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BOOK DISCUSSION GUIDE

Title: The Kite Runner
Author: Kahled Hosseini

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.

Questions:
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 him?

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?

Related Information:
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 of Afghanistan.

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.

Interview with Khaled Hosseini about his second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns

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.

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