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The Kite Runner

I normally steer clear of books that appear on bestseller lists. I’ve always had the (possibly arrogant) impression that these books are written for the masses, and that their success is more due to the efforts of marketers than to the quality of the product itself. A truly good book normally requires such a time investment and such an incredible amount of effort to fully appreciate that I am inherently suspicious of anything that aims to offer the masses immediate gratification.

However, I had a strange feeling that The Kite Runner would be different, that it would be more The Life of Pi than the Angels and Demons word vomit.

The story kicks off in the 70’s, focusing on a childhood spent in an Afghanistan as yet untroubled by the Soviet Union or the malignant regimes that we became all too familiar with following the events of 9/11. And it is this setting itself that seems to be the book’s main draw-card. I can’t help but think that the only reason that this book was such a success is that it provided a glimpse into an intriguingly alien culture that had the world’s attention focused upon it immediately following the World Trade Center attacks.

While the writing in the first third of the book is admittedly very good at times, it soon begins to falter and rarely reaches a level deserving of such wide acclaim (the part where the protagonist attempts to write his first story is a noted exception). The plot is cleanly simple and should have provided a powerful mechanism through which to reveal complex and often dirty character traits that normally go unexplored by most authors and readers. However, Hosseini has a tendency to over-dramatise, and the main character swings so drastically between opposing stances that the reader never feels that he has the choice to make up his own mind about him. Rather, the author forces him upon you as either a hero or villain depending on what is required to move the plot forward at the time.

Ultimately The Kite Runner is a good book, but I’d be hard pressed to call it anything more than decent. I feel that if it weren’t for all the hype surrounding it, little attention would have been paid to the mostly average writing. Many have suggested that Hosseini wrote the book with the intent of having it translated into a movie, and this is evident as it is loaded with very obvious sentimentality throughout (and by the fact that it was indeed quickly adapted into a film).

It is a pity though, as at many times during the beginning of the story I felt that I was about to undertake a remarkable journey. By the end however, due to its poor characters and by the author seemingly taking the easy route out with the story, it was a book that left me feeling vastly underwhelmed.

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