Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Book Review: Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, begins as a story of a friendship between two boys in Afghanistan in the early 1970's and how history, family, and social obligations binds them together for ever, destroys them, and finally provides redemption. You can read the Amazon.com review for more details.

I loved this book. Someone had recommended this years before to me, but it never caught my interest until I was "forced" to read it through the club. ;-)

I was moved by the story of the friendship, and especially the relationship of the boy and his father, and his family, and was impressed by the author's ability to make me (i don't know about you) connect to the experience of the boy Amir through universal themes of love, family and honor, and whose life is otherwise foreign to me.

At my job, I work with immigrants and refugees on a daily basis from around the world. Afghanistan is one of the countries from which refugees have arrived in the US (arriving late 1980's, early 1990's due to Soviet occupation, and subsequent government breakdown).

Blame it on charitable burn-out, but there are times when I really take for granted the richness of the cultures and populations that I meet with everyday. On my worst days, I don't even check into the history and politics that led them to my office in the first place; and at the end of the day, I just lump together every tired, poor, wretched member of the huddled masses into a box of professional stress that I shut out at the end of the day. This book was professionally cathartic for me.

For me, after reading this book, whenever I meet another Afghani - or any other ethnic group member - I think of the characters in the book. I think of Baba and Amir in the US and all the Hassan's and Ali's that were left behind in home country. If you haven't read this one yet, definitely worth reading and purchasing for your own collection.

Now...for book club discussion questions. I just picked out one (since I've been a little verbose so far):

18. When Amir and Baba move to the States their relationship changes, and Amir begins to view his father as a more complex man. Discuss the changes in their relationship. Do you see the changes in Baba as tragic or positive?

In the end, I think the changes in Baba were positive. To get to that positive end was humiliating and humbling, but ultimately it led to Amir and Baba having the relationship with each other they had always longed for: Baba had the son he was proud of, who did his duty to his father until the end. Amir had a father who supported him in his relationships and life choices.

I see Baba as a survivor. Unlike the true tragic character of the (what's his name) former Afghan government official who was living off public welfare in hopes that he would work in the Afghan government one day, Baba made the most of the circumstances. Baba couldn't stay in Afghanistan and survive with his son, and he was ultimately offered the opportunity to go to the US. Baba kept his pride and made a life of dignity for himself - though not easily - and died in dignity.

I think the biggest challenge for the average person - reader or people who connect with this situation - is to understand that misfortune can fall on the greatest of us at any time, so success in life must be measured by something bigger than material or political gains. The second challenge is understanding that when you enter the US as a refugee, that even with government assistance, we as Americans can not underestimate how hard it can be to be successful when you literally begin in the US with absolutely nothing, and just how difficult it can be - even amongst the most learned of refugees (and there are quite a number) to overcome language and cultural barriers and simply American prejudice against foreigners in society and the workplace.

To end (I know it took so-o-o-o long - sorry), I want to leave a couple contacts to those of us who would like to provide assistance to refugees today - latest group coming from Myanmar (formerly Burma). I only have links for Kentucky, but there is at least one equivalent government designated Migration Refugee Service Organization in each state. Financial assistance and clothing/furniture donations always needed, but volunteers are always invaluable when it comes to english education, cultural orientation, tutoring children, "adopting a family", etcetera.

USCCB/Catholic Charities
Mr. Darko Mihajlovic
2911 South 4th Street
Louisville, KY 40208
Fax: 502/637-9780

Western Kentucky Refugee Mutual Asst.
Gordana Hasanagic
806 Kenton Street
Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101

Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Inc. (Sub Office of Louisville, KY)
Barbara Kleine
201 E. Maxwell Street
Lexington, KY 40508
Fax: 859-226-9631

Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Inc.
Carol Young
969B Cherokee Road
Louisville, KY 40204
Fax: 502-581-8552

Jewish Family & Vocational Services
Judith Tiell
3587 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205


Rachel said...

I finished reading this book last New Year's Eve, as my husband was shouting "The ball's dropping! Can't you put that book down for one minute?" Nope. Intense book.

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