Tuesday, June 13, 2006

You really ought to read: The Kite Runner.

Let me clarify that a first novel about boyhood friends flying kites in Afghanistan in the early seventies is fairly far down on my list of things to read. My own tastes run to books that are clever, or literary. I'll throw in the occasional frenetically-pased thriller, but blame that on Hollywood for not providing me with adequately entertaining escapist movies. I'll also read truckloads of chick/ lad lit, for two reasons: one, it's awfully entertaining, and two, because lending libraries exist to liberate me from the guilt of shelling out hard-earned money (and giving up precious shelf space) for the likes of Lauren Weisberger and Mike Gayle.

I do read Asian authors, but the writers I adore -- Murakami, for instance -- could hardly be termed representative. Indian writers I give a fairly wide berth to, though I must admit to reading quite a bit of Amitav Ghosh (who staggers me with his attention to detail); Upamanyu Chatterjee; the tiresome, but quite brilliant, Rushdie; and Jhumpa Lahiri.

This isn't the most favourable mindset with which to approach The Kite Runner. It's a novel about two boys growing up in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. About how the class in which we are born has everything -- and, simultaneously, nothing -- to do with whom we become. About the frailty of men, the bonds between fathers and sons. About old-fashioned notions like honour and tradition, about harsh realities like survival and the construction of a life far, far away from your own country. It's incredibly rich in detail, and lyrical in expression. And it's unputdownable.

I started it during the runup to the first of yesterday's World Cup matches, and, before I knew it, I was curled up on the couch, telly on 'mute', bookmark discarded (I must have known I wouldn't need it again). Moved to tears more than once, yet unable to stop reading. I put it down late last night, and my head was too full of its images to concentrate on Italy vs. Ghana.

It's a wholly original book, but, in many ways, it reminded me of some of my favourite writers and characters. When its narrator, Amir, speaks of feeling like a phoney when he is with someone as pure as Hassan, the kite runner of the title, I'm reminded of Holden Caulfield, and his sister, Phoebe. The portion of the novel when Amir returns to an Afghanistan very different from the one he grew up in takes me back to Suketu Dalal's return to Dariya Mahal. The lyrical writing evokes Shantaram, and Snow.

I loved it for the very reasons it is so different from the books I usually read: its wealth of emotion, and its clearly Afghan (read, unambiguous) culture. After all, I couldn't make it through that other supposed masterpiece it is most often compared to -- The God of Small Things.
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