(It’s a story set between a winter and a spring. What we read to be a number of years are actually few characters frozen between the two seasons. It’s only when the ice starts to melts that we see them run again with life and colour. Spring symbolising life, ends the cold and the turmoil.)
The novel begins at a date when the narrator has already found ‘a way to be good again.’ The plot unfolds in a haunting and disturbing retrospect of a weak moment and the tragedy that ensued, though not entirely due to the tragic flaw. The reader is thoroughly introduced to a child’s world; his yearning for his father’s love, his authority over his friend like servant, his inability to stand up for the right, his realisation of the mean streak in his nature. Like any other boy of his age, he has little control over anything that happens in his life, but also like any other boy of his age, he wants to rule. Even Hassan, the Hazara boy, in his never ending and unquestionable loyalty shares the ambition of being ‘the sultan of Kabul.’ Amir, the narrator, and Hassan are quite similar in the way they accept and assume their designated roles in life; Amir as a privileged son of a respected member of the Afghan society who has access to schooling, and Hassan as an illiterate boy who inherits servitude and loyal wisdom from his Hazara lineage. They are both similar also in the way they fail to realise their importance for the other; Hassan ready to sacrifice and trust Amir, whereas Amir ready to exploit and betray Hassan.
The plot continues to develop, however life comes to a halt for the narrator after the kite tournament. He fails to act and save Hassan in not just his cowardice but also his selfish desires of being glorified in front of his father. Being a small boy, he fails to realise that his father would have been prouder, had he taken a stand for Hassan. Everything that happens in between that fateful day of winter and the Sawl-e-Nau twenty six years later in spring, appears to be a nightmare. Amir’s inability to face Hassan, the accusation, escape from Afghanistan, poverty in America, his graduation, his marriage, his father’s death, all the incidents are shadowed by the incident with Hassan. Amir grows into a man but doesn’t grow out of his guilt, remaining frozen in time. Later, when the narrator runs for the kite for Sohrab, ‘a thousand times over,’ it connects him back, wakes him up and the reader comes across optimism for the future.
The protagonist of the story throughout remains to be Hassan, the kite runner, only in the end does the narrator change places with him. Hassan’s unflinching loyalty as well as stoicism, his brave and willing sacrifice like a lamb, his acceptance of a sin not committed, makes him haunt the narrator as well as the reader throughout his absence. He is there when the narrator escapes to Pakistan, there when he graduates, when he marries, even when he meets Sohrab; Hassan haunts the novel. Amir sees Hassan in Sohrab, and the familiarity is more poignant with the slingshot in Sohrab’s hand. Sohrab, like Hassan, saving Amir from Assef! Only this time, Asef really is reduced to the ‘One-Eyed Assef.’ And the reader rejoices even in the crippling situation. However in the end, Hassan lives not in Sohrab, as one would expect, but Amir, running for the kite, ‘a thousand times over.’
Written by an Afghan-American writer, the Afghan history has mushroomed throughout the novel and reminds us vaguely of how people had rejoiced even in Pakistan, when Taliban had taken control. I remember overhearing my headmistress at school, ‘for the better!’ I also remember how 911 had changed the world. I remember seeing a huge number of Afghan children selling flowers on the streets. Their rosy cheeks and brown hair discoloured by the dust of war and poverty, but eyes always shining brilliant. I remember an Afghan peon at office stating how Pakistani Afghans were looked down upon by the real Afghans, that they would easily be identified through their accents.
Moreover, the novel has a painfully-enjoyable experience, with all the characters having demons to fight with. Rahim Khan’s not marrying, and accepting that his beloved would not suffer this way, raises his stature. Throughout the story he tries to mend the leaks, encouraging Amir to write stories, trying to fill the gap left by Amir’s father, consoling Hassan after the tournament, keeping his friend’s and Amir’s dark secrets without indulging into reprimands, looking after the house, looking for Hassan, loving Sohrab; and even when he is about to die, giving Sohrab a chance to life and Amir a chance to redemption.
Amir’s Baba, Toophan Agha, who had wrestled a black bear once, is seen wrestling his own demons that the reader can initially mistake to be his wife’s demise or something ‘missing’ in Amir; however only towards the end do we get to know the real remorse that haunts him. A disbeliever but a true Afghan at heart, he is loved and respected by everyone around him, even Ali, who was wronged and denied the right to truth, holds immense respect for him. Hard to dismiss his presence, he stands tall ready to take the bullet for the ‘nang’ and ‘namoos,’ probably the only person to have refused charity in America, fights his disease not ready to accept sympathy, and dies a man of principles as well as kindred towards humanity.
Soraya is able to overcome her demons by truthfully confessing to Amir, and gives him hope in finding solace by embracing the truth. Things can be set right! Khala Jamila’s demon is General Tahiri himself, whereas General’s demon is his heightened sense of loss of position. Amir overcomes his demon by fighting with Assef, whereas for Sohrab, hope soars through the air along with the kite.
The novel ends with a note of optimism. The ice has begun to melt and spring has set. It’s Sawl-e-Nau, a new beginning!