One reason why I eagerly picked up The Kite Runner, besides knowing it is on ALA’s 100 Most Challenged Books of the decade, was that the book had made it to Ateneo’s reading list for seniors in high school, and then, as soon as most of us parents had bought the book for our sons, withdrawn. I had wondered why. The blurb of the book, which runs thus:
[The Kite Runner]…tells a story of fierce cruelty and fierce yet redeeming love. Both transform the life of Amir, Khaled Hosseini’s privileged young narrator, who comes of age during the last peaceful days of the monarchy [in Afghanistan], just before his country’s revolution and its invasion by Russian forces. But political events, even as dramatic as the ones that are presented in the The Kite Runner, are only a part of this story….
convinces us that choice had been judicious; it was, after all, a coming-of-age story, suitable to young Ateneans; and that pages into the book I discover that it is peopled mostly by men, where narratives involving fathers and sons, an abiding friendship between the protagonist Amir, a member of the ruling Pashtun and Hassan, a Hazara, and even, the precocious friendship he enjoyed with his father’s best friend, Rahim Khan, are persuasive arguments for making it to exclusive boys’ school’s reading list. [Women, when they at all appear in the novel, are cast in not too flattering light, except maybe for Soraya, the protagonist’s wife.]
Eventually, the decision to finish the book transcended the maternal: the debut novel of an Afghan immigrant who came to the US in the ‘80s is a retrospective recounting of a dead era, of lost innocence, now only evoked by an objective correlative of kite-flying and kite-running, which Amir and Hassan, respectively, take pleasure in, and had mastered. Most importantly, the novel recounts the harsh conditions that Shi’a Muslims in Afghanistan encountered on a daily basis, even in pre-Taliban days, and to which state-endorsed discrimination Amir, albeit mindful of having been “fed from the same breasts” as Hassan, had had a part: he also metaphorically put a bullet to Hassan’s head as the Taliban did at book’s end. Which probably informed the Ateneo authority’s decision to “un-require” the book: apart from sodomy experienced by Hassan in the hands of Assef “the Ear-Eater”, Amir’s self-centredness, his eventual discovery that Hassan was actually his half-brother by a Hazara servant, may be a little too jarring to the protected existence of our boys. But then again, maybe not.
Although many times the author was at pains in masking the fact that it was a work of fiction, many of the events in it were not: the overthrow of the last monarch Zahir Shah by his cousin, the coming of the hated Roussi, the rise in power of the Taliban and the surreal ubiquity of fundamentalist cruelty–Kabul soccer stadium becomes the modern-day stage for the stoning of an adulterous couple, which all culminates in 9/11 and the bombing of Afghanistan. [The Taliban’s destruction of the giant Buddhas in Bamiyan, national treasures to be sure, also captured international attention in late 2001.] If for the pleasure of coming to terms with an existence relatively unheard of in the rarefied streets of Loyola Heights, the Ateneans may have had a vicarious use for understanding a different divide to which all students are subject: good education versus bad education.