Attendees: Kate, Caroline, Becky, Lauren,
Location: The Sausage, Leamington Spa
We met as usual in The Sausage in Leamington and after a long catch-up chat, I showed the girls a cushion I made from an unwanted scarf. Despite its obvious flaws, it is snugly, took me an hour to whip up and as per Kirsty’s Handmade Home, adds a bit of individuality and personality to my lounge!
After a quick explanation as to how I bodged this cushion into being, we got on with our first book club discussion and it was a big success. Rather impressively, we had all read the book in question, The Kite Runner, and we all had something to say about it. In order to sum up our discussion, we are going to take it in turns to give just a few words each to sum up our thoughts in relation to the questions we considered. I will be starting us off!
******** PLEASE NOTE: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW ********
- What did The Kite Runner teach you about Afghanistan? About friendship? About forgiveness, redemption and love?
Kate: For my part, the book taught be a great deal about Afghanistan as a country and especially, how it was before the Taliban took over. It is difficult to reconcile the country we see on the nightly news with the lush, green Afghanistan which is described in the book.
Caroline: I agree with Kate, that it is only by stretch of imagination that the Afghanistan we see daily on the news can become the fertile, fruit-rich land of the protagonist’s childhood. As for friendhsip, forgiveness, redemption and love, I quickly realised how greatly I admire each of these attributes in a character – and how difficult it is to feel warmth towards a character who falls short of any (or all) of these ideals.
Lauren: I have to agree, this book was a real eye opener about the “real” Afghanistan before the Taliban, when it was one of the most forward thinking of the middle east nations. It also showed me from a personal point of view the creature that the Taliban turned it into, upsetting as it may be. Regarding friendship etc, I felt throughout The Kite Runner that it was reminding us of the flawed nature of people, the mistakes we make, and the things we are able to forgive.
- Who suffers the most in The Kite Runner?
Kate: When we discussed this, we managed to name quite a few characters. I think Ali probably suffered the most as a father who knows what awful thing is done to his son and how he was betrayed.
Caroline: Ali certainly suffers the most in my opinion – I think sometimes it is harder to see a child suffer than it is to suffer oneself. He was let down on so many levels by so many people, suffered taunting and abuse his whole life, and still remained kind, loving and gentle throughout. Ali is the real martyr of the novel.
Lauren: Interestingly, I had a really hard time deciding who suffered most. I think Hassan tops my list for sheer physical abuse, even though he may act like nothing phases him and life is fine. I also, contrastingly, thought the mental anguish gone through by Amir was akin to a whole other kind of suffering.
- What did you like about Baba? Dislike about him? How was he different in the U.S. than in Afghanistan? Did he love Amir?
Kate: There were some mixed feelings in the group about this man. My reading of him was that he withheld affection from Amir, instead showing Hassan love and generosity. This was surely to redress the balance since Baba was aware that his two sons were growing up in very different circumstances.
Caroline: I really warmed to Baba; the more I saw of him and his relationship with the wider world the more I was able to reconcile his actions towards Amir. I think because I had so little sympathy for Amir’s character, whom I personally found whiney, selfish, jealous and spiteful, I was more able to sympathise with a father’s disappointed expectations. His ideals for Amir were old-fashioned, but probably quite true to the context, both the location and the era. It must’ve been very difficult, also, to see the boys living so very different lives, even if together – Baba’s actions were his way of making up for that discrepancy a little, and possibly also redeeming himself to Ali.
Lauren: My least favourite character in the book, I felt general resentment for Baba throughout. Firstly I could not get past the fact that love was withheld from Amir, and believe this sparked a lot of the personality flaws and terrible events that would follow in Amir’s life. Whilst he did grow on me, I generally feel that pride comes before a fall, and this man is a surprisingly pivotal influence on everything that happens in these pages. By being so determined to fix his own mistakes (both his illegitimate son and Amir’s apparent femininity) Baba causes more harm than good.
- How did learning that Hassan was Baba’s son change your understanding of Baba?
Kate: I think without knowing this, I would have judged him harsher for his behaviour towards Amir, although I still struggled with the idea that his illegitimate son signified a betrayal of Baba and Ali’s friendship.
Caroline: Kate’s right, this revelation did have the dual effect of explaining some of his action towards Amir while also somehow damaging the very moral character I had built up in Baba. It also made me review certain plot lines. The scene that stood out most for me was that in which Baba stands up to the Russian soldier to defend a female traveller’s virtue, putting his life on the line to protect her. in retrospect, while this remained an act of courage, it also became something deeper, as all Baba’s good deeds became acts of redemption. I suddenly saw an undercurrent to his fearlessness, his strict adherence to his beliefs, his loyalties and his pride – they were his way of coping with his betrayal of Ali.
Lauren: It wasn’t a surprise at all when I found this out, and as such I had already been interpreting Baba’s behaviour according to something I suspected was going on under the surface. To be honest it didn’t change my opinion much, except to concede that things were complicated for him and that we all make mistakes.
- Why did Amir act so hatefully toward Hassan after he saw him get raped? Why did Hassan still love Amir?
Kate: For me, this was guilt for not stopping the horrific assault.
Caroline: I think there was certainly a great deal of guilt involved. Amir did want to be a better person, but never had the courage to stand up and admit, to himself or anyone else, just how much of a coward he had been. Hassan loved Amir as a brother (although neither knew they were so) and forgiveness obviously came easily to him. I think having Baba’s affections as well as Ali’s love and guidance gave Hassan a strength that Amir lacked.
Lauren: Guilt, and probably fear. Guilt is a terribly damaging feeling, and never a simple concept. For Amir, Hassan was a symbol of everything he had ever loved, in a complicated tandem with everything he had ever abused. After all, Amir had trouble finding a balance between Hassan as a brother, and Hassan as a servant. In addition, I believe Amir would have been scared rigid, confused by the act and any connotations, and completely unaware as to what to do next. In situations like this, no-one knows how they will act until it happens. I completely understand Amir’s response even as I wish it wasn’t the case, and I don’t actually resent him for it – he was only a child.
- Did Amir ever redeem himself?
Kate: To a degree. Caroline and I both struggled to connect with Amir. I warmed to him as he moved to America and fell in love. I suppose the further away he was from his cruelty to Hassan, the easier it was to root for him. By rescuing Sohrab, he did put right some of his wrongs, in my opinion.
Caroline: I think he had barely begun to redeem himself by the end of the book, but if he battled on with Sohrab and gave him a happy and loving family life then he could be on his way. Admitting his past to his wife was a huge step in the right direction.
Lauren: I believe he did, simply through carrying on through life and attempting to go back and change things. Kate and Caroline found him difficult to empathise with, but I felt that throughout the book, Amir was the real, true, uncomfortable, broken character that we all hope we aren’t. I also believe that each of us is just as flawed, and I think this is what meant I saw Amir with sympathy rather than resentment
- What do you think happened to Sohrab?
Kate: If the question means ‘what became of Sohrab’, I would like to think that Amir and Soraya persisted in their efforts to rehabilitate him.
Caroline: What Kate said!
Lauren: Ditto, I hope so!
- How did you feel after reading the book?
Kate: I was left feeling a little moved and a little underwhelmed at the same time. Whilst I feel the book had a lot of powerful elements, I felt a disconnect with it all the way through which meant I never really became emotionally engaged with the characters.
Caroline: I was heartbroken and disgusted. I think the story is incredibly powerful, as while we all had different reactions to it, it still elicited very strong emotions. The themes and truths the novel threw up made me horribly uncomfortable.
Lauren: I adored this book. The uncomfortable nature, the bitter realism, the truth of the situation. It was unpleasant to read, actually emotionally hurt me in places, but utterly was an honest and harsh portrayal of a world with which I have no sympathy. Throughout the book I found it easy to empathise and understand, and left it with a passionate enthusiasm for the writer!
- Did you like the book?
Kate: I could not say I like the book. I was glad I read it. I think the issues were interesting and important. I struggled with the pace of the narrative and as such, it was not always an enjoyable read (and the subject matter was of course difficult in places). There were parts I liked about it but on the whole I would not say I liked the book.
Caroline: I hated the book. That’s not to say that it was badly written – in fact there were elements of the narrative style I thought very clever and involving – but so much of the plot made me angry and sad. I think the fact that I didn’t like the protagonist made it hard to stomach. I did, however, learn a lot, not least that sometimes you have to face uncomfortable truths.
Lauren: I adored the book. I love unpleasant storylines, and honest truths. I also found that it was a nice change to read a story entirely for the people, representing a whole world. Not a lover of happy endings at the best of times, I found this book refreshing, involving and endearing. I was also shocked by Cie and Kate hating it – this book as gone straight on my top 10 books list.
- Would you like to read more by this author?
Kate: Yes! Despite my feelings about some of the book’s structure, I have heard good things about A Thousand Splendid Suns so I will be reading this at some point!
Caroline: I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns (I wonder whether this is because I connect more easily with a female protagonist?) and would certainly give other books by the author a fair chance. As I say, I learned a lot from the book, and reading doesn’t always need to be escapism!
Lauren: I have read A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I enjoyed but not as much. I would say if you like a slightly more story-like story rather than a piece of real life that is hard to swallow, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a happy medium between the two – and as Cie says, it is probably easier for people to identify with a typical story of female repression.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into our discussion and hope you can make it along to our next book club chat which will be in a few weeks. Our next book is: The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.