Thursday, May 3, 2007

plot twists

Just finished reading “Kite Runner,” by Khaled Hosseini. The story opens in Afghanistan just before the Russian invasion in ’78. Amir is a middle-class Afghani boy, about thirteen, and his closest friend is a servant boy, Hassan, a Hazara—a minority ethnic group descended from Asian Mongols--who works in Amir’s household. Amir and his dad are Pashtuns, a majority ethnic group in Afghanistan, and are Sunni, a dominant Islamic sect. Hassan and his dad are Shia, a despised minority sect of Islam, and so Hassan suffers a double burden in the boys’ daily contacts with other Afghani boys. Though Hassan is devoted to Amir, and risks dangers when defending Amir against other boys, Amir remains almost indifferent to him.

In one episode, an Afghani boy rapes Hassan for defending Amir, who cowardly watches from hiding. Our sympathies for Amir take a further plunge when Amir later frames Hassan for stealing his watch. He’s jealous of his own father’s affections for Hassan, and hoped to drive him away from the household. When the Russians invade Afghanistan, Amir and his dad flee to America. There Amir matures as a better person, aspiring to be a writer, and meets a young Afghani woman and marries her. He regrets many of the weaknesses he’d shown in his boyhood, and when news comes after the Russians are driven out of Afghanistan, that the victorious Taliban have slain Hassan along with many other Shia, Amir returns to try and rescue Hassan’s surviving eleven-yr. old son.

In Afghanistan, he learns that Hasan was actually his illegitimate half-brother. In the dangerous search for Hassan’s son, he encounters the same man who once abused Hassan has now bought Hassan's son from an orphanage, and is abusing the boy. A horrible plot twist. In some desperate actions, and after suffering brutal injuries, Amir rescues Sohrab and flees with him back to America. There, Sohrab is a lonely, almost mute boy from his experiences, but Amir and his wife adopt him, and wait patiently for him to heal.

The plot skirts close to having too many coincidences, and takes some brutal turns, but it held a lot of suspense and gave the sense of a very different world. I spent four years in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, Pashtun country, and traveled to Kabul and other places in Afghanistan. That was '68-'72. The story was an unsettling but riveting revisit to that country.

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