Title: The Kite Runner
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publication date: 2003
For this year’s Book Diaries, in a departure from my usual focus, instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’m looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing. (See my general blog to find out why I’m doing this.)
Amir, a young boy from a wealthy Kabul family, has a close friendship with Hassan, a boy from a servant caste. Their connection is torn apart by events both personal and political, and Amir is exiled to America. As the decades pass, he finds himself returning to his homeland to atone for wrongs committed in his youth, and from unshakeable guilt we see emerge a hard-won redemption and hope for the future.
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What did I find out?
A trope that is present in many novels, and which we see here in The Kite Runner [minor spoiler ahead], is the loss of the father figure. This figure can be a father substitute, such as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books, or – as in this case – an actual father. The loss of this character in the protagonist’s life is usually meant to indicate that they must now move on to a new phase, where they are no longer protected, no longer have someone to check back with and ask questions of: they must now be the hero, taking responsibility and taking action for themselves. It is a key event in their journey.
One additional event that happens in The Kite Runner is that, after Baba’s death, Amir discovers a devastating secret about him, which not only affects his view of his own standing in the world, but also causes him to take action in a surprisingly courageous way. It occurred to me that Amir is dealing not just with the physical loss of his father, but also with the loss of what his father represented for so many years: he is no longer the person Amir thought he knew. It is a double loss – and perhaps this extra push is precisely what Amir needs to break free from the perceived chains of his past.
What do I now see differently?
A number of the books I’ve read this year are set in periods of political upheaval: from The House of the Spirits through The Heart of Redness to, now, The Kite Runner, with many more along the way. This setting often has the effect of taking the narrator/protagonist away from the action, at least for a period of time, as they go into (voluntary or enforced) exile, whether to flee the violence of their homeland or to seek better opportunities elsewhere.
As a result, these characters are able to comment on the action in their homeland from a more distant vantage point. Whether they eventually return, or remain abroad, they have a perspective not available to those caught in the middle of it all – and it is likely this distance that enables them to tell their story effectively to those on the outside. We are helped to see connections between political and personal events, and come away feeling that the political is, in fact, frequently personal. The setting of a story at a time of national importance is an effective way of highlighting trauma and tragedy – and redemption – in individuals’ lives, and of showing just how connected we are to each other, even though continents may separate us.
How will this inspire my writing?
I’ve been struggling with my main character recently, in that I’m not certain she is going on enough of a ‘journey’. She has a few hang-ups, sure, but overall she’s basically a good, kind person – and I’m not sure that’s interesting (or real) enough for a gripping story. Reading The Kite Runner brought it home to me just how much more enthralling a tale is when you start out believing the main character to be pretty unsympathetic, and then end up rooting for him all the way. That’s great storytelling!
So I need to give a lot more thought to fleshing out my protagonist, making her more real, more flawed, more believable – and then giving her real issues to deal with, real problems to make decisions about, rather than the slightly confused uncertainty I’ve got her feeling at the moment. Right now even I am not clear on her motivation for half the things I want her to do, so writing them is going to be a challenge.
However, I’m holding out hope. So far, every time I’ve sat down to write a scene, it unfolds in the way it wants to unfold – and not necessarily the way I planned it. Characters seem to be writing themselves – or, rather, revealing themselves to me as I write. I’ve found out all sorts of things about them that I never knew when I started; and so it’s highly likely that the flaws and worries and skeletons in my main character’s closet will emerge when they are ready to emerge. Perhaps my job is simply to be there to record them when they do.
A musical interlude
I struggled a lot with finding a suitable track to accompany this book, but then I came across this little gem by Bob Dylan (performed in this video by The Band). It’s not completely relevant – but then I suppose none of my selections are, really. And the more I listen to this one, the more I like it. I hope you do too.