I finally got round to reading this bestseller during a prolific period in July.The back cover alleges that it has been read by over 8m people and has won the Penguin/Orange Readers’ Group Prize in both 2006 and 2007.
The basic storyline is a familiar one. Two boys are brought up in the same home in Kabul, Afghanistan before the Russian invasion and the rule of the Taliban, and come from different sides of the tracks. The first tweak of the story is that one is the servant of the other and whilst they are inseparable, the relationship is not reciprocal. The servant is devoted to the son of the house with a depth and passion that is not returned.
There follows a major betrayal that changes their lives forever. This betrayal is accompanied by the invasion of the Russsians forcing Amir, the narrator, and his father to flee to America where the once powerful family must start from the ground up. Hassan, whom he betrayed, disappears from the story, but not Amir’s conscience. Life goes on, he makes a life in the States as a writer but can never escape what he did in Kabul.
Then a call comes from a old friend of his father who has settled in Pakistan. ‘There is a way to be good again’ says Rahim Khan. So he travels to make amends for his past.
The book is beautifully written and if it had no other merit than to introduce me to the family traditions of Islam and Afghanistan and migrant families in a foreign land, then this book was worth reading. I think that we are bombarded by the stereotypes of a violent Islam and all that is strange and foreign to us. This book doesn’t ignore those elements, after all the Taliban are central to the story, but it also opens up traditions of humility, justice, modesty, family loyalty, respect for elders and so on that are beautiful and admirable.
The themes of forgiveness and redemption are written through the story. As is our need to make amends. But more than that, there is consideration of the felt experience of these things. The old fashioned word ‘shriven’ – how can I be shriven.
Thing is, once Amir begins to explore the road to being good again, the story becomes a little fantastic – in the sense of unbelievable. Outlandish violence and aggression, extraordinary chance encounters, set piece chase scenes, cartoon villains. All great story-telling admittedly, but one needs to suspend belief I think. I wonder was it written with cinema in mind.
Nevertheless, a great summer read and recommended.