The Kite Runner
Literature and Writing Quotes Page 1
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In school, we used to play a game called Sherjangi, or "Battle of the Poems." The Farsi teacher moderated it and it went something like this: You recited a verse from a poem and your opponent had sixty seconds to reply with a verse that began with the same letter that ended yours. Everyone in my class wanted me on their team, because by the time I was eleven, I could recite dozens of verses from Khayyám, Hãfez, or Rumi's famous Masnawi. One time, I took on the whole class and won. I told Baba about it later that night, but he just nodded, muttered, "Good."
That was how I escaped my father's aloofness, in my dead mother's books. That and Hassan, of course. I read everything, Rumi, Hãfez, Saadi, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, Ian Fleming. When I had finished my mother's books – not the boring history ones, I was never much into those, but the novels, the epics – I started spending my allowance on books. I bought one a week from the bookstore near Cinema Park, and stored them in cardboard boxes when I ran out of shelf room. (3.38-39)
Literature and writing play a more important role in The Kite Runner than you might think. Hosseini mentions books and big names occasionally, but not often enough to construct a neon sign reading AMIR IS GOING TO BECOME A WRITER. But the fact that Amir does choose to become a writer is very important. It's tied to his complicated relationship with Baba. As this passage points out, writing and reading become an escape from Baba's coldness. However, as we gather later in the novel, Amir writes about Baba in his own works of fiction. So, later in the novel, writing doesn't allow Amir to simply escape his father's distance but instead helps him enter it and understand it.
That Hassan would grow up illiterate like Ali and most Hazaras had been decided the minute he had been born, perhaps even the moment he had been conceived in Sanaubar's unwelcoming womb – after all, what use did a servant have for the written word? But despite his illiteracy, or maybe because of it, Hassan was drawn to the mystery of words, seduced by a secret world forbidden to him. I read him poems and stories, sometimes riddles – though I stopped reading those when I saw he was far better at solving them than I was. (4.12)
Here, literature isn't sugar and spice and everything nice. Amir actually uses his mastery of reading to belittle Hassan. Even though Hassan sees the beauty of literature (like Amir), Amir actually stops reading Hassan riddles when the activity no longer confirms Amir's superior status. Sometimes we think of literature as self-exploration, or a way to bring human beings together. Not here, pal. Literature is power. And Amir uses its power against Hassan – who, unlike Amir, seems to have Baba's love.
One day, in July 1973, I played another little trick on Hassan. I was reading to him, and suddenly I strayed from the written story. I pretended I was reading from the book, flipping pages regularly, but I had abandoned the text altogether, taken over the story, and made up my own. Hassan, of course, was oblivious to this. To him, the words on the page were a scramble of codes, indecipherable, mysterious. Words were secret doorways and I held all the keys. (4.25)
Like in the previous quote, Amir uses his literacy to demonstrate his power over Hassan (see 4.12). But Hosseini might be up to something else here, too. Amir begins to insert his own stories into the texts he's supposedly reading to Hassan. Zoom out to the novel as a whole. To whom is Amir telling his story? Does The Kite Runner read a little bit like a confession? Is Hassan (along with Baba) Amir's audience? Is Amir, through the novel, trying to explain his betrayal – and later redemption – to Hassan?