Christina gifted me this book and I have to say, Thanks a Lot, Chris!
(If you haven’t read the book, none of what follows is going to make much sense. Also, if you intend to read it, you probably don’t want to know all of this; there are spoilers.)
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I loved the book… but I’m glad I read it. I really enjoyed the beginning, the Kabul parts. I think they created an environment that makes you feel like you’ve been to the place. Being Indian, there were a lot of things one could relate to – servants who stayed in the family for generations and seemed almost like friends, only you didn’t play with them when your social peers were around; kites; kabobs; some of the words and concepts, like Zendagi, khastegari…
I also thought that the whole tragic episode, the subsequent actions of the protagonist, and the deep, convoluted guilt trip were very well done. That reminded me, in a parallel way, of Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, which I read about a hundred years ago. There, too, an abiding sense of guilt and even more, of shame, shaped the course of the protagonist’s future life and actions.
What I didn’t like – the whole America episode. It was unnecessarily detailed. All that detail was irrelevant – only Soraya need have been explained – and the whole could have been summarized in one page, or at most two. Unlike the Kabul part, which created such a wonderful atmosphere that I almost fell in love with the city sight unseen, the America part created no atmosphere at all, despite a feeble attempt to at least convey a flea market scene. It fell as flat as though the author had never even been to the US (which is patently untrue), while the Kabul parts rang true as though the author had spent his childhood years growing up there (which, in fact I think he did).
Then, the redemption theme – I thought it went very well… up to a point. For me, the entire adoption bit and the culmination of all the problems with the final kite flying/kite running incident was completely redundant. It seemed to me like a put-on attempt to tie up all the loose ends, to connect everything in the beginning with everything that comes later. I would have been happier if the story had ended with Amir reaching Peshawar or Islamabad safe and sound, and with the visa part working out as it finally did, without any undue complicatioins. A “happily-ever-after” ending, in other words. Or, even better, I’d have been happy with it ending with Amir walking out of that house in Kabul, half-dead, and falling into Farid’s arms. Not quite happily-ever-after, but tending towards it, leaving the details unsaid.
And what I really don’t understand is that, even if Amir had been stupid enough to provoke that suicide attempt, how come he wasn’t later haunted by the guilt of that action? That, too, was due to his own stupidity after all.
So all in all, I would not say that I absolutely loved the book, but I’m glad I read it, and I thought the first part was really, really good. Would I want to read A Thousand Splendid Suns? Probably, but not in a desperate huryy.