BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE
Summary: This beautifully written first novel presents
a glimpse of life in Afghanistan before the Russian invasion and introduces
richly drawn, memorable characters. Quiet, intellectual Amir craves
the attention of his father, a wealthy Kabul businessman. Kind and self-confident
Hassan is the son of Amir's father's servant. The motherless boys play
together daily, and when Amir wins the annual kite contest, Hassan offers
to track down the opponent's runaway kite as a prize. When he finds
it, the neighborhood bullies trap and rape him, as Amir stands by too
terrified to help. Their lives and their friendship are forever changed,
and the memory of his cowardice haunts Amir as he grows into manhood.
Hassan and his father return to the village of their ancestors, and
later Amir and his father flee to Los Angeles to avoid political persecution.
Amir attends college, marries, and fulfills his dream of becoming a
writer. When Amir receives word of his former friend's death under the
Taliban, he returns to Kabul to learn the fate of Hassan's son.
1. How does the first-person narrator and the realistic, straightforward
style of writing lead you to think this might be non-fiction, even though
the author himself says only parts and pieces of events and people are
real-life? Does it "matter" that it's fiction?
2. Does the economic/caste system portrayed in Afghan culture, and
the status of Hassan and Amir, remind you of slavery in the United States?
3. Do you find the relationship between Amir and Hassan believable?
Why does Hassan remain so devoted to Amir, even after the betrayal?
Why won't Amir refer to Hassan as "friend"?
4. On page 211, Rahim Khan says, "I guess some stories do not
need telling." Do you agree? What stories are NOT told here - eg.women,
husband/wife intimacy/sex, suicide? Why are they not told?
5. How would the central conflicts of the novel have been changed by
inclusion of prominent female characters? Would the story be the same?
What do you infer namuz (code of honor) is for women?
6. Soraya, a good and loving wife, could be Amir's redemption: he could
live happily ever after with her and forget the past in the happiness
of the present. Why doesn't / can't he use the redemption she's offered
7. There are some contemporary social issues portrayed here: infertility,
adoption, child abuse, rape, suicide. Do you think these are portrayed
realistically? Why or why not?
8. Baba says that the only sin is thievery, because "a man takes
what's not his to take." Later, Rahim Khan says that true redemption
is "when guilt leads to good." Do you agree with these statements?
Name the act of thievery, each in turn, that Baba and Amir committed.
How did each change the life of the people each one loved? What did
each do to rectify it? How were each forgiven, or "redeemed"?
Did Hassan, Ali, or Sohrab sin in this way, or did they live by a different
moral code? If so, what is their code?
9. One of Amir and Hassan's favorite stories is in the Shahnamah, the
tenth century epic of ancient Persian heroes. Hassan names his son,
Sohrab after one of the heroes. Why did he choose this hero? What do
you think will become of Sohrab?
10. Amir's guilt over his betrayal of Hassan... is it believable that
it would have remained as constant throughout his life. Would it not
have been altered with time and distance?
Rising above this sentimental story of two young boys who form a powerful
friendship and the betrayal that drives the plot, is the country in
which most of the events take place. This is an important book because
it is written for a Western audience about a country that is hugely
misunderstood by the Western world. Afghanistan is the main character
and why the Kite Runner is an important book.
For many, Afghanistan has always been a place darkly troubled, unknowable.
It is the embodiment of "foreign." It is also much too complicated
to understand - its civilization, the wars and dynasties which pre-date
history itself. As a review of the Kite Runner in the Guardian stated:
It is a history that can intimidate and exhaust an outsider's attempts
to understand, but Hosseini extrudes it simply and quietly into an intimate
account of love, honor, guilt, fear and redemption.
Hosseini allows us to smell the Kabob and curry, open our eyes to a
winter morning in Kabul, follow its streets to the shops, movies and
flea markets, and learn its customs and a few of its stories. The novel
acquaints us with the Afghan character - their independent spirit, their
love of custom, but hatred of rules; their Mullah Nasruddin jokes, their
fierceness as exhibited through the national pastime, Buzkashi, and
the iconic kite tournaments, beautiful, graceful and intensely competitive.
Afghanistan -- its people, customs, beliefs and events that shaped
its history are largely defined by its geography. It is a small country,
about the size of Texas, divided east to west by the Hindu Kush mountain
range. The country sits astride the land routes between the Indian subcontinent,
Iran and central Asia. It's strategic location as "gateway to India"
opened the country to a succession of invasions, from Darius I and Alexander
the Great, to the Islamic conquerors in the 7th Century, Gengis Khann
in the 13th and 14th Century and to the world powers of Great Britain
and Russia in the 20th Century. The soaring, forbidding mountains enabled
hill tribes to preserve their way of life and their independence and
have also provided hiding places for the Taliban which threaten the
country's stability today.
Perhaps geography as much as history is a reason for the sharp divides
among ethnic groups that have created much of the civil violence and
made the country susceptible to the corruption of extremist factions
and invasion by outside forces. The gulf between ethnic groups was richly
illustrated in the social standing of the Kite Runner's main characters,
Amir and Hassan. Hassan, who was the closest person in the world to
Amir, was also his servant. Because Hassan was a Hazara Shi'a, Amir,
a Pushtan Muslim, never referred to him as "friend" at all.
The Kite Runner illustrates how greatly Afghanistan has suffered from
the chaos created by competing factions, chaos that gave rise to the
Taliban, a group of Islamic students who seized control of Kabul in
1996 and imposed harsh fundamentalist laws which led to horrifying human
rights abuses, including stoning for adultery and severing hands for
theft. Women were prohibited from work and school, and they were required
to cover themselves from head to foot in public. The Kite Runner describes
life under the Taliban tyranny graphically and helps the western reader
understand the devastation of the Taliban reign to the people and place
Yet through this volatile history of invasions and warring factions,
religious extremism, the wrath of the Western world after the terrorist
attacks of 9/11 and destruction of the land and its culture, Afghanistan
holds fast to faith that life will go on. As the novel states... Afghans
like to say: Life goes on, unmindful of beginning, end, crisis or catharsis,
moving forward like a slow, dusty caravan of Kochis. While this is not
the optimism that prevails in the Western world, and particularly in
America, it expresses an abiding faith in perseverance -- the greatest
strength of the Afghan people and what the kite tournaments symbolize.
with Khaled Hosseini about his second book, A Thousand Splendid
Questions provided by Jeanne Finley and Mary Cuffe-Perez.
Comments by Mary Cuffe-Perez.
This discussion guide made possible with public
funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State Agency. Sponsored
by the Mohawk Valley Library System and participating member libraries.