The Kite Runner
Race Quotes Page 1
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They called him "flat-nosed" because of Ali and Hassan's characteristic Hazara Mongoloid features. For years, that was all I knew about the Hazaras, that they were Mogul descendants, and that they looked a little like Chinese people. School text books barely mentioned them and referred to their ancestry only in passing. Then one day, I was in Baba's study, looking through his stuff, when I found one of my mother's old history books. It was written by an Iranian named Khorami. I blew the dust off it, sneaked it into bed with me that night, and was stunned to find an entire chapter on Hazara history. An entire chapter dedicated to Hassan's people! In it, I read that my people, the Pashtuns, had persecuted and oppressed the Hazaras. It said the Hazaras had tried to rise against the Pashtuns in the nineteenth century, but the Pashtuns had "quelled them with unspeakable violence." The book said that my people had killed the Hazaras, driven them from their lands, burned their homes, and sold their women. The book said part of the reason Pashtuns had oppressed the Hazaras was that Pashtuns were Sunni Muslims, while Hazaras were Shi'a. The book said a lot of things I didn't know, things my teachers hadn't mentioned. Things Baba hadn't mentioned either. It also said some things I did know, like that people called Hazaras mice-eating, flat-nosed, load-carrying donkeys. I had heard some of the kids in the neighborhood yell those names to Hassan. (2.23)
Ethnicity is complicated in The Kite Runner. Amir and Hassan have different ethnic groups: Amir is Pashtun and Hassan is Hazara. To make matters confusing, though, Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims and Hazaras are Shi'a Muslims. (So ethnicity and religion intertwine.) Here, Amir talks about how the Hazara people have been pretty much erased from official Afghani schoolbooks. Since the Pashtuns are in control, the Hazaras don't get much space in the official history of the country. There's also an attempt, it seems, to cover up the genocide committed by the Pashtuns against the Hazaras in the nineteenth century. Do you think Amir's betrayal of Hassan is just another instance of Pashtuns mistreating Hazaras – or does Amir, by telling Hassan's story, attempt to change things?
But despite sharing ethnic heritage and family blood, Sanaubar joined the neighborhood kids in taunting Ali. I have heard that she made no secret of her disdain for his appearance.
"This is a husband?" she would sneer. "I have seen old donkeys better suited to be a husband." (2.25)
Amir praises Sanaubar's beauty. Ali, on the other hand, isn't known for his looks. Even though Sanaubar strikes us as cruel here, we can make sense of her disdain for her husband's appearance. Powerful people sometimes mock powerless people. Athletic people sometimes dislike clumsy people. It's mean, but it's also human. (For example, "If I have this trait, why don't other people have it?") However, we at Shmoop think something else is going on: self-loathing. Two paragraphs before this one, Amir recalls some of the terrible ethnic slurs for Hazaras. One of them is "load-carrying donkey." Sanaubar, like Ali, is a Hazara. And so there's some self-hatred when she says, "I have seen old donkeys better suited to be a husband." In a way, she's adopting the slur that the Pashtuns use against her own people. It could be that she has internalized hatred.
The curious thing was, I never thought of Hassan and me as friends either. Not in the usual sense, anyhow. Never mind that we taught each other to ride a bicycle with no hands, or to build a fully functional homemade camera out of a cardboard box. Never mind that we spent entire winters flying kites, running kites. Never mind that to me, the face of Afghanistan is that of a boy with a thin-boned frame, a shaved head, and low-set ears, a boy with a Chinese doll face perpetually lit by a harelipped smile.
Never mind any of those things. Because history isn't easy to overcome. Neither is religion. In the end, I was a Pashtun and he was a Hazara, I was Sunni and he was Shi'a, and nothing was ever going to change that. Nothing. (4.4-5)
This passage occurs in the midst of two relevant insights: 1) Amir never hears Baba refer to Ali as his friend in the stories he tells; and 2) no amount of history, ethnicity, society, or religion can change the fact that Amir and Hassan spent all their formative childhood moments together. So what should we make of Amir's contradictory statements here – doesn't he say history both does and does not trump his love for Hassan? Said another way: can history and ethnicity break the bonds of family? We're not sure. This might be the paradox at the heart of the novel.