Lots of novels incorporate all of the above. In the context of Hosseini’s novel, I had to give them capital letters.
I wanted to warn you that reading this novel is heart-breaking but that term is not strong enough. It is heart-shattering.
Many times, I wanted to put the book down and walk away so I would not have to witness what was coming next. In the end, I could not do it. These characters have so much at stake. You can’t just close the book in the middle and leave them where they are with only your bookmark to clutch.
Hosseini creates characters that we can cry for, and cry with, but also gives us a glimpse of a world far from ours. Hosseini doesn’t give you the nightly news account version, nor does he give you a map at the front of the book. He just grabs your hand and takes you into Afghanistan, whether you’re ready to go or not.
As chapter one opens, you see the date “December 2001” hovering over the first paragraph. Knowing it’s a novel about Afghanistan, and knowing that the date above was a three months after the tragedy that unfolded on our soil, I kept waiting for it to happen again on one of the pages. Occasionally, I’d stop and look back to check the date, just to make sure I hadn’t missed it. Admittedly, it was also a tactic to take a break from some of the intense chapters in this book. I don’t know if I was looking for a tragedy that I could “predict” or just hoping that there was some way we could avoid that one this time.
Then in happened. In one paragraph the twin towers came down, in the next the U.S. bombed Afghanistan and ordinary Americans in San Francisco Starbucks were discussing the towns that had been a big part of Amir’s life. I thought he handled this part perfectly. We witness enough in this novel and he knows that his readers have already witnessed 9/11 many times. We don’t need to watch it unfold again. He did manage to include the right details though.
One Tuesday morning last September, the Twin Towers came crumbling down and, overnight, the world changed. The American flag suddenly appeared everywhere, on the antennae of yellow cabs weaving around traffic, on the lapels of pedestrians walking the sidewalks in a steady stream, even on the grimy caps of San Francisco’s pan-handlers sitting beneath the awnings of small art galleries and open-fronted shops. One day I passed Edith, the homeless woman who plays the accordion every day on the corner of Sutter and Stockton, and spotted an American flag sticker on the accordion case at her feet.
Hosseini includes small details throughout the novel to make you feel like you are in the streets of Kabul or Peshawar with Amir. The pride in his country and its people shines throughout the story. A few sentences about the burst of American flags and national pride that erupted in the wake of 9/11 put me right back in my own country in 2001.
Afghanistan is a character in this book as well as the people but Amir and his family experience as much or more turbulence in their individual lives as the country faces with the Soviet and Taliban occupations. I do not, however, want to give the impression that the entire story is under a veil of tragedy. There are beautiful, bright moments of pure joy and love throughout as well. Our first trip into Kabul in the early 1970s is wonderful.
I am impressed by this writer and I recommend the book but with caution. The quote on the front cover from The New York Times Book Review simply says: “Powerful… Haunting.” That last word is quite accurate. I just finished the book today but have not been able to put it out of my mind for a few weeks now. (I did not have the time or the stamina to read this one in one sitting!) While I feel better now having seen the story through to its resolution, I will not be able to let go of these characters any time soon.