So… this wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. And maybe the novel is better than the graphic novel but I have a feeling the language is what makes the novel so beloved to begin with. My main problem was that I found the main character so passive and inept that it was difficult to relate or sympathize with him, even when he loses his father or frustratingly fails time and time again to mend the relationship with his best friend and servant. Argh.
As for most people’s reviews saying they wept like a baby because the story was so sad… it reminds me of someone’s comment on Grave of the Fireflies. Lots of people also thought that film was super sad, but one person noted how the sadness in the movie is like a jump scare in a horror film — it’s too obvious. The film is trying too hard to make you feel things that it comes across as forced rather than natural and subtle. That’s why I thought the ending of Tale of Princess Kaguya was infinitely sadder than Grave of the Fireflies. And that’s why I didn’t feel sad at all reading The Kite Runner. It was too forced, trying too hard to be a tear-jerker, which only made me roll my eyes.
This review on Goodreads pretty much sums up my feelings about it:
“The very best part of the novel is its warm depiction of the mixed culture of Afghanistan, and how it conveys the picture of a real Afghanistan as a living place, before the coup, the Soviet invasion, and above all, the Taliban and the aftermath of September 11th created a fossilized image in the US of a failed state, petrified in “backwardness” and locked in the role of a villain from central casting.
Now for the not so good.
== Spoiler Alert ==
… because I don’t think I’m going to be able to complain about what I didn’t like about the book without revealing major plot points. (Not to mention, some of what follows will only make sense to someone who has read the book.) So if you don’t want to spoil it for yourself, read no further, here be spoilers:
My overwhelming emotion throughout the book is feeling entirely manipulated. Of course, one major reason for this is that the author’s attempts at metaphor, allegory, and forshadowing are utterly ham-fisted. When he wants to make a point, he hits you over the head with it, hard — Amir’s split lip / Hassan’s cleft palate comes immediately, resoundingly to mind.
But I feel manipulated beyond that. The members of the servant class in this story suffer tragic, unspeakable calamities, sometimes at the hands of our fine hero, and yet the novel seems to expect the reader to reserve her sympathies for the “wronged” privileged child, beating his breast over the emotional pain of living with the wounds he has selfishly inflicted upon others. How, why, am I supposed to feel worse for him as he feels bad about what he has done to others? Rather than feeling most sympathy and kinship for those who, through absolutely no fault of their own, must suffer, not just once or twice, but again and again?
Of course this elevation of / identification with the “wounded”/flawed hero goes hand in hand with an absolutely detestable portrayal of the members of the servant class as being at their utmost happiest when they are being their most servile and utterly subjugating their own needs, wants, desires, pleasures — their own selves, in fact — to the needs of their masters. (Even when they are protecting their masters from their own arrogance, heartlessness, or downright stupidity.)
I don’t see how the main character, Amir, could possibly be likeable. Amir’s battle with Assef, momentous as it is, is not so much him taking a stand because he feels driven to do so or feels that he must. Rather, he acts with very little self-agency at all — he is more or less merely carried forward into events. (And, moreover, in the end it is Sohrab (Hassan again) who saves him.)
I finished the novel resenting Amir, and even more intensely resenting the author for trying to make the reader think she’s supposed to care about Amir, more than about anyone else in the story.
A couple other points: I’m wondering if one theme of the novel is that there are no definitive happy endings, no single immutable moments of epiphany or redemption. Because Amir’s moral “triumph”, such as it is, over Assef, is so short-lived. He manages to crash horrifically only a week or two later, when he goes back on his word to Sohrab about his promise not to send him to an orphanage.
And lastly, I don’t understand why Baba’s hypocrisy is not more of a theme. He makes such a point of drilling into his son’s head that a lie is a theft of one’s right to the truth. His own hipocrisy there is a profound thing, and it’s a shame the author doesn’t do more with it.”
So after reading the graphic novel, I thought I might just read the novel version. And then I thought more about it and decided, nah. Once is more than enough.