, and gains the respect of his father, which he deeply yearns for. After the victory, Hassan runs through the village to retrieve the kite. As he returns, he suffers an unspeakably cruel attack by Assef and his upper class friends. Amir witnesses the attack but is too afraid to do anything to save Hassan from the utmost pain and humiliation. It is this betrayal of his best friend and servant that haunts and guides Amir through the rest of the book.

The revolution ensues, followed by the Russian occupation, which is described in brutal detail. Amir and his father are spirited out of Afghanistan to Pakistan and ultimately to the United States and Fremont, California.

Amir grows up, goes to college, and becomes an accomplished writer. Baba dies, and Amir for the first time is his own man, married, and confident of his future in the United States. He then receives a communication from his father’s oldest friend in Pakistan, and returns to Afghanistan on a mission that brings the story almost full circle.

There are dozens of reasons to read this book. It is beautifully written, to start with. Its descriptions of the relationships within Afghan families are moving and revealing. The intricacies of the relationship between Amir and Hassan are alone worth the reading. And the description of the life of immigrants to America from war-torn and cruel countries, and the new and often fulfilled hope it brings, is a lesson we all need to learn in the current debate over the status of immigrants here.

Read the book. I promise you won’t regret it.