Khaled Hosseini’s novel The Kite Runner is an allegory of Afghanistan, however it also serves another purpose. This novel, though it is a biography, greatly educates the reader about Afghanistan and Afghan people. While reading this we are able to learn about almost every part of Afghanistan’s modern history from the eyes of a real Afghan man (boy in the early chapters of the book) who has been forced to migrate to America because of the arrival of the Russians and the continuous internal conflicts in the nation.
He later returns to his country when it is under the rule of the Taliban and the cities he encounter are nothing compared to those of his childhood. As a result of the detailed comparisons between the old and the new, Afghans and Americans or even Hazaras and Pashtuns readers are able to learn much about Afghanistan. All the presentations done in class along with the immense amount of detailed information about Afghanistan in the novel gives us a clear idea about the traditions and character traits of the Afghan people, as well as the basic history of Afghanistan.
Firstly, Afghan people have many traditions that they are obligated to stay faithful to. They are extremely strict when it comes to this subject. There are four main traditions that catch the idea of the reader in the process of reading The Kite Runner. These are the basic procedures of weddings and funerals and the daily or yearly traditions such as Korban Bayram or the Kite Running Tournaments.
The first example of this is that just as in Turkey, India and many other countries in the world, Afghanistan also has specific procedures for weddings and funerals. For weddings there are three basic steps.
The first is the ceremony of giving, “lafz.” With this ceremony the father of the bride formally accepts giving his daughter to the groom and both fathers give small speeches to thank and honor each other.
The second step is the “Shirini-khori,” the “eating of the sweets” ceremony which is paid for by the bride’s family. This is followed by an engagement period lasting a few months.
The third step is the “awroussi,” the wedding which is paid for by the father (all of these are mentioned in chapter 13 in the book).
Funerals are done in mosques where there are three sections, one for men, one for women and the other for the family of the deceased. The women wear black dresses with their heads covered by traditional white “hijabs” and the men wear dark black suits. While the men sit cross-legged on the mattresses praying the mullah chants “surrahs” (parts) of the Koran and after the man or woman who died is buried an “ayat” is recited.
The second group of traditions are the more general traditions. The Afghan people have a lot of traditions which are applied daily, monthly, yearly, and even hourly. Afghanistan is an Islam country so obviously most of these traditions have to do with religion. For example people frequently go the mosque for “namaz” (praying). This is done at specific hours each day(just like in Istanbul) and the most important one is the “Cuma Namaz.” We can see how important this is to people in the book when Amir asks a salesman where Hassan is and the salesman snaps at him and says “You’re making me late for Namaz!” Another example of a religous tradition in Afghanistan would be “Korban Bayram.” The holiday which is about sacrifice. Amir says that it originated beacuse a man named Ibrahim honored his religion so much that he would even sacrifice his own child for god. An example of a non-religous social tradition would be the yearly kite-running tournament which takes place in Winter. While the kite runners struggle to cut opponents’ kites all of the other kids chase and hunt down the ones that have been cut. This is called “running the kite.” The tournaments are mentioned very frequently in the book because Hassan and Amir train for and eventually win one of them. Winning this tournament was probably one of the happiest moments in any Afghan’s life but sadly after the Taliban arrived kite running was banned.
Secondly, in the book even though Amir’s family (the main characters) is not a common Afghan family the readers are able to learn much about the basic character traits of Afghan people. The first and most obvious quality we can notice is that they give a great deal of importance to respect and honor. People who treat others well, people who have money, people who work for the government, and people who have flawless reputations are looked at very differently within society. The perfect two examples for these types of people would be Baba and General Taheri. Baba is a very respected man in society and he is known by almost everyone because he has helped so many people in his life. Actually knowing almost everyone is common for Afghan people. Amir says that if two Afghans are put in a room together for ten minutes they can figure out how they are related. General Taheri is well known because he had a high rank in the Afghan army, however he is very egotistical because of this. Because he is a well-known person, his daughter having a bad reputation enrages him, and this leads to many disputes within his family. Afghan people tend to gossip a lot according to Amir. This is why good reputations are crucial, especially for egotistical people like the general.
Thirdly, The Kite Runner is set in such a period of time that the readers learn basically everything about Afghanistan’s modern history. For example in chapter five Amir talks about Daoud Khan abolishing the monarchy, creating the “Republic of Afghanistan” and giving new rights to women. Later, he talks about how the Russians invade Afghanistan and remain there. This forces Amir and his father to escape to Peshawar in Pakistan (this was a very common place for Afghan refugees). Later, they go to America in the 1980s and settle in Fremont, a small city in California near San Francisco. Most of the other Afghans are also there so they encounter many people who used to live in Kabul (this is because the American government had decided to make a majority of the Afghans settle in this specific city). When Amir goes to Pakistan to see Rahim Khan in chapter fifteen Rahim Khan tells him about how the Northern Alliance took over Kabul in 1992 and 1996 and how the different factions took control of different parts of the city. They talk about the “Shorawi,” who are the Russians and Soviets who invaded Afghanistan, and then they come to the topic of the Taliban.
Lastly, it is important to mention the Taliban. Rahim Khan says that when the Taliban came in and kicked out the Northern Alliance everyone was so relieved and happy, he even says that he danced. However, later he talks about all of the horrible things that the Taliban have done ever since. They have banned basically all technology, kite running and cheering at football matches. Also, they force people to have long beards, they take all of the money and the good food for themselves, they massacre the Hazaras, steal property and they take away children. Learning this through the dialogue of two Afghans who lived in Kabul before the Taliban gives readers a whole new perspective on the topic.
All of this information about Afghanistan, Afghan people, and Aghan traditions and customs basically make this book an encyclopedia. This is very special because the book is an allegory of the country as well as a great source of knowledge about it. Through the eyes of Amir who has spent his childhood in Kabul, moved to California and then came back to Pakistan and Kabul, we are able to easily compare and contrast the old Afghanistan to the new one, the new generation of Afghan people to the old one and impact of historical events on the country. Of course there are some topics in the book such as the hatred between the Pashtuns and the Hazaras which are not explained with detail and require extra research, but this does not change the fact that this book should be recommended to anyone who would like to learn about Afghanistan in an entertaining fashion.