Redemption and Childhood in The Kite Runner

The theme of redemption is woven throughout Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner (2003), number 37 on the BBC book list.  Even in the novel’s fantastic moments, we can believe that redemption is possible.  It is a novel of hope, with the past looming in the way.  Because of the past, Amir cannot move forward.  His entire life is shaped by the moments of his past.  The novel opens with his remembering those sins, although we don’t yet know what they are.  The trend continues, with guilt making him unable to overcome his past.  As the novel closes, we find Amir strengthened by Rahim Khan’s idea that there is a way to be good again.  As Amir accepts this challenge, he revisits Afghanistan.  When he sees his childhood home, it is run down, with weeds growing and the shutters barely hanging on.  The house serves as a symbol that the past is gone, dead even, and that Amir can now move forward.

the kite runner cover

I read this book when it was first published and loved it.  My sister had recommended it to me after she had received it as a going away present from a former boss.  I had the opportunity to read it again a few years later for a graduate class of world literature.  When I got to class that night to discuss, everybody ragged on the book and ripped it apart.  However, because it had been my second read, I was able to draw some interesting ideas from it and see the beauty in Hosseini’s writing.  He is a skilled storyteller, and I remember parallelism being quite prominent in the narrative. It isn’t the greatest book to ever be written, but it has value.

The rest of the class rejected my ideas and ignored my defense of the novel.  Even the professor was skeptical, and she admitted to feeling regret for assigning the book.  However, a year or two later, while in the copy room of that university preparing to teach my own class, I saw a handout that had been accidentally left on the counter.  It was prepared by the professor I’d had for the world literature class, and the professor’s handout used many of my ideas about The Kite Runner.  I was not upset at her appropriation of my ideas because in the introduction to the handout, she had written something about not appreciating the book at first, but that she had had a graduate student point out some of its worth to her and she had changed her mind.  That vindicated me, and I appreciated knowing that my defense had made a difference, even if I was not intended to know.

The book certainly explores raw and disturbing topics. There is violence, embodied in Amir’s relationship with Assef.  Amir must revisit the past and fight with Assef in a fantastical and really unbelievable scene.  The abused boy, for whom Amir is fighting, Sohrab, comes to the rescue with a slingshot, in David and Goliath fashion.  The scene is history repeating itself, this time with Amir not running away from the victim of rape, like he did with his friend Hassan.  He faces it and becomes a man Baba would be proud of, somebody who stands up for what is right.  Amir takes it a step further by admitting his sins and accepting responsibility.  Baba could never find the strength to admit that he had wronged Ali and Hassan.  Amir does this and consequently finds himself forgiven.  He feels peace when Assef is beating him.  After the beating, he realizes that the scar on his lip from the beating is like a hare lip, symbolically linking him to Hassan.  He then accepts responsibility for Sohrab.  All of these actions help to right the wrongs of the past and erase them in Amir’s conscience.  He finds Rahim Khan’s definition of true redemption: when “guilt leads to good” (302).  He runs twice in the novel: once away from helping Hassan and once at the end, when he runs after the kite for Sohrab.

I always enjoy seeing an underdog triumph or at least face the beast with bravery and for a good purpose.  However, each encounter he has with Assef is disturbing, and I know that many of you will find these scenes objectionable, despite their very real occurrences in life.  Violence is real, and while I don’t advocate dwelling on it, I do advocate being aware of worldwide circumstances and reacting to those tragedies and atrocities with responsibility and as a caring citizen of the world.  We have a responsibility to know what is happening to our brothers and sisters in other countries and to work to help them.  I don’t mean this in a paternalistic way, but I do mean to advocate for an awareness of the world and its circumstances so that we can try to make it better.

A line that struck me in the novel was that there are a lot of children in Afghanistan but there is little childhood.  How true this is for that country, and for any war-torn country.  Childhood plays an important role in the novel.  We see all of Amir’s guilt come from his childhood.  We see how Assef’s tyrannical behavior begins then.  We understand that Hassan is good and has always been good.  We see Sohrab’s shattered childhood take away his will to live.

The portrayal of shari’a is chilling.  I used to work as an editor of a political/security document, and one of the most horrifying articles I wrote concerned the ongoing strife between northern and southern Nigeria, divided along lines of Muslims and Christians.  One state in the north had adopted shari’a and planned to carry it out against a woman who had committed adultery.  She was stoned to death.  A similar scene occurs in Amir’s Afghanistan.  Although this book is fiction, I know that this scene is not.  The inhumanity that goes on because of such strict laws terrifies me.  That scene is also replayed in another novel about Afghanistan called The Swallows of Kabul.  I appreciated Khaled Hosseini’s candid and magnified view of his own country.

On a lighter note, the scenes of Baba and Amir selling items at the San Jose flea market brought a smile to my face.  I spent part of my childhood in San Jose, California.  A lot of the areas and streets mentioned in the book are familiar to me.  My father worked as a police officer there for 30 years, and spent most of his weekends working in uniform at that very flea market.  We went with him a few times, sucking on mangoes with lime and chili powder, listening to the mariachi bands, and browsing row after row of fresh produce.

The novel is real to me despite the almost mythical conclusion of Assef versus Amir.  However, the underlying themes are human experiences that we all share.  We all feel guilt, shame, remorse, love, and laughter.  And we all have a past.  But, according to Hosseini, we can all gain redemption as well.

Overall, I found The Kite Runner to be moving.  It opened my eyes to the history of Afghanistan, the continuing issues of that country, the difficult circumstances of being an immigrant, and the importance of caring for one’s family.  Amir displays his loyalty by caring for his father before worrying about his own romantic life, and that care of a son for his father is moving.

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59 thoughts on “Redemption and Childhood in The Kite Runner

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  1. Reblogged this on Amber Nicole Brooks and commented:
    This is on my to read list, although I’m always reticent about reading a novel after having seen the film adaptation. I make it a point to try and read the book before viewing the film.

  2. Excellent review of the book. I enjoy this author and am looking forward to his new novel coming out next month.

    I am extremely interested in what you said about your grad school classmates (and prof) taking a negative stance on this book. I read this for a book club discussion – a club comprised of fellow grad students and we all loved it. I am wondering how much is a difference in our chosen fields of study.

    1. It was a degree in English focused on literature. I think they were just being snobs. It was a popular book, and the other stuff we read was a little more dense and a little less successful commercially. They thought it was simplistic and badly written.

  3. It was nice of your professor to acknowledge the appropriation of your ideas. I dare say it happens all the time — without acknowledgement! As my thesis adviser told me long ago: we are all intellectual shoplifters! Kudos for sticking by your guns even when others disagree. The majority does not determine what is true!

  4. An excellent review! I enjoyed this book very much. I thought the writing style to be just so slightly immature, but the story was so great and so worthy of bring told that I loved it anyway!

  5. I read this for a book group discussion when it first came out and as you say found passages of it very disturbing, the more so because of being aware of the guilt that Amir then carries and feeling for him as a result. Also, I think the very fact that we know these things happen but are, for the most part, unable to do anything to prevent them, makes books like this all the harder to encounter.

    1. That’s a good point, Alex. We know, but what can we do? And I think we try to push out a lot of this as a coping mechanism. We couldn’t possibly stand to live if we constantly dwelled on all that is bad. It is a tough thing.

  6. Great review of a book that I loved and truly made a lasting impression on me. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to hear the author speak one night at a local venue – he was amazing. I remember the line about children/childhood..it’s haunting.

      1. You know, he was amazing..he told his story in this weaving his own life and the story of the book in such a beautiful way. It was 90 minutes and felt like 10!

        1. You are right! And of course that’s the final sentence. I can’t believe I didn’t remember that, especially given my own mention of the significance of running. There is so much meaning in those two words.

  7. A lot of children…but there is little childhood. That is a very powerful statement. And, they will grow up worse because of it. I think you have a perspective that permits a deeper read, even if it was for a second time. So, I would wager you give more books a chance and don’t “write them off too soon.” Take care, BTG

    1. I do try to “give books a chance,” but sometimes I am impatient and give up. I usually go back to them after I realize my mistake based on others talking about them or recommending them.

  8. I loved this book. I don’t know why people can’t just enjoy a book instead of comparing it to every other book ever written. Yeah, I’m sure there are books that are better, but so what? It’s a riveting story, a good message, has interesting cultural insights…. so much is good about it. There’s no need to dismiss the good just because there is room for improvement.

  9. Great review. I read this book a couple of years ago, and until I read this had forgotten a large part of what occurs in the novel. You provided some very insightful aspects that I both agree with, and hadn’t considered myself! Personally, I just really believed in the main character and the struggles and redemption that he goes through, and I thought Hosseini’s storytelling was fantastic.

  10. Thank you for your interesting review of the The Kite Runner. I read it when it was first issued here in England. I enjoyed reading it at the time and was surprised that I had forgotten such a lot of the plot, so your comments were much appreciated. It is always helpful to look at a novel from another perspective – it has given me added enjoyment .

    1. I’m so happy to hear your thoughts. I always forget the specifics of the books I read. I think that’s why I love blogging so much, because it forces me to write down what I was thinking at the time, and after I forget, I have that record of it. Thank you for your thoughtful comment!

      1. Thank you for your reply.
        It is World Book Night here in the UK and I am a giver (one who gets to give out copies of a book of my choice from the selected novels) to people who don’t read much. I chose “Damage” by Josephine Hart. It is a great book, the prose are very poetic and it has a very dramatic plot. It is great fun to introduce people to the joy of reading. I look forward to reading your blogs – they are so well written and interesting – long may you blog!

          1. Hello Emily – I do hope you will read Damage and then let me know what you think of it. I am re-reading it now!

  11. Thanks for your review of The Kite Runner, I’ve just watched the film based on this book so far, and I do love that film.
    It’s hard to buy this book in English version, so I hope I could find the best translated version of this book in Vietnam.
    Thanks for your valuable post!

  12. The metaphoric conclusion , adds an element of mystique to the superlative novel. It draws upon human weaknesses, guilt and the unquenchable thirst for redemption………….nice review………

  13. I listened to this book on cd and I was deeply moved by it. I would like to sit down with it in book form and relish it. I am surprised your teacher initially didn’t like it. I thought the symbolism was beautiful and clear, the story a difficult but necessary one to tell, and although I don’t like graphic violence, I found it to be appropriate for one story of Afghanistan. It is a country that is plagued with violence, before and after our invasion, and I think it cannot be ignored in any story. But the author weaves beautiful narration with a deep sense of humanity that it made me cry at parts, and I am not normally a crier. I think more people should read this book. I haven’t read “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by the same author, but I heard it is good as well.

    1. I like that you point out that the violence isn’t graphic but appropriate to the subject. So true. I liked A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I did not like it as much as The Kite Runner, and I did not find it to be as well written.

  14. It’s been awhile since I’ve made a comment – just wanted to let you know I’m still reading! 🙂 I enjoy your blog so much and I feel like I grow by reading it. I liked this post and my favorite part was hearing the credit that teacher gave you in her handout. I would feel vindicated too – you have an intelligent mind and many insights.
    PS- I never responded to a question you asked me. I have not read the Little House on the Prairie Books yet. I look forward to reading them with Josie. In our new house we created a reading nook in a special spot in Josie’s closet. We’ve been having fun reading the books that my mom saved from her kids and I also bought a large lot of books from Ebay. I’ll have to send you pictures of the reading the nook – I’m not quite done. I want to add bookshelves and decorative letters that say READ. 🙂 Anyway, miss you and hope you’re well.

    1. It is so good to hear from you! I love the reading nook idea. I definitely want to see pictures. I’ve noticed on Goodreads that you are reading a lot of children’s books, so I can see that it is doing its job! You and Josie have a treat ahead of you with the Little House books. I love them so so so much! I can’t even describe how wonderful they are. I hope you are settling into your new house well!

      1. 🙂 It’s probably silly to list the children’s books that I read with Josie on goodreads – but it’s been sort of fun to keep track of what we read together. I wonder if I could print the list and give it to Josie one day. I think it will be fun to see how our book reading will change and grow and Josie does. Even though it is probably a bit silly, I bet there’s no one better than you who could understand how fun it is to lists books we’ve read regardless of what type of books they are. Talk to you soon.

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