Khaled Hosseini published The Kite Runner in 2003. By the end of 2005, it was a bestseller in the United States. It seemed readers couldn't get enough Hosseini's story about the troubled friendship between two Afghan boys. In 2007, Marc Forster directed a film adaptation of the novel. His adaptation was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
Granted, The Kite Runner has also had its share of controversy. By 2008, The Kite Runner was on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. (Although the book was never banned, enough patrons thought the book should be banned to put it at #9 on the American Library Association list.) The film adaptation didn't do much to quiet the controversy. The director, Marc Forster, chose to include the infamous rape scene found in the novel. Although the filmmakers used body doubles for the child actors and no nudity was shown, the Afghan community was outraged. Some of the child actors received death threats. Paramount Studios even paid to relocate the actors involved from Kabul to the United Arab Emirates. The studio will continue to pay their living expenses until the actors reach adulthood.
In a way, the controversy (and success) of The Kite Runner has obscured the sheer accomplishment of the novel. For starters, it's Hosseini's first book, which he wrote while practicing medicine in California. The novel was accepted for publication almost as soon as it was finished. Even though sales were initially low, the book won the South African Boeke Prize in 2004. Two years after its publication, the novel skyrocketed to #3 on the New York Times Bestseller List. Pretty impressive, especially considering that Hosseini learned English as a second language.
Are there countries out there in the world you want to know everything about but simply can't visit? For such a dilemma, the curious armchair traveler might browse the guidebooks at her local bookshop. Another option is to fire up Google Maps and study the landscape. Plus, if the media's all-roving eye currently favors your country of interest, you could also turn on a 24-hour news network or scan online newspapers. But how well can you really come to know a place if you're relying on guidebooks, landscapes, and news stories? Doesn't it take something more to really know a place? We think you have to get inside the environment, walk around in it – you've really got to breathe the air. So, what are you to do short of traveling to this country?
Granted, you could go out and buy a hefty non-fiction book on the country. And, after sitting down in your comfiest chair, sipping some tea, and warming yourself by the fire...you might doze off. Or you could pick up this barn-burner of prose called The Kite Runner. Part of the ingeniousness of the book is that it takes a complex political history and maps it onto an individual story of friendship, betrayal, and jealousy. Who ever said you needed a GPS and a press pass to get the real scoop?
You'll also learn quite a bit about immigrant communities and what it means to be displaced from your homeland. Much of the novel describes the growing Afghan-American community in the United States. But it's not just this community you encounter as a reader – through Khaled Hosseini's depiction of displaced Afghans, you encounter the emotional strife and (possible) triumph of any exiled community. Heck, you might even come to see exile as something everyone feels at some point, whether or not you've left your watan (homeland). That sounds like some serious learning.
Which brings us to our final point: this very personal story of an Afghan friendship isn't just a way to talk about contemporary Afghanistan. It's actually an artful, rich story on its own without all the parallels to the nation as a whole. You might actually enjoy (and be enriched by) Hosseini's novel. What is there to lose?