In the end, I decided not to read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini for most of the reasons outlined in my post below. I didn't like the writing style (I found the author manipulative, which kept pulling me out of the novel). I didn't like the main character. The plot seemed trite and predictable and convenient. I would have liked to keep reading in order to hear more about Afghanistan, but I just couldn't make myself pick up the book or headphones. (For the latter, I blame Jane Eyre in many respects.)
Consequently, I forced myself to watch the movie the night before our meeting last Thursday, so that I might have some idea of the conversation. However, I tried not to say too much, because of my excessively negative reaction to this book. I thought the movie was OK. It did make me cry in a few sections, but it didn't make me wish I had persevered and read the book.
So I'm not going to go on here any more about what I didn't like. Instead I am going to summarise some of things discussed by the group, because I took notes.
One of the things many got out of the book was insight into the world of Afghanistan, past and present. Certainly the author portrayed a seemingly authentic picture of the Kabul he lived in as a child, including lots of detail about the various classes and the sport of kite fighting. We did wonder, however, about the authenticity of Afghanistan under the Taliban, given the author did not return himself until after the book was published. Nevertheless, all agreed it was a fascinating insight into that part of the world.
Inevitably, we talked a lot about Amir as well. Most seemed to agree he wasn't a nice person as a child, but thought it was a product of upbringing and culture. Owing to his difficult relationship with his father, Amir had a lack of role models. But does that justify the terrible way he treated Hassan in this book? And can you be redeemed for that? Someone argued that it was often better not to like the main character in a book, because antiheroes are more interesting. Well, I disagree with that. I need to be able to connect to the main character, not despise them. Flaws are essential, but there are limits.
Some felt the story was more about Amir as a character, and his inability to grow up because of the shadow cast by his father.
Interestingly (and possibly catalysed by my comments) others brought up the question of whether or not Hosseini is a good writer. Most seemed to think not, but in most cases their experience wasn't destroyed as mine was. They responded to his ability to generate emotion in readers -- and certainly he did that.
The relationship between Amir and Hassan as boys is pivotal to the story. Essentially they are friends, but it's a very unequal relationship, with Amir brought up wealthy and privileged, able to read and write, of a class that was respected. Hassan, on the other hand, was from a discriminated race and brought up as a servant. Yet he gives Amir an unswerving loyalty and devotion that I found really hard to take.
During the course of our meeting, the picture book called The Giving Tree was raised. This is a book about a tree that gives every part of itself to a boy over his lifetime as he grows into an old man. In the end, the tree is no more than a stump, yet it still gives of itself to provide a seat for the old man's weary bones. When I read this book, as I stood in a bookshop, I wept and then I hated that such a book was targeted at children. No relationship should ever be that unequal. And when the book was mentioned by chance in our meeting, I instantly felt it exemplified the level of giving Hassan showed Amir. How do some people end up being able to take take take and never give?
To sum up, just about everyone either liked or loved this book -- 6 out of 8 present had read it. The main positives seemed to be the descriptions of Afghanistan, and the depiction of just how shifty some people can be!