Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Running kites

Yes, I quite agree with Helen S and Valerie. I learnt a lot about Afghanistan that I didn't know (and part of me didn't want to know, so bleak was it!). But I felt I also got a sense of Afghans as a people; for instance: "Afghans are an independent people. Afghans cherish custom but abhor rules... [That wasn't a rule, that was a custom]". I found the characters well-realised (and authentic enough to be irritating in just the sort of way real people can be). There seemed to me to be a real division between the over-assertive and the under-assertive characters, with tragic consequences. Amir says: "Then maybe my life as a ghost in this house would finally be over". If only he'd picked the good occasion to assert himself, against someone who needed standing up to!

The arc of the plot could be anticipated (Amir would return, would atone etc), but many parts still took me by surprise. I was especially impressed with Sohrab, who frequently surprised me. He didn't stay within the obvious templates, and I thought it courageous writing to have him damaged in so many ways. So often fiction has the child rescued just in time, and everything coming out in the wash. That said, I found the fate of both Hassan and Sohrab haunting and the book accordingly gruelling.

However, Helen S's point about grace v law and the constant hope of redemption did indeed make a real difference. I wouldn't have wanted to read it if I'd known more about the subject matter, but I'm very glad I did. And I'm sure that's partly because the treatment matters so much in this sort of thing, doesn't it? The same thing, handled a little more harshly, would have been unbearable for me.

The language wasn't quite what I'd have chosen, but it made its points well and I enjoyed some lovely turns of phrase. For example: "Baba loved the idea of America. It was living in America that gave him an ulcer" and: "To this day, I find it hard to gaze directly at people who mean every word they say." The transparency and loyalty of Hassan were nicely echoed in his uncanny ability to predict where the kite would land - to him it was just so very simple - and yet even there we had complexity. When Amir sees something else underneath Hassan's face, I was baffled. Only at the end did I realise who it was Amir had glimpsed, and then I appreciated the irony about this most straightforward of characters.

One thing which I think contributed to the bleakness for me is the technique - I don't know its proper name - by which the narrator teases the reader about what is to come, especially to show darkening skies. "It was the last time I was to see him smile for 26 years" etc. It bugs me! What do you all think?