Your Favorite Book Sucks: 'The Kite Runner'

An ongoing column, written by different people, that takes a classic or popular book and argues why it isn't really all that great. Confrontational, to be sure, but it's all in good fun.


Sometimes it’s hard to say why a book becomes a best seller. OK perhaps that is an anodyne observation: if it were easy, the publishing business would be a whole lot more profitable than it is. But sometimes, it’s not so hard. And going a step further, some years it’s pretty obvious why we bought the books we did. Take 2005 for example. The top three sellers of the year were Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, A Million Little Pieces and, in third place, The Kite Runner.

You don’t need to be Madame Arcana with her crystal ball to work out why the first two made the top spots. Half Blood Prince is the sixth book in one of the most popular series of all time ever. No surprise there. Coming second, an Oprah recommended (and soon to be notorious) juicy drink-and-drugs-hell memoir. And in spot three we have a story about two boys, some kites, and a country called Afghanistan.

Not so easy to predict that success. On the face of it, Hosseini’s book has no obvious selling point, yet not only did it make the top three in 2005, it stayed on the bestseller list for the next three years. People bought it, read it, and loved it to a million little pieces.

The Kite Runner caught the popular imagination because it allowed us to learn about one of the world’s troubled places, discover that the Taliban really are a bunch of bad guys, learn a little Farsi, and do it all from the safety of our own armchairs.

What makes The Kite Runner’s stranglehold on the zeitgeist of the early 2000’s all the more puzzling is another simple fact:

The Kite Runner sucks.

And here is why. It sucks because…but no! I’m not going to start there. That would be too easy. First I’m going to run through the criticisms most people make about the book. Then I’m going to tell you what’s really wrong with it. Because the real reason The Kite Runner sucks is exactly the opposite of what you might think. It sucks for exactly the same reason it became so popular.

Even the book’s most fervent fans admit that The Kite Runner has its faults. The plot hinges on the friendship between two boys: Amir, son of an Afghan businessman and Hassan, son of the family servant. Amir (who we are expected to root for) is defended by Hassan, helped by Hassan, then stands by and witnesses his rape. As a result, Amir rejects his friend, pelts him with pomegranates and makes it look as though he is a thief to get him out of his life. Then he leaves for the US. Then, much later, he feels sorry.

That’s the character we’re meant to like. It goes downhill from there. Assef, the villain, is a half-German who says things like ‘If we had let Hitler finish what he started, the world would be a better place.’ Also he enjoys raping smaller boys.

Those are the characters. The social attitudes are just as scary. In The Kite Runner servants embrace the joy of serving others in a way that makes Uncle Tom seem like a firebrand for emancipation. Amir’s wife, Soraya, is emotionally scarred by the fact she had a brief affair before she married. Nobly, Amir forgives her this awful sin, even though it bothers him ‘a bit’ because she’s ‘been’ with a man although he hasn’t ‘taken a woman to bed’. And when Soraya turns out to be infertile, Amir also puts up with this too.  As the fertility specialist they visit says: ‘a man’s plumbing is like his mind: simple, very few surprises. You ladies on the other hand…well, God put a lot of thought into making you.’

Yes. That’s right. Vaginas are very, very complicated.

As for the plot, well, this quote probably sums it up.

"Walking back to the truck, neither one of us commented about what most non-Afghans would have seen as an improbable coincidence, that a beggar on the street would happen to know my mother. Because we both knew that in Afghanistan, and particularly in Kabul, such absurdity was commonplace."

Presumably if a pink unicorn happened to fly down at that moment and whisk you away, no one would comment on that either, because in Afghanistan such absurdity is commonplace.

Yes, the fans say. The Kite Runner isn’t perfect. It’s badly written, hyperbolic and repetitive, with one-dimensional characters and antiquated social attitudes. But none of those things matter, they conclude. The Kite Runner is saved from suckitude by one simple fact. It’s about Afghanistan.

This is the reason The Kite Runner became so popular. It’s not the boys or the kites or the satisfying yet overworked theme of betrayal and redemption. If this book had been set in Greece, or Brooklyn, or Iceland, there is no way in a month of Sundays it would have become required freshman reading and graced the reading lists of High Schools. The Kite Runner caught the popular imagination because it allowed us to learn about one of the world’s troubled places, discover that the Taliban really are a bunch of bad guys, learn a little Farsi, and do it all from the safety of our own armchairs.  

And this is why it sucks.

Because The Kite Runner is about Afghanistan the same way Kim Kardashian is about natural beauty. No mention here of how Afghanistan was created as a buffer zone by the British against Russia, how the boundaries were drawn in such a way as to weaken certain ethnic groups and therefore virtually guarantee tension for the rest of time. How when the Russians did eventually invade, the Taliban were supported (if not actually created) by the US as a tool against the occupiers - fundamentalist teachings being part of the recruitment campaign.

Nope. None of that. Pre-Russian invasion, the Afghanistan of The Kite Runner is an idyll of pomegranate groves and kite flying competitions. True, the Hazara – the ethnic group from which Amir’s friend Hassan comes – suffer some persecution, but they have rich employers like Amir’s father to keep them safe, so that’s all right. Post-Russian invasion, the country becomes a Middle Eastern hell of public stonings and male brothels. The issue of just how the fundamentalists came to power is neatly skirted by making the entire Taliban regime the work of Amir’s childhood nemesis Assef, a crazed sadist who is only one Sieg Heil away from being a Nazi (and is also gay, the pervert).

Far from being the saving grace of The Kite Runner, Afghanistan is its fatal flaw. The book played a cruel trick on us: it allowed us to feel we were learning something about a tragedy, when really it was presenting us with a revisionist view of history which not only exonerates the guilty, it piles stones on the graves of the dead, in order to hide them from view.

It says a lot about us, that if an author attempted this with any other similar period in history, the outcry would be immediate and deafening. Yet instead The Kite Runner continues to sell and sell.

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Comments

JEFFREY GRANT BARR's picture
JEFFREY GRANT BARR from Central OR is reading Nothing but fucking Shakespeare, for the rest of my life July 23, 2012 - 1:09pm

[...] presenting us with a revisionist view of history which not only exonerates the guilty, it piles stones on the graves of the dead, in order to hide them from view. [...] if an author attempted this with any other similar period in history, the outcry would be immediate and deafening.

Hi! I am 95% of the American literary canon. Pleased ta meetcha!

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 23, 2012 - 1:09pm

Let's not forget that the author's go to plot device is boy rape. The author needs the hero to feel bad later? Have a small boy raped. The author wants to show someone is a villain who didn't just make a horrible mistake when they are younger? Have more small boys raped. The author needs some drama? A small boy who was raped off page has a break down. I understand that sadly it happens, and that it is horrible but the author acts like most common thing to go wrong outside the U.S.

Ricky Sprague's picture
Ricky Sprague from America is reading The Wonder Woman Chronicles, Volume 2 July 23, 2012 - 1:26pm

This might be the first I've heard anything about this book since 2005.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer July 23, 2012 - 2:13pm

I bought this book a while back for a dollar. I haven't read it yet. It just sorts of sits there as one of those things people say I should read that I may never get around to.

Juny Patriots Bayard's picture
Juny Patriots Bayard from Boston, Ma July 23, 2012 - 5:10pm

too  bad your review of the nearly 9 year old book sucks more.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson July 23, 2012 - 7:50pm

too  bad your review of the nearly 9 year old book sucks more.

Hahaha. A member for over 6 months and this is her first comment. Comedy gold.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 24, 2012 - 5:47am

Juny, you realize that the Litreactor isn't supposed to just be on new books right? I mean it says on the opening page geek out on books. Also, as a group we kind of frown on feed back that consists of some variation of "You/this suck(s)!" For example I could say, "You post sucks!" But that isn't really helpful. I will say that in the future you might want to address why something sucks if you wish to be taken seriously. 

Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy's picture
Pretty Spry for... from I'd prefer it if you didn't know. So would you, only you don't know it. is reading whatever he makes time for this week July 24, 2012 - 6:15am

All good points, gentlemen, but if I may, I think Cath can take it. Besides, she wasn't exactly being nonagressive when she titled her column "Your Favorite Book Sucks." Perhaps The Kite Runner really is Juny's favorite book, and that is why she took it so personally. I don't know. But it seems to me that the implicit reasoning behind her comment is that Cath should've chosen a more up-to-date topic. [This argument is not totally unfounded. The article probably would've had more impact seven or eight years ago, but Cath being Cath, she probably did write something along these lines then, assuming she read The Kite Runner when it was fashionable.] Dwayne counters this reasoning very well. I would just like to add that we should take into account the implicit purpose of the article: to point out flaws in "favorite" books, i.e. ones that received substantial critical and popular attention. One of the key aspects of selecting books, then, is time. After all, the longer a book goes unchallenged, the more significant the challenge, and I submit that few people's favorite books will be all that new. In that way, Cath's timing seems appropriate.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson July 24, 2012 - 6:58am

We probably should have made this more clear, but YOUR FAVORITE BOOK SUCKS is going to be an ongoing column, written by different people, that takes a classic or popular book and argues why it isn't really that great. It is a little confrontational, to be sure, but that is the intention. All in good fun, of course.

Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy's picture
Pretty Spry for... from I'd prefer it if you didn't know. So would you, only you don't know it. is reading whatever he makes time for this week July 24, 2012 - 7:05am

Of course, Old Sport.

And most would agree the passage of time is a factor in whether a book is considered a classic.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading A lot of Brian Evenson July 24, 2012 - 7:45am

Classic and/or popular. Not saying Kite Runner is a classic by any means.

Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy's picture
Pretty Spry for... from I'd prefer it if you didn't know. So would you, only you don't know it. is reading whatever he makes time for this week July 24, 2012 - 7:58am

Not saying Kite Runner is a classic by any means.

Good point. But then again, the whole point of the article is that The Kite Runner is not a classic or even deserving of whatever status it has.

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast July 24, 2012 - 2:29pm

I did read The Kite Runner when it was fashionable and hated it just as much then as I do now. So I've been waiting for this opportunity to apply my canines to its overrated jugular for a while. Can you tell?

I'm crossing my fingers that someone now picks one of my faves and puts the boot in. Heated debate is my idea of the best fun you can possibly have (with your clothes on).

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 24, 2012 - 5:02pm

@Cath - I doubt anyone has even read my favs, but it would be interesting to hear.

odysseusonthestyx's picture
odysseusonthestyx from The land down-under... is reading The Illuminatus Trilogy - Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson July 24, 2012 - 6:41pm

The article makes a fair point... it's not the bad writing or the plot holes or the brutality of some of the scenes that makes it suck, it's that it promotes slacktivism and encourages us to base our opinions of a country on fictionalised representations rather than solid historical facts (hands up who felt like an expert on Tuscany after watching Under the Tuscan Sun but has never actually been to Tuscany).

AssholeAmerican's picture
AssholeAmerican from America (CO, NE, NC, AK, NY, WA) is reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Portable Atheist by Hitchens, 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill July 25, 2012 - 8:13am

Cath, I'm pretty sure "lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off." Although I do think this extends beyond girls because boys have a hell of a time lying too, i.e. "so this chick was totally into me and I was like 'yeah, not really into it.' But she did have big boobies, so I let her think I liked her. Blah blah blah..."

Pretty Spry for a Dead Guy's picture
Pretty Spry for... from I'd prefer it if you didn't know. So would you, only you don't know it. is reading whatever he makes time for this week July 25, 2012 - 1:21pm

lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off

But it's better if you do.

Stephanie Bonjack's picture
Stephanie Bonjack from Boulder, CO is reading Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith July 26, 2012 - 1:58pm

This entire dialog just makes me love LitReactor. I agree with Cath that this book doesn't deserve the status it enjoys, and Dwayne has a point about the gratitous child rape. Of course, writing a story that takes place in a realistic Afghanistan and doesn't rely on child rape for plot and character development....would be a lot more work. And maybe not land you in Oprah's book club.

 

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated July 26, 2012 - 3:07pm

Not just child rape, little boy rape. Not that one kind is better then another, just makes it creepier that the author seems to have a favorite type.

Renfield's picture
Renfield from Hell is reading 20th Century Ghosts August 2, 2012 - 9:41pm

Never really knew what this book was about but the plot sounds pretty good here. Sounds like a bunch of despicable, interesting characters. Don't really give a shit for an accurate representation of Afghanistan or its history or struggles.

Nicely done argument.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated September 26, 2013 - 6:03am

@Renfield - You are half right, they are despicable. There are like 6 interesting pages in the book, and one semi interesting character the narrator's father. For me at least the big problems was they failed to portray Afghanistan, immigrants, or be interesting.

bmartin2009's picture
bmartin2009 from St. Paul, Minnesota is reading Dune January 8, 2013 - 9:22am

This article does make some really good points, but I think far too much of it hinges on arguments of "the social attitudes are outdated."  If you're going to make broad claims about the social norms of a country like Afghanistan, you've got to build up some ethos first.  Personally, I have no idea what would be considered out-of-date to native Afghans.  If you don't make the case that you have a better idea than I do, that whole line of argument has no backbone.

I also disagree that we're supposed to feel any pity for Amir.  It could have just been me, but the part I found most convincing was how thoroughly unlikable he was, up until the final-act turnaround.  Calling him "the character we're meant to like" breaks down that ethos you need very badly to support your arguments.

Big T's picture
Big T February 18, 2013 - 1:03am

A friend recommended and I thought it was a pretty good book right up until the main child character does a 180 and let's his childhood friend get anally raped. Out of left field. It just went downhill from there. Agree totally with the other reviewer that was like, need a plot point? -anal rape, character flaw? That's cause of anal rape. The bad guy(and don't call this book deep, it was good guy vs bad guy) was a gay anal rapist who likes boys. Actually surprised me that he didn't have a mustache he twisted while going "hehehe". Wouldn't have finished but had to confirm that my work friend was an idiot in terms of taste in books. Confirmed. This is a sheep following the "best selling!" Label. Sucked. Unless you're into shallow, poorly plotted books involving lots of anal rape(involving kids) that's as deep as a pie dish and has zero character development. If that's what you like, this book is for you. Baaaaa.

Rizwan's picture
Rizwan December 4, 2013 - 2:33pm

Clarification on the fact that some people are posting comments about the author that he had nothing apart from a rape scene to rocket his book up into the lime light. Looking at it from an open perspective and not a narrow minded one you would reliase that the rape scene symbolises and represents something really significant. I'll put in simple words for everyone so there are no misconseptions.

Assef is cruel and brutal. He rapes Hassan.  

Assef represents Russia and all the cruelty and brutality which they showed towards Afghanistan. Hassan is Afghanistan and the rape symblolises the cruelty and brutality of the action. Amir is great ol America. He shows cowardice and does not do anything - had however there been something in it for him he may have done something. (This relates to today aswell).

Note: Im only 16 and this is the first I've written something like this... To point out grammar or other minor mistake would be folly. The purpouse of me writing this was to attempt to clear some misconceptions which is evidently clear through the other the posts.        

John Kealy's picture
John Kealy August 5, 2014 - 8:14am

I agree completely. When I read the book, I got up to the part where there was the German boy who tortured the poor Hasaan. I found it to be so cliche that there is the continuity of evil from Nazism to The Taliban as an insinuated direct line that I had to laugh out loud. I'm surprised the character didn't do a stint with Pol Pot, was Stalin's intern, and messaged daily with Dr. Evil. 

Soraya Mousavi's picture
Soraya Mousavi October 8, 2015 - 4:25pm

No mention here of how Afghanistan was created as a buffer zone by the British against Russia, how the boundaries were drawn in such a way as to weaken certain ethnic groups and therefore virtually guarantee tension for the rest of time. How when the Russians did eventually invade, the Taliban were supported (if not actually created) by the US as a tool against the occupiers - fundamentalist teachings being part of the recruitment campaign.

It's amusing that you think someone who was born in Afghanistan desperately needs to be lectured about the history of their own home country by a foreigner. Oh wait, it's not amusing; it's patronizing and rude. Maybe you should think about, you know, not doing that in the future?

 

learn a little Farsi

They're not speaking Farsi in The Kite Runner. They're speaking Dari, also known as Afghan Persian. You're trying to set yourself up as a Big Expert™ on Afghanistan who obviously knows soooo much more about it than people who are actually from there, and yet you get a very basic fact dead wrong.

I'm willing to bet money that your knowledge of Afghanistan comes from skimming the wikipedia article on it before writing this review.

There actually has been better and more well-informed criticism of The Kite Runner by actualfax people from Afghanistan and members of the diaspora. Some of it has some merit (the potrayal of Assef) and some of it is just Pashtuns whining about being portayed as treating the Hazara badly. Your loyal readers would be advised to go read some of that instead of your brand of White- and West-splaining.