Hosseini sends Readers Running
By Sarah Ketter
Khaled Hosseini seems to achieve the impossible; the creation of beautifully flawed characters and the destruction of them within 343 pages.
Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” presented a promising tale of an Afghan boy seeking redemption, only to be destroyed by the author’s juvenile representation of self. This is achieved in the introduction of a certain character. Assef Goshkhor, a Hitler-esque man-child and the antagonist of the novel. The basic bitch of villains, his maliciousness is shoved down the reader’s throat. Hosseini finds closure for his traumatic Afghani childhood through the downfall of Assef, the human embodiment of the Taliban. This is at the cost of the text’s realism and the reader’s patience.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan, raised on summers spent flying kites and pushed out of his home as a young man. This has not only left him angry at those who pushed him to flee (the Taliban), but has also left him with the desire to defeat now what he could not at eleven years old. Sound familiar? Amir and Hosseini are two sides of the same coin. Amir; a man who chose to return to his home and face his demons, and Hosseini; a man content to find closure through writing a story in his dimly lit apartment… because apparently, therapy wasn’t an option. Hosseini claims that without the novel, he wouldn’t have had the courage to return to his homeland. However, by destroying his fear of the Taliban on paper, the author also destroys Assef, the man who represents everything wrong with Afghanistan.
It is painfully obvious that Assef’s character arch was unplanned at his creation. Assef is a child who idolises ethnic cleansing and tortures children in between classes. His interactions are riddled with inconsistencies, such as Assef’s relationship with Baba. As a man who treats his servants as family, it is completely unrealistic that he be in Assef’s good books. However, they are frequently seen sharing ‘good natured winks’ (pg89) and flattering each other. Readers are bound to become confused at Assef’s ‘easy to please’ attitude despite his public distrust of all those who do not abide by his beliefs. This lack of consistency is easily explainable; Hosseini did not intend for him to be a real person. His overuse of Deux et Machina had lead Hosseini to string Assef to a marionette to keep him from developing beyond a predetermined sneer or grunt. In his over eagerness to portray Assef as a symbol for the Taliban, Hosseini leaves readers exasperated at the only black-and-white character among several shades of grey.
Amir finds redemption, Baba falls from his golden pedestal, Kamal gets raped. In the development of both primary and secondary characters, one is overlooked: Assef. Once the evil child and now the evil man, there hasn’t been such an inauthentic character since the hunter that shot Bambi’s mother. Assef’s two-dimensional facade can be excused in the introduction of the novel, after all, he is being seen through the eyes of a traumatised twelve-year-old. However, at the climax of the novel, Amir is a middle-aged author haunted by his own mistakes, much like Hosseini himself. Still, Assef shows no redeeming qualities; he is an evil man with nothing else going for him. Hosseini obviously lets his own disgust of the Taliban pollute what could have been a beautifully complex character.
The final confrontation between Amir and Assef is Hosseini’s last hurrah. Amir channels Hosseini’s thoughts whilst confronting Assef. ‘Stoning adulterers? Raping children? Massacring Hazaras? All in the name of Islam?’ (pg261). Such emotive language must have been drawn from Hosseini’s first-hand knowledge. After Amir verbally abuses Assef, he continues to further humiliate him by laughing at his attempts to injure him until his eventual death by ‘brass balls’ (pg266). Amir’s victory is statistically unlikely; Assef possessed several guards and had been known to go back on his word. Had Assef acted rationally, he would have sent his flying monkeys off to kill Dorothy and Toto at the time of his untimely demise. Instead, Hosseini once again prioritised his symbolic defeat of childhood demons over his promise of a realistic insight into Afghanistan.
‘The Kite Runner’ began with the promise of a sophisticated novel and concluded with the reality of a juvenile hate-letter. Hosseini allowed for his personal demons to pollute his writing, transforming it into the crutch required for him to find closure in his childhood. Assef’s pathetic representation of the Taliban ensured that Hosseini crashed his kite.