Khaled Hosseini (2004)
The Kite Runner reads like a fleshed out movie treatment.
I enjoy being in a book club because it forces me to read outside of my usual sphere of interest. Most of the time, it’s a rewarding experience. Occasionally however, it back-fires and I end up reading a book I would never have read on my own, and with good reason. This was the case with The Kite Runner. A little warning bell went off in my head when I saw a quote of praise from Diane Sawyer on the cover. That bell grew louder as I read the book.
A man tells his life story, growing up a privileged only son in Afghanistan of the 1980s. As a young boy, he witnesses a shocking act, the ripples of which touch many, reverberating through the years, until three decades later, after he’s moved to the U.S. and made a new life for himself, he must return to Afghanistan to face his past.
The Kite Runner reads like a fleshed out movie treatment. I found the characters stock and uninteresting, the story melodramatic and fairly predictable. The writing is lackluster and passive, filled with characters telling what has happened, rather than the author describing what is happening. About two-thirds of the way through the book, I really lost patience with the author’s uninspired writing. A few story elements that should have delivered a dramatic emotional wallop completely fell flat because of the author’s passive rather than active narrative style. It would be as if James Cameron cut away from the Titanic just after the iceberg struck to focus on the old lady in the present describing what happened next rather than allowing the audience to watch it unfold themselves.
The strangest part of all was that I didn’t get a commanding sense of the place while reading this book. Other than the kite running competition which is central to the story, the writing just didn’t conjure up the people or the place in any depth. The setting of Afghanistan, with it’s deep-seated political and racial problems, is in part what’s giving this book its notoriety, putting a personal face on the atrocities that have been visited upon the country and its people. But I really felt that the location wasn’t crucial to the story; it could have taken place anywhere. And I didn’t feel transported to another place while reading it.
The Kite Runner is a very quick read, which is not a compliment, though considering how little I enjoyed reading it, I was thankful. I kept thinking about Reading Lolita in Tehran, a non fiction book set in Iran that conjured up the people and the place so much better, despite its context of western literature and book group discussions. And Persepolis and Persepolis 2, by Marjane Satrapi, which get to the emotional heart of a personal story in that milieu with black and white drawings and an economy of words.
Now, that having been said, I was pleasantly surprised when my book club managed to have an interesting discussion, despite the fact that most of us really didn’t prefer the book. And in my case, this saved reading the book from feeling like a complete waste of time. Especially when I could have held out for the movie version which I know is just a matter of time. [**]