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By letterhead | September 29, 2007
IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK, THIS POST MIGHT BE A “SPOILER.” IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW A KEY PLOT ELEMENT, THEN STOP HERE.
Much will be made of the new film The Kite Runner, as much was made of the book. And it deserves praise, from the perspective of pure prose and sense of place, among other things. But at a very fundamental character level, as well as a philosophical one, the book is colossally dishonest.
The reason: the character used as the personification of Islamic extremism is so far from reality that he is not even remotely credible. For those who have not read the book, the lifelong nemesis of the hero and the chief of the local Taliban group is a:
- Nazi sympathizer
This is how Hosseini chooses to personify Islamic fanaticism, as a distinctly Westernized boogeyman – and one that clearly has no deep, religious, personal attachment to either Islam or Sharia law. Such a thing defies the imagination and one wonders if any such character could even remotely exist in Kabul, never mind rise to the upper ranks of an Islamic militia.
Islamist fanaticism is a homegrown phenomenon, perpetrated mostly by heterosexual men of Middle Eastern extraction who bear zero resemblance to the villain in the book.
Now, Hosseini could have given us an intricate character study that explores how two people of similar ancestry can grow up in the same region — the very same village, in fact — and come to radically different worldviews. Instead, he serves up a cliche, comic-strip villain that requires no explanation of his mental and philosophical development because he is intrinsically (and presumably genetically) predisposed to evil.
No philosophical, developmental, religious, or other reason is necessary. How could we expect anything else? After all, he’s a blue-eyed devil… a fag pedophile (as they all are don’cha know)… and a Nazi to boot.
This is the most shallow and disingenuous attribution of Islamic violence imaginable. Not to mention homophobic. And we here at LiteralMayhem don’t play that card lightly. As already stated, but worth repeating: Islamic violence and extremism is perpetrated by STRAIGHT men.
Homosexuality gets dropped into this story like an H-bomb, as if the mere mention of the H-word is enough to explain an insidious evil. The reader is then presented with the outlandish notion that the openly gay Taliban leader is not only tacitly accepted by his troops, but that his minions even procure boys for him.
It’s enough to make one do a Nancy Kerrigan… “WHYYYYYY!!!!????????”
I am all for casting against type and unexpected plot twists, but this goes beyond the credible and into the realm of craven pandering.
What on Earth could possibly be the relevance of an Aryan gay pedophile to the growth is Islamist extremism in Kabul in the 1970s? What? Why? It is a jaw-droppingly inane resort to stereotypes which in REALITY have nothing to do with the story. And nothing to do with the real-life REALITY of the world in which the story is supposedly set.
It’s as if Hosseini sat down and said to himself: “How can I make this character so revolting and so beyond convention that everyone will get it right away that he is evil incarnate? Hmmm. Let’s see. Aryan Nazi. That’s automatic evil. Oh and a pedophile! Everybody hates those. And we’ll make him gay! ‘Cause that’s a really good twist on a super-villain.”
Memo to Hosseini: How about portray the villain as one might believably find him??? How about that for an idea?
Apparently that was too difficult a writing assignment for the author. Caricature was an easy short-cut that solved the narrative problem of actual character development. Easy, but a total cop-out.
The book, from a prose standpoint, is well written. The plot device, however, is a well-worn-out, comic-book cliche. For a book that presumes to explore Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and the start of the Taliban era, it’s also colossally dishonest.