Page count: 352 pages
Time taken: 6 hours
Amir is the wealthy and privileged son of a rich Afghan entrepreneur, whose best friend Hassan is the son of one of his father's servants and a member of a despised ethnic minority. The book covers a period of about thirty years, detailing Amir's struggle to earn his father's love and respect, his great betrayal of his friend, and his difficult journey to find forgiveness. The story takes place mostly chronologically, and follows the historical progression of Afghanistan from relatively progressive monarchy through to total religious oppression under the Taliban.
Obviously, I am several years behind most people for a first time reading of this book, but I was given the opportunity to read it and am very glad I did so. This is a masterpiece of regret, loss of innocence, truth and lies, and redemption, and I highly recommend it. (Five stars: this book will make you a better person.)
There are so many themes in this that it must be a source of it to any English Lit student who is assigned it; the only difficulty is unpicking them all from each other, as the threads of the tale are so thickly interwoven that to discuss one part one must by necessity discuss them all. Of course, that would also spoil the book, so I'm not going to do that. Also it would take ages and I still have two more completed books to review tonight.
Instead of themes, then, I'll talk briefly about the cleverness of the book from a literary point of view. Early in the book, Amir writes a short story, and is complimented by his father's best friend: "But the most impressive thing about your story is that it has irony...". It's rare that a writer tells you the constructions he is using in his work before you get to them. I've only seen it does a couple of times before, and each time, it's been a combination of self-deprecation (I'm being silly here), pride (look how clever I am for using this!) and fear (what if no-one gets it?). This is no exception, I think; Hosseini must have congratulated himself on the tidiness of his work even as he was agonising over whether it was too subtle or convoluted to be enjoyable.
The irony isn't particularly subtle, in truth, but it is ever-present, and the sense of terrible inevitability it engenders is part of the power of the story. This was a very hard book to read in places, and deserves a whole bunch of trigger warnings for pretty much everything awful you can think of, but it is a very important book, and there is a great deal in it to take away and think about.