A former history professor, Tom Miller
is a novelist and essayist. His most recent
novel is Full
Court Press (2000). His reviews
and essays have appeared in numerous books,
journals, and newspapers, including The
Encyclopedia of Southern History, American
History Illustrated, the Chicago
Tribune, and the Des Moines Register.
He also is a former Army officer and Vietnam
(I didn't exactly overlook this novel when it was first published. I bought a copy as a gift for my wife, and she read and loved it. She was so impressed that she went to hear Hosseini when he spoke at a nearby university. I was busy with other things, however, and put it aside for later -- whenever that might be. I recently fished it out of a pile of two dozen such books -- postponed but not abandoned -- and discovered the reason for my wife's enthusiasm.)
Hosseini grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and anchors most of The Kite Runner there. In that respect at least, this is a novel of Afghanistan. The reader who picks up the book hoping to learn something about the country, its exotic culture, and its tragic recent history will not be disappointed. But, Hosseini has written much more than an Afghan novel. Against the backdrop of a long train of national despair from the Communist coup of 1979 to the baleful reign of terror of the Taliban, he weaves a universal story of betrayal and redemption that soars above its setting.
The novel focuses on the relationship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan merchant, and his servant Hassan. Amir is a member of the majority Pastun tribe and Sunni branch of Islam while Hassan is from the minority Hazara tribe and Shi'a sect. While the two boys play together and are friends, their unequal social rank and the precarious status of the Hazara give their relationship a wary tension. It doesn't help that Amir is secretly jealous of Hassan's athleticism and courage. Hassan defends Amir against bullies on numerous occasions, but when a gang of bullies overpowers Hassan and threatens to sodomize him, Amir runs away. This betrayal weighs on Amir as he and his father flee Afghanistan in the wake of the Russian invasion and settle in America. Years later, he returns to his native land where he learns a secret about Hassan that finally compels him to confront his own fear and gain a measure of redemption.
The author is a refugee from Afghanistan and a physician in Northern California. This is his first novel, and it is an auspicious debut.