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The Book

Kite runner

I read The Kite Runner last summer, and it has remained one of my favorite books. It might as well be called Atonement, because that’s exactly what it’s about.  But this time, the character, Amir, has to deal with the sin of omission.  Just the same, failure to act can lead to devastating consequences, and Amir, just like Briony in Ian McEwan’s Atonement, has to live with his guilt throughout his life.  Unlike Briony, Amir has a chance to redeem himself.   As Amir’s mentor Rahim Khan says: ‘There’s a way to be good again’, despite the tragedies that have already taken place.
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Highly acclaimed as the first Afghan novel written in English, The Kite Runner became an international bestseller, publishing in 40 countries.  Author Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, son of a diplomat. His family sought and received political asylum in the United States as the Soviet invaded Afghanistan, settling in California in 1980 when he was 15.  Hosseini later studied medicine and became an internist practicing until 2004, when he began to devote his time fully to writing.
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The book is neatly divided into three sections, the first narrates the childhood of the socially privileged Amir growing up in Kabul.  His best friend is Hassan, the son of their servant Ali.  The two boys grow up together, freely roaming the streets of Kabul almost as brothers.  Hassan is totally dedicated to Amir.  He has been Amir’s kite runner, retrieving downed rival kites, and defended him from bullies.  During one horrific incident, Amir betrays Hassan.  Deeply troubled by guilt, Amir devises a plan to ultimately rid himself of the source of his torments, indirectly driving Ali and Hassan out of their household.
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Upon the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, Amir flees to America with his father.  The second part of the book chronicles Amir as an adult, his once fragile relationship with his father is forged stronger as the two strive for their new life in a distant land.  Before his father’s death from illness, Amir gets married and realizes his dream as a writer.  The third part of the book depicts Amir’s journey back to the now Taliban controlled Afghanistan to fulfill a mission that would ultimately lead to his personal redemption.
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I was moved as I read the author’s poignant first-person narratives.  This is the power of words in the hand of a sensitive and talented writer, articulating the deepest feelings otherwise hidden beyond reach.  I enjoyed the first part the most.  Through vivid description and deceptively simple language Hosseini depicts poignantly the friendship of Amir and Hassan, the loyalty of Hassan and the betrayal by Amir, and ultimately the separation of the two childhood friends.
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The political upheavals are used as a backdrop, adding texture to the story.  The book is not about the Soviets or the Taliban.  It’s about a father-son relationship, family, friendship, love, and loss.  Above all, it chronicles the life-long haunting consequences of one’s action or inaction, the atonement of wrong done, and the necessary journey in search of redemption.
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And for the kite soaring high in the sky, it may well be a metaphor for freedom and victory, not just politically, but internally, being set free from burden, from guilt.  Despite a relatively weaker second section, overall The Kite Runner is beautifully written, an engrossing and satisfying read.

~ ~ ~ Ripples

The Movie

The Kite Runner Movie

Update Jan. 22:  The Kite Runner has just been nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score.

First off, I must state that I’m evaluating the film according to its own genre, as a film.  And to be fair, the movie follows the story quite closely, almost dividing the script into three sections like the book, and telling the story adequately.  Ironically, such direct transfer does not fare well with the film medium.  The transition of scenes are sometimes quite abrupt and choppy.  The same dialogues are there, but the mood is missing. The eagerness of storytelling seems to have overshadowed the artistry of movie making. As a result, the film lacks the power to engage.

I must say though, there are merits that I should acknowledge.  Kudos to Ahmad Khan Mahmidzada for portraying young Hassan so movingly.  He’s probably the most affable and natural actor in the whole movie.  His presence is the appeal of the film, and he well deserves the Critics Choice Award nomination for Best Young Actor.  Unfortunately his role only appears in the first part.

Transferring the story to screen, director Marc Forster (Stranger Than Fiction, 2006) has taken advantage of the visual element, bringing to life the excitement of the sport of kite combat.  To North American audiences, such scenes may well be a spectacular eye-opener.  The original score by Alberto Iglesias (Volver, 2006, Constant Gardener, 2005) plays an essential part in the movie, imparting the intended effects where other film elements may be lacking. His composition earns him a nod from the Golden Globes for a Best Original Score nomination.

The movie attempts to present the cultural sights and sounds of Afghan life, albeit on a very small scale. My main disappointment though was to find out, as the end credits rolled, that the Afghan scenes were all shot in Xinjiang and Beijing, China.  Was I too naive to think that a movie about Afghanistan should be shot in Afghanistan?

As I was watching the movie I felt something was missing, but couldn’t pinpoint what.  I felt the acting by the main character, the adult Amir, played by Khalid Abdalla (United 93, 2006) and his wife Soraya (Atossa Leoni), to be distant and detached.  Maybe due to their lack of acting experience, their performance seem to be less intense and expressive than what the story demands.

Now that I’ve given it some thoughts, I think the lack of the intimacy which the book so successfully delivers can be compensated on screen by a narrative voice-over.  The personal narrative of the book is what makes the story poignant and moving.  The film could benefit from a first person narrative to draw viewers closer and to convey more effectively the hidden turmoils that can’t be expressed cinematically, or technically.  A well written narrative voice-over could impact the audience in a more haunting way as the book has achieved.

Overall, the movie is an adequate adaptation of the book, but it only offers a glimpse of what the book entails. As a nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Golden Globes this year, hopefully, it can draw viewers’ interest to dig deeper into the profound story by reading the source material first hand.

~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

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