I read The Kite Runner (book #116) on a hot day.
Some of my students right now are from Afganistan, and I’ve always felt that reading fiction about a place was a good way into the heart of that place – when I was a kid I read James Michener’s Caravans and fell head over heels in love with the idea of travelling, of going away, of being someone different. I never did that, and I regret it bitterly, but I do frequently seek out books about places I’m never likely to see. In February I read extensively about Italy, and it helped me through an exceptionally difficult month.
So, The Kite Runner.
I’m sad to say that it did not blow my mind. The plot was predictable (there was only one twist in the whole book that actually surprised me) and the author glossed over a lot of things in the narrator’s life. I hate it when writers say something like “and then he went to university and studied creative writing, even though his dad didn’t want him to, and before too long he had published two dozen books.” Seriously! That’s like saying “then on Tuesday he decided to climb Everest, but not until after lunch, which he ate at the Ritz with whoever the bony model du jour is.” I want the nitty gritty. I want the blood, the sweat, the tears, the agony of writing, the pain of going through school, the deprivation, the hunger (physical and emotional), the rejection slips, the slush piles. Give me something real!
Real, though, is what I got in the rest of the book. I particularly liked seeing what it’s like (or what it was like, I guess) in Afghanistan, and those glimpses of Afghan culture in America. I often wonder about the lives of my students, because they are so limited in what they can tell me – they can only tell about the things they have words for, and their words are quite few. And I know they have also had experiences in their pasts that there are no words for, and it breaks my heart to think of that.
Another teacher I know said that her Afghani students hated the book; they said it was completely unrealistic and did not reflect anything true about the Afghan experience. Here’s what I think about that (thank you for asking): we can only tell the truth as we see it. We can only say “this is how it was for me.” When I was taking a poetry workshop at Concordia during part of my mis-spent youth I wrote about how autumn leaves smelled like cinnamon when you walk through them. Well, so kill me, they DO! They do to my nose, anyway, and I’ll stick to that, but one of the Pretentious Poets in my class took offence at my description. Because there’s apparently some kind of inherent truth to the scent of fall leaves in Montreal and HEAVEN FORBID you should get it wrong.
But you’re the author. To the author goes the authority.
And the last word, too.