Hosseini’s The Kite Runner: Unknotting the Strings of Oppression

Hosseini's The Kite Runner: Unknotting the Strings of Oppression

Theodora Guliadis

Dancing diamond shapes contrast against a clear sapphire background. Children race up and down rolling hills, joyfully laughing as they release more string, sending their kites into an infinite sky. The term “kite” conjures such carefree, whimsical images. However, in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, flying a kite is no longer a simple pastime. The kite acts as the needle that weaves together the various fabrics of personal struggle, kinship, pride, redemption, anguish and cultural discrimination of a man struggling with remembrance of past actions and dark family secrets.

Amir, the story’s protaganist, and his father, Baba, immigrate to the United States for safety. Although Baba was successful, respected and opulent in Kabul, he succumbs to a more humble lifestyle for himself and his son in Southern California. Hosseini stretches this story from the Middle East to depict how Amir’s bitter guilt stemming from his betrayal of his friend relentlessly haunts him. This guilt never disappears, even when he develops into a handsome and intelligent man and marries his love, Soraya. It all comes to a fore, however, when he receives a call from an exiled acquaintance in Pakistan informing him that his friend and his family were executed, with the exception of a son who resides in Kabul orphanage and must be rescued.

The main story, a story set against the backdrop of inhumane cruelties and cultural struggle, begins here. The Kite Runner is not only a historical account of Afghanistan’s civil war or a story about maintaining culture miles away from home, but also a more universal story of redemption. Friendship, history, kinship and salvation are themes woven throughout the book that ultimately dovetail to blend Amir’s personal struggles against inner demons with overall human attempts at surviving in Afghanistan.

Hosseini meticulously depicts the constant repression and turmoil that Afghans have faced for years. First, he accesses Amir’s childhood memories, including his attempts to please his successful yet strict father Baba, illustrating a tense father-son relationship. He greatly emphasizes his delightful memories with his best friend Hassan (a Hazara who is the son of Baba’s deformed servant Ali ) during Zahir Shah’s monarchy, before it was overthrown. He and Hassan are nursed from the same mother at birth and are in such a sense brothers; they establish a strong sense of kinship until Amir betrays his greatest friend. Although he has enjoys many wonderful moments with Hassan, Amir perceives, in all his ignorance and childlike innocence, the caste system marring his community.

Hosseini continues the story by describing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the tragedies that occurred in the community. Finally, he paves the way toward describing the Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan and how they, being mainly Pashtun, dominated the community with their cruel atrocities.

Hossein epitomizes the difference in character and upbringing between Hassan and Amir. Ironically, Hassan is more open-minded than Amir about issues. Hosseini compares the past and the present in explaining Amir’s quest for redemption and righteousness. He contrasts the lives of the oppressed against the lives and actions of their oppressors: Afghans against a monarchy, Afghans against the Soviets and more terribly, Afghans overwhelmed by the harshness of the Taliban.

The heart of the book lies in the kite tournament itself. A pivotal event in Kabul, this competition is fierce and a significant, multidimensional event. Amir, living in 1970s Kabul, confidently describes his experience as a kite runner, asserting, “I felt like a soldier trying to sleep in the trenches the night before a major battle. And that wasn’t so far off. In Kabul, fighting kites was a little like going to war.”

In Afghanistan, kite-flying tournaments are an ancient pastime, a pastime that instills an inner peace and pride in the winner. Kite against kite battle ensues as each soars mid-air focusing on bringing the other down. Amir ultimately brings down Hassan by overlooking his constant loyalty and doing nothing to intervene when he sees him being mishandled and abused by Assef, a local bully. In a similar way, the Afghans struggled against the Taliban, trying to remain in the sky and bring down their adversaries from a high authoritative position. Still, although the enemy does at times win, the favorable competitor, Amir, through the use of righteous and fair tricks ultimately achieves victory, even if it’s partial.

The Kite Runner is not merely another historically based book. It is an epic story that deals with personal and human struggle, failed relationships, the never-ending conflict of evil versus good and how a simple pastime such as kite flying becomes symbolic of a better future.