The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I normally have a policy of not mentioning contemporary fiction that I didn’t like. The reason being that all the published writers I know google themselves. I absolutely hate the idea that I might discourage anyone or make them feel bad. The only time I break this rule is if the book is truly, deeply awful and the author needs to be stopped from wasting trees or, if the author is insanely over-hyped, winning awards (therefore quite likely to be delusional about the quality of the work) and rolling in piles of money.

The Kite Runner falls into the second category.

The covers of this book were bristling with those familiar, gushing clichés: “Powerful.” “Haunting.” “Moving. “Genuine.” “Riveting.” “Unforgettable.” Exhausting. Ooops, that last one is mine. But it’s how I feel being assaulted by all this manic, hysterical selling. There was even a review quote on the spine, as well as a NYT Bestseller warning — I mean boast. The word “powerful” actually appears six times on the outside of the book. Strangely, three of those six times are from the same NYT review. Guess they were proud of that one. As the too oft quoted Shakespeare line goes: “I think the lady doth protest too much.”

So I ended up starting this book with Dostoevsky-level expectations, when all I originally had in mind was reading something based in Afghanistan–as I know shamefully little about it, past or present.

The impression I had throughout was of a rather strained first novel with a lot of structural flaws. Not to mention that emotionally, it felt dishonest. I didn’t get much of a feel for the country and virtually none at all for the people because the narrator is a little overprotected rich kid. The “harshness” is TV-style and the violence clichéd and unreal. The first third is the better crafted, after that it devolves and by the last third we are reading an outline for a screenplay: plant, pay off, plant, pay off. It almost gives you motion sickness. And he just keeps hitting the beats; again, bad TV comes to mind. The ending is insultingly TV-ish: unreal and neatly tied up. Does anyone actually think that life is that simplistic?

There was one section that completely stood out, in a very odd way. It’s a scene in a hospital where a doctor is described as having a “Clark Gable” mustache, blinding white teeth and looking like a soap opera star. Then there is a highly technical one-page description of the character’s injuries. At the time, I thought, okay, he did some research and shoveled it in a bit heavily. But that scene kept coming back to me as just being, well, strange. Like it had some subliminal neon thing going on. Why? I did a bit of rooting around on the web… and wouldn’t you know it, the author is a doctor.

Now, I’m going to say something completely politically incorrect, so brace yourself. I think the reason this book is so hyped and popular is because people are always curious about the people they are–how shall we say it–subjugating? crushing? bombing the crap out of? Britain was obsessed with India, France with everything Egyptian (Napoleon), then the South Pacific, then Africa… Chinese scholars are fascinated with the Tibetan cultures China is doing its best to annihilate. If you look at the front page of the author’s website, you can see the two active ingredients here: guilt (note the author’s UN work video and the “ways to aid Afghanistan” section) and curiosity (”Buy the book!”).

If it hadn’t been hyped to death, I wouldn’t be angry. This is a slipshod “product”, more marketing than substance.


3 Responses to “The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini”

  1. Rob
    September 23rd, 2007 18:42

    I never got around to reading The Kite Runner, and I can’t say you’re making me regret that.

    You may be interested in this article from the BBC website about problems they’ve had making the film: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6992751.stm

  2. blastedmembers.com
    September 30th, 2007 15:49

    Thanks for the link! A very interesting article. Of course they’re making a movie out of it! Product - Stage Two.

    Really though, using local children and filming a rape scene (however “tastefully” done) is just more proof of how offensive the spirit of this book is.

  3. Stewart
    October 15th, 2007 22:25

    It’s good to see that there are others out there, amongst the throng of Hosseini lovers, that can truly see how bad this book is. It has won some populist reading group choice of the year award in the UK two years running, too.

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