Khaled Hosseini's subtle use of the political turmoil that rages in the background of "The Kite Runner" is what makes his debut novel so readable. Although the politics of Afghanistan frame and affect the tensions and therefore the whole narrative of this first English novel by an Afghani-American, Hosseini centers his story on the universal themes of friendship, betrayal and guilt through the lives of one particular family. This approach makes the complicated politics of the Middle Eastern country graspable for the average reader.
The Changing Rule of Afghanistan
The tumultuous history of Afghanistan over the past four decades involved one political coup after another as various groups vied for power, none of them peaceful. In the 1970s, when "The Kite Runner" begins, the political tumult starts with two military coups followed by a Soviet invasion. The main character, Amir, and his father Baba escape from the civil unrest to the United States. They find out later that their former servant, Hassan, was unable to escape, and he and his wife are later shot dead by the Taliban in the '90s, leaving behind an orphaned son.
Sunni and Shi'ite
Amir and Baba have the money and ability to flee Afghanistan because of their ethnic and religious background. They are Pashtun and practice the dominant Sunni religion. Their servant Hassan, on the other hand, belongs to the minority ethnic group, Hazaras, and the minority religion Shi'ite, which makes up only 10 to 15 percent of the Afghan population. Because he belongs to a lower caste, Hassan can only be a servant, while Baba is a wealthy businessman.
Immigration to the US
Amir and Baba realize the relativity of their social position when they struggle to create a new life in America. In the States, Baba can only work at a gas station, and Amir learns to make his own way in the world as a writer. In this new world, their ethnic and religious status counts for nothing, and it is here that Amir begins his journey of self-discovery.
The Political and the Personal
The guilt Amir carried for years regarding his actions toward his former friend Hassan haunts him more than ever as he realizes the superficial and ephemeral nature of the Afghani cultural beliefs surrounding class that he internalized. While politics appear to inform only the backdrop of this novel, in reality they shape the very characters themselves. Amir's journey back to Afghanistan to save his friend's son is not just a journey of redemption but a reversal of his worldview regarding the worth of a human being. This journey culminates in the adoption of Sohrab, a Hazara child, symbolizing Amir's total rejection of caste culture.
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