About the time I started seeing copies of Khaled Hosseini‘s The Kite Runner in area Starbucks, friends and family members were telling me how much they enjoyed the novel. So, while I was driving cross country, I bought a copy of the book in a Cincinnati bookstore and started reading it soon after I finished Philip Pullman’s trilogy (which I read largely because I found a preview for the The Golden Compass, the flick based on the first book in the series so captivating).
When I started the book (Hosseini’s not Pullman’s), I was immediately skeptical about its merits and wondered why so many had spoken so highly of it. Perhaps, that’s because, having written a novel myself, I always read the acknowledgments (and prefaces) which many readers neglect. In this section, Hosseini expressed gratitude to the “gang at the San Francisco Writers Workshop.” I wonder at writers who depend on a writers group, frequently finding that the writing which comes out of such workshops is processed and stale.
This would not be the case with The Kite Runner, well not entirely. I was pleasantly surprised to discover prose that quickly drew me into the story and which flowed. To be sure, there were times when the dialogue seemed contrived, characters saying things which most people keep to themselves, but, on the whole, the book read well. And yet, every now and then, I could sense that this book had been “workshopped.” He would describe a character who didn’t need description, normally in dry, declarative sentences with an excessive use of the verb “to be” in its various forms.
Such description left little to the reader’s imagination while devaluing the passages where such description was necessary. I often wondered why writing programs focus on description. It is, at times, necessary. At other times, distracting as it was here. It interrupted the flow of his prose and seemed out of place, as if air-dropped into the text. Good writers use discretion with description.
All that said, without those “air-dropped” passages, Hosseini, for whom (as I understand) English is not a first language, is a gifted writer. He has a simple style who uses his (usually) unadorned prose to tell a powerful story. From the moment I started the book, I could hardly put it down. I understood why my family and friends so loved his novel and could easily understand why Paramount was eager to adapt it for the silver screen.
Hosseini is a natural storyteller and presents a tale of adolescent insecurity, particularly a longing for paternal affection, leading to a boy’s betraying his closest friend. In some ways, it reminded me of Gene’s mixed feelings towards Phineas in A Separate Peace. Some themes of adolescence are universal. But, Amir, Hosseini’s hero, has a chance that Gene didn’t have — to find redemption for the sins (or perhaps I should say, errors) of his youth.
I would say more, but that might prevent those of you who have not yet read the book from experiencing it on your own.
It is simply put, a powerful story. I found myself tearing up as I finished the book just a few minutes ago. I will wonder why such a gifted writer would need the support of a writers workshop. Perhaps, that workshop did indeed help him shape a very rough first draft into a tale well told. All that said, despite the occasional flaws in style, those “air-dropped” passages which hinder the book’s flow from time to time, I highly recommend the book. I can’t wait to see the movie.
– B. Daniel Blatt (GayPatriotWest@aol.com)