Monday, October 22, 2007

Lisa's Take: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

I know, this is an odd break from my usual diet of fantasy, sci-fi, fantasy, and more fantasy, isn't it? I blame boredom - I was stuck immobile while a few other people investigated a corn maze, so I rooted around in their supply of satchels and purses until I came across something to keep me entertained. I found The Kite Runner, which I had no idea was such a well known and acclaimed work (movie is in production, and held up with all sorts of controversy). Shows how much attention I pay to the Straight Fiction Genre as a whole.

Anyway, I can understand how The Kite Runner has garnered so much acclaim. It's one of those books that... pretty much can't help but get good reviews and recognition, much like any movie about (for instance) 9-11. The problem is that I can't decide whether it's only good because it's so startling, or if it's actually good in its own right. I suppose I'll start with a quick summary and then go from there.

Kite runner is a story about a man named Amir. The plot follows him through his childhood, cataloging the betrayals he perpetrates and the path that his life follows afterwards as he comes to grip with living as a coward and eventually seeks redemption. It begins in Afghanistan in the 70s and the political unrest there is both a reflection and a backdrop for the whole story.

That's a fairly paltry summary, but to be honest there's just not -that- much content I can summarize without getting spoilerific, so I'll leave it at that. The day I picked up Kite Runner I read about 40 pages, and it was good enough to keep me hooked and legitimately borrow the book. The images it evoked were both clear an engaging, and I found myself quite drawn into the image the author painted of childhood in the summer. Of course this just made the impending turning of the plot for the worse that much more painful - I was in quite an awful mood the day the book got depressing, and it was really very effecting.

That said, the author did a few things that really prodded my pet-peeve button and did a lot to detract from the story. Gripe number one was the constant and flagrant overuse of "Little did he know." It wasn't always phrased that way, but I swear to god if I had to hear the main character say "I didn't know then, but..." one more time, I was going to punch someone. Gripe number two was that the whole thing was just too... tidy. Not in the literal sense (as there was violence and gore enough to offend even the most staunch sensibilities) but in the sense that everything just sort of worked out and fit together juuuuust so. Old childhood nemesis cropping up at exactly the expected moment, that sort of thing. While the first half of the book pretty much took me, if not by surprise, without a sense of "oh, here it comes," the second half of the book was just one instance after another of "ah, I see, now this is going to happen, and then that, and the timing will go just so." Right at the very end I thought the author might shake things up and tarnish the obvious perfection that was impending... but, he didn't. Not really.

That said - The Kite Runner is still one of those books that can't get bad reviews. It's well written enough that you can get over it's faults, glaring though they are to any but the most pedestrian of readers, and the story and events in it are controversial enough that you can't bad mouth them without being called an ass. What a way to gain acclaim! I guess in the end I'll say it's a good book - but it certainly gets a lot more credit than it's truly due. Still, it's worth the read.

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