If you’ve ever felt an unbearable longing for a time gone by, or carry a mellow nostalgia in your heart like a beloved’s picture tucked away in your wallet, you’ll relate to The Kite Runner. If it does hit a nerve, it’ll probably be like hot knife rending a deep wound- one you wistfully watch bleeding out slowly and unapologetically.
I am not a big reader of books (that explains why I am writing about a 2003 bestseller in 2015), but I have a special relationship with them. I find that a book presents itself to me at the precise time that I am going through an emotion or situation which the book relates to.
Over the last month, I suddenly started missing my childhood home. I ‘left home’ at age 20 and have always enjoyed being an adult more than being a child. Given a choice wouldn’t exchange the two. And yet, without warning, it hit me- a sudden urge, not even a conscious one.. I would find myself sitting under a tree on a cement bench close to my childhood home, or looking out of the window of my childhood bedroom- only to realize a few seconds later that I wasn’t actually there. It was during this time that I started reading The Kite Runner- I had no idea what it was about, except that it was set in Afghanistan.
It indulged me in the fantasy of an innocent and simple childhood again- the idyllic setting, the leisurely pace of life, the insignificant yet significant joys and insecurities of Hassan and Amir put a far-away look in my eyes. I know that world, I smiled, of afternoons doing homework, and not doing homework, of teasing your friends, and loving them, of elders who make you feel secure and also intimidate with their larger-than-life persona, of a time of values and simplicity, character and pride.
It’s all relatable- Hassan is a young ‘old soul’, Amir is the poor little rich boy, and Baba the formidable Pathan standing for pride and strength. There is insecurity, desperation, jealousy… all wrapped inextricably with love, loyalty, friendship and security- all in all, it smells exactly like home.
When this idyllic world is dismantled with a blow to the boys’ innocence and friendship, juxtaposed with a political blow to their country, you feel helpless and betrayed- it’s the first incision of that knife wound. And thereafter the blood keeps oozing.
Forced to flee from their country, the shallowness of Amir and his Baba’s new world as refugees, its coldness, the shaved stature of Amir’s Baba, the rootlessness and pointlessness of their situation- all actually irritate you no end to the point that you’d rather shut the book and walk away.
But then home calls again, and Amir responds. In his doing so, he unravels layers of his own character, and others’. With an all-accepting and non-judgmental magnanimity, the writer Khaled Hosseini recognizes the inherent fallibility among the strong, and the potential for greatness among the weak.
This time when Amir reaches Afghanistan, there is nothing idyllic, leisurely, or innocent about it. What is there, though, is purpose. The values that are beautifully displayed on the solid walls of a secure home in the beginning of the book find themselves severely tested in the latter part, within what has unfortunately become ‘the real world’- a world of violence, devalued human existence and suffering. It is against them that loyalty, courage, friendship, humanity…and hope, must fight.
So who wins- suffering or hope? Is there a possibility to set the past right? Will tomorrow be a better day? Will the past become a strength or a liability?
There arise a lot many questions as the book culminates, and as for the answers, I am reminded of the locked door I have encountered every time I’ve tried visiting my childhood home in recent years. Though I can see the world outside has changed, and that the building is old and dilapidated, yet when I stand outside the door, touch it and ring the bell- I’m sure that I’ll find myself answering it from the inside.. but the door never opens. Perhaps as an ultimate act of kindness, it doesn’t give me a final answer, allowing me to believe what I need to.
That’s also a part of the beauty of this book- it lets you choose the answer that you need to help you make sense of the world we live in.