Friday, October 21, 2011
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Source: Personal library
Summary (From Amazon):
Hosseini's stunning debut novel starts as an eloquent Afghan version of the American immigrant experience in the late 20th century, but betrayal and redemption come to the forefront when the narrator, a writer, returns to his ravaged homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are shot during the Taliban takeover in the mid '90s. Amir, the son of a well-to-do Kabul merchant, is the first-person narrator, who marries, moves to California and becomes a successful novelist. But he remains haunted by a childhood incident in which he betrayed the trust of his best friend, a Hazara boy named Hassan, who receives a brutal beating from some local bullies. After establishing himself in America, Amir learns that the Taliban have murdered Hassan and his wife, raising questions about the fate of his son, Sohrab. Spurred on by childhood guilt, Amir makes the difficult journey to Kabul, only to learn the boy has been enslaved by a former childhood bully who has become a prominent Taliban official. The price Amir must pay to recover the boy is just one of several brilliant, startling plot twists that make this book memorable both as a political chronicle and a deeply personal tale about how childhood choices affect our adult lives. The character studies alone would make this a noteworthy debut, from the portrait of the sensitive, insecure Amir to the multilayered development of his father, Baba, whose sacrifices and scandalous behavior are fully revealed only when Amir returns to Afghanistan and learns the true nature of his relationship to Hassan. Add an incisive, perceptive examination of recent Afghan history and its ramifications in both America and the Middle East, and the result is a complete work of literature that succeeds in exploring the culture of a previously obscure nation that has become a pivot point in the global politics of the new millennium.
My Two Cents:
Note: I read this all the way back in May, just before my son was born, so my thoughts aren't as immediate and full as they normally are.
This was one powerful novel. I have heard all the buzz about this over the years, and stayed away from it for a while as a result (I don't like reading a book just because it's the latest thing). I almost didn't read it, but I'm glad I chose to.
I had a hard time figuring out how I felt about Amir. I disliked him early on as a result of his attitude toward Hassan. He was privileged, standoffish and snobby. But I had to remind myself that he was just a child and, let's face it, a lot of children are the same way. As the novel went on and we saw more of the adult Amir and his quest to return to Afghanistan, I liked him much more. Sure, his future actions did not excuse his childhood problems, but it turned him into a well-rounded, real, somewhat sympathetic character.
I have not read a whole lot of Middle Eastern fiction, and honestly I know very little about the region, so Hosseini's ability to open up the customs and everyday life of Afghanistan in the 1970s helped me a lot. His descriptions of the city and the lives of its people prior to the Taliban's takeover made the contrast when Amir returns even more stark. It's difficult to imagine that people could survive in conditions such as Amir encountered, but Hosseini's ability to paint a picture for his reader makes even the most unpalatable of situations believable.
This is a well-written, affecting novel that is not for the faint of heart due to some graphic scenes.