Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book 91, Afghanistan: "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini

Wheeee!!! I'm finally back in the 21st century!!!

And in good old book club territory, too. Not kidding, despite my boyfriend's protestations that its commercialisation means this book isn't authentically Afghan. Stuff gets popular for a reason: I actually finished half of this 371-page baby just sitting at a mama shop just now.

This one's an emigrant's story of his lost country, not Julia Alvarez's story of the Dominican Republic and Carlos Eire's story of Cuba - there's even a similar focus on the gilded lifestyles of the pre-revolutionary aristocracy and their humiliation on becoming lower-caste American immigrants. Lovely immersive descriptions; the kind of stuff I wish us folks in Singapore were turning out.

The key dynamic is between our rich man's son protagonist Amir and his best friend/servant boy Hasan. And I'm not sure if I've ever read a story in which the main character acts so unforgivably cruelly towards another human being. This ends up being a novel about guilt, and ultimately redemption, as Amir returns to Kabul under the Taliban, witnessing its full horrors (and I was signing petitions against those guys BEFORE 9/11, thank you very much), and pulling off a climax that, while barely believable, is just intense enough to redeem everyone involved.

Weirdly enough, in the closing portions (I'm not going to reveal too much), one character becomes an allegory for Afghanistan's suffering and neglect: we all bear responsibility for not interfering more during the Soviet and Taliban occupations, and the crazily long dénouement is testament to the fact that way too much scarring has occurred; healing will take a hell of a long time and a hell of a lot of hope.

Yeah, that's all I have to say about this book, really. Except that it also made me think about Singapore's inhumanity to our own servant classes: foreign workers from the Philippines and Bangladesh and Indonesia who clean up our shit and build our houses.

(Also learned that Hindi music has always been popular in this country - we're definitely in South Asia now, kid.)

View Around the World in 80 Books!!! in a larger map

Representative quote:
"I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years."

Next book: Mohammed Hanif's A Case of Exploding Mangoes, from Pakistan

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