Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is a specimen of a relatively rare bird: it was reviewed moderately well (in camps, to some extent), it has sold extremely well since it first appeared, and it was turned into a fairly respectable movie (though one whose reviews were similarly divided). The Kite Runner yanks hard on the old heart strings, and it does so with great effect. The characters are interesting, many of them complex, and collectively they portray quite believably a world about which I know little. The story's twists are gripping, its politics worthy (if angsty, like the narrator expressing them), its set pieces cinematic in the best sense.

But here's the thing.

There's too much of the cartoon here. Maybe I'm not getting it, and this is what "timeless" looks like - images and characters and scenes that feel like ones I've seen before, in different contexts and with different nationalities. The fiendish Assef, for example, reminded me of Cap'n Hook, of Mexican villains in Western movies old enough not to hide their racism very carefully, of Russians in the Roger Moore series of Bond movies, and especially - but weakly - of Christopher Plummer's delicious General Chang, the scarred and Shakespeare-quoting Klingon in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (whose "Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war!" was almost worth the price of admission all on its own). There's the wimpy boy who grows into a wimpy man, who's a writer. (The novel about the novelist, oh no....) The central couple evenly matched in terms of their scarred pasts. The fathers who need to be impressed. The mysterious older person close to the family who Knows An Important Secret.

No, I can't point to books I remember having read with these kinds of details, but that doesn't mean I won't stand by these comments.

I enjoyed the experience of reading this book, but I didn't enjoy the book itself nearly as much as I did Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, a novel that portrays the nation two countries to the east of Afghanistan. Even with AFB's horrifying conclusion and occasionally retch-inducing violence, I came away from Mistry's version of India feeling like I'd changed. The Kite Runner was a good read, a fast read, a sweaty read, but I came away feeling like I hadn't learned much of anything, hadn't moved outside of standard fiction stereotypes. Khaled Hosseini can craft a ripping yarn, but that's really not what I look for in a novel.


fiona-h said…
The Kite Runner was one of the books I didn't read for book club, and despite the good reviews I've read, I still haven't picked it up. Your observations are in line with what my book clubbers had to say... so not sure I'll rush to read it.

A Fine Balance, on the other hand... what a story. I've read it twice and will read it again before too long, I'm sure.
Jeanne said…
Your comments are right on target. But it seems a little high-toned to say that a good story is "not what I look for in a novel"!!
richard said…
Fiona: yes, knowing what I know of you, I don't think this is the novel for you. The buzz wasn't undeserved, but this novel doesn't do what I want a novel to do.

Jeanne: yes, I am something of a snob! But honestly, a good story isn't what makes a novel for me, even though a weak story can break a novel. I want to spend my finite amount of time with a novel that includes consistently high-quality prose, characters whose internal conflicts are less predictable than these ones were (or at least articulated more provocatively, engagingly), a sense of place, that sort of thing.

Certainly The Kite Runner has some of these things, but not enough of them.

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