The kite runner, p.1
The Kite Runner,
Praise for The Kite Runner:
'My top fiction book . . . marvellous' Joanna Trollope, Books of the Year, Observer
'Unforgettable ... extraordinary ... It is so powerful that for a long time after, everything I read seemed bland' Isabel Allende
'A gripping read and a haunting story of love, loss and betrayal.
Guaranteed to move even the hardest heart' Independent
'Shattering ... devastating and inspiring' Observer
'The Kite Runner is told with simplicity and poise, it is a novel of great hidden intricacy and wisdom, like a timeless Eastern tale. It speaks the most harrowing truth about the power of evil, personal and political, and intoxicates, like a high-flying kite, with the power of hope' Daily Telegraph
'Stunning and heartbreaking in its quiet intensity ... Hosseini's writing is meticulous and evocative' Guardian
'A marvellous first novel . . . It's an old-fashioned kind of novel that really sweeps you away' San Francisco Chronicle
'From the first lines of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini shows how an engaging novel begins - with simple, exquisite writing that compels the reader to turn the page. But Hosseini's novel is more than just good writing, it is also a wonderfully conjured story that offers a glimpse into an Afghanistan most Americans have never seen and depicts a side of humanity rarely revealed ... for the reader, the ride is exhilarating' Star Tribune
'The Kite Runnerr is powerful and involving' Time Out
'Stunning . . . It is rare that a book is at once so timely and of such high literary quality' Publishers Weekly
'Here is a real find: a striking debut . . . a passionate story of betrayal and redemption . . . a searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible' Kirkus Reviews
'What's most conspicuous on almost every page of this debut is not language, but the shimmer of life. There is no display in Hosseini's writing, only expression - a lesson for all budding novelists . . . Hosseini does tenderness and terror, California dream and Kabul nightmare with equal aplomb . . . A carefully built structure of ripping yarn and ethical parable' Globe and Mail, Canada
'Not only manages to enthrall the reader with its narrative but also gives an insight into a culture and mindset way beyond our own experience' Dublin Evening Herald
'A marvellous read, full of the exoticism of a strange land . . . beautifully written, in a limpid prose that, like all good writing, looks so simple on the page. This is one that I will reread, maybe more than once' Irish Examiner
'Balances socio-political commentary with an emotionally powerful narrative' Ink
'It's a Shakespearean beginning to an epic tale that spans lives lived across two continents amid political upheavals, where dreams wilt before they bud and where a search for a child finally makes a coward into a man . . . rich and soul-searching . . . His world is a patchwork of the beautiful and the horrific, and the book a sharp, unforgettable taste of the trauma and tumult experienced by Afghanis as their country buckled' Observer
'A beautiful novel . . . it ranks among the best-written and most provocative stories of the year . . . The Kite Runner is a song in a new key. Hosseini is an exhilaratingly original writer with a gift for irony and a gentle, perceptive heart. His canvas might be a place and time Americans are only beginning to understand, but he paints his art on the page, where it is intimate and poignant' Denver Post
'His description of Amir's relationship with Hassan is beautifully nuanced, and the moment of Amir's ultimate betrayal is genuinely shocking. It is a passionate story' Literary Review
'Hosseini's stunning debut is a gripping tale of love and loss, exile and homeland' Big Issue
'If you liked The God of Small Things, then you'll love The Kite Runner ... it is fable-like and deals in picturesque absolutes . . . compelling' Image
'Combines the tones of memory and nostalgia with a desire to recreate a lost world . . . The Kite Runner is reminiscent of those classic European novellas of innocence bruised by experience' Independent
'Told in a cool, detached voice that provides a counterpoint to the growing sense of tension which is frequently stretched to breaking point as the story unfolds' Times Literary Supplement
BY THE SAME AUTHOR
A Thousand Splendid Suns
THE KITE RUNNER
First published in Great Britain 2003
Copyright (c) 2003 by Khaled Hosseini
This electronic edition published 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
The right of Khaled Hosseini to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All rights reserved. You may not copy, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (including without limitation electronic, digital, optical, mechanical, photocopying, printing, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 36 Soho Square, London W1D 3QY
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
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A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and moved to the United States in 1980. His first novel, The Kite Runner , was an international best seller, published in thirty-four countries. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns , was a number one bestseller and was published in May 2007. In 2006 he was named a goodwill envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency. He lives in northern California.
This book is dedicated
to Haris and Farah,
both the noor of my eyes,
and to the children of Afghanistan.
I am indebted to the following colleagues for their advice, assistance, or support: Dr. Alfred Lerner, Dori Vakis, Robin Heck, Dr. Todd Dray, Dr. Robert Tull, and Dr. Sandy Chun. Thanks also to Lynette Parker of East San Jose Community Law Center for her advice about adoption procedures, and to Mr. Daoud Wahab for sharing his experiences in Afghanistan with me. I am grateful to my dear friend Tamim Ansary for his guidance and support and to the gang at the San Francisco Writers Workshop for their feedback and encouragement. I want to thank my father, my oldest friend and the inspiration for all that is noble in Baba; my mother who prayed for me and did nazr at every stage of this book's writing; my aunt for buying me
I must thank my agent and friend, Elaine Koster, for her wisdom, patience, and gracious ways, as well as Cindy Spiegel, my keen-eyed and judicious editor who helped me unlock so many doors in this tale. And I would like to thank Susan Petersen Kennedy for taking a chance on this book and the hardworking staff at Riverhead for laboring over it.
Last, I don't know how to thank my lovely wife, Roya--to whose opinion I am addicted--for her kindness and grace, and for reading, rereading, and helping me edit every single draft of this novel. For your patience and understanding, I will always love you, Roya jan.
I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it's wrong what they say about the past, I've learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.
One day last summer, my friend Rahim Khan called from Pakistan. He asked me to come see him. Standing in the kitchen with the receiver to my ear, I knew it wasn't just Rahim Khan on the line. It was my past of unatoned sins. After I hung up, I went for a walk along Spreckels Lake on the northern edge of Golden Gate Park. The early-afternoon sun sparkled on the water where dozens of miniature boats sailed, propelled by a crisp breeze. Then I glanced up and saw a pair of kites, red with long blue tails, soaring in the sky. They danced high above the trees on the west end of the park, over the windmills, floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on San Francisco, the city I now call home. And suddenly Hassan's voice whispered in my head: For you, a thousand times over. Hassan the harelipped kite runner.
I sat on a park bench near a willow tree. I thought about something Rahim Khan said just before he hung up, almost as an afterthought. There is a way to be good again. I looked up at those twin kites. I thought about Hassan. Thought about Baba. Ali. Kabul. I thought of the life I had lived until the winter of 1975 came along and changed everything. And made me what I am today.
When we were children, Hassan and I used to climb the poplar trees in the driveway of my father's house and annoy our neighbors by reflecting sunlight into their homes with a shard of mirror. We would sit across from each other on a pair of high branches, our naked feet dangling, our trouser pockets filled with dried mulberries and walnuts. We took turns with the mirror as we ate mulberries, pelted each other with them, giggling, laughing. I can still see Hassan up on that tree, sunlight flickering through the leaves on his almost perfectly round face, a face like a Chinese doll chiseled from hardwood: his flat, broad nose and slanting, narrow eyes like bamboo leaves, eyes that looked, depending on the light, gold, green, even sapphire. I can still see his tiny low-set ears and that pointed stub of a chin, a meaty appendage that looked like it was added as a mere afterthought. And the cleft lip, just left of midline, where the Chinese doll maker's instrument may have slipped, or perhaps he had simply grown tired and careless.
Sometimes, up in those trees, I talked Hassan into firing walnuts with his slingshot at the neighbor's one-eyed German shepherd. Hassan never wanted to, but if I asked, really asked, he wouldn't deny me. Hassan never denied me anything. And he was deadly with his slingshot. Hassan's father, Ali, used to catch us and get mad, or as mad as someone as gentle as Ali could ever get. He would wag his finger and wave us down from the tree. He would take the mirror and tell us what his mother had told him, that the devil shone mirrors too, shone them to distract Muslims during prayer. "And he laughs while he does it," he always added, scowling at his son.
"Yes, Father," Hassan would mumble, looking down at his feet. But he never told on me. Never told that the mirror, like shooting walnuts at the neighbor's dog, was always my idea.
The poplar trees lined the redbrick driveway, which led to a pair of wrought-iron gates. They in turn opened into an extension of the driveway into my father's estate. The house sat on the left side of the brick path, the backyard at the end of it.
Everyone agreed that my father, my Baba, had built the most beautiful house in the Wazir Akbar Khan district, a new and affluent neighborhood in the northern part of Kabul. Some thought it was the prettiest house in all of Kabul. A broad entryway flanked by rosebushes led to the sprawling house of marble floors and wide windows. Intricate mosaic tiles, handpicked by Baba in Isfahan, covered the floors of the four bathrooms. Gold-stitched tapestries, which Baba had bought in Calcutta, lined the walls; a crystal chandelier hung from the vaulted ceiling.
Upstairs was my bedroom, Baba's room, and his study, also known as "the smoking room," which perpetually smelled of tobacco and cinnamon. Baba and his friends reclined on black leather chairs there after Ali had served dinner. They stuffed their pipes--except Baba always called it "fattening the pipe"--and discussed their favorite three topics: politics, business, soccer. Sometimes I asked Baba if I could sit with them, but Baba would stand in the doorway. "Go on, now," he'd say. "This is grown-ups' time. Why don't you go read one of those books of yours?" He'd close the door, leave me to wonder why it was always grown-ups' time with him. I'd sit by the door, knees drawn to my chest. Sometimes I sat there for an hour, sometimes two, listening to their laughter, their chatter.
The living room downstairs had a curved wall with custom-built cabinets. Inside sat framed family pictures: an old, grainy photo of my grandfather and King Nadir Shah taken in 1931, two years before the king's assassination; they are standing over a dead deer, dressed in knee-high boots, rifles slung over their shoulders. There was a picture of my parents' wedding night, Baba dashing in his black suit and my mother a smiling young princess in white. Here was Baba and his best friend and business partner, Rahim Khan, standing outside our house, neither one smiling--I am a baby in that photograph and Baba is holding me, looking tired and grim. I'm in his arms, but it's Rahim Khan's pinky my fingers are curled around.
The curved wall led into the dining room, at the center of which was a mahogany table that could easily sit thirty guests--and, given my father's taste for extravagant parties, it did just that almost every week. On the other end of the dining room was a tall marble fireplace, always lit by the orange glow of a fire in the wintertime.
A large sliding glass door opened into a semicircular terrace that overlooked two acres of backyard and rows of cherry trees. Baba and Ali had planted a small vegetable garden along the eastern wall: tomatoes, mint, peppers, and a row of corn that never really took. Hassan and I used to call it "the Wall of Ailing Corn."
On the south end of the garden, in the shadows of a loquat tree, was the servants' home, a modest little mud hut where Hassan lived with his father.
It was there, in that little shack, that Hassan was born in the winter of 1964, just one year after my mother died giving birth to me.
In the eighteen years that I lived in that house, I stepped into Hassan and Ali's quarters only a handful of times. When the sun dropped low behind the hills and we were done playing for the day, Hassan and I parted ways. I went past the rosebushes to Baba's mansion, Hassan to the mud shack where he had been born, where he'd lived his entire life. I remember it was spare, clean, dimly lit by a pair of kerosene lamps. There were two mattresses on opposite sides of the room, a worn Herati rug with frayed edges in between, a three-legged stool, and a wooden table in the corner where Hassan did his drawings. The walls stood bare, save for a single tapestry with sewn-in beads forming the words Allah-u-akbar. Baba had bought it for Ali on one of his trips to Mashad.
It was in that small shack that Hassan's mother, Sanaubar, gave birth to him one cold winter day in 1964. While my mother hemorrhaged to death during childbirth,
Hassan never talked about his mother, as if she'd never existed. I always wondered if he dreamed about her, about what she looked like, where she was. I wondered if he longed to meet her. Did he ache for her, the way I ached for the mother I had never met? One day, we were walking from my father's house to Cinema Zainab for a new Iranian movie, taking the shortcut through the military barracks near Istiqlal Middle School--Baba had forbidden us to take that shortcut, but he was in Pakistan with Rahim Khan at the time. We hopped the fence that surrounded the barracks, skipped over a little creek, and broke into the open dirt field where old, abandoned tanks collected dust. A group of soldiers huddled in the shade of one of those tanks, smoking cigarettes and playing cards. One of them saw us, elbowed the guy next to him, and called Hassan.
"Hey, you!" he said. "I know you."
We had never seen him before. He was a squatty man with a shaved head and black stubble on his face. The way he grinned at us, leered, scared me. "Just keep walking," I muttered to Hassan.
"You! The Hazara! Look at me when I'm talking to you!" the soldier barked. He handed his cigarette to the guy next to him, made a circle with the thumb and index finger of one hand. Poked the middle finger of his other hand through the circle. Poked it in and out. In and out. "I knew your mother, did you know that? I knew her real good. I took her from behind by that creek over there."
The soldiers laughed. One of them made a squealing sound. I told Hassan to keep walking, keep walking.
"What a tight little sugary cunt she had!" the soldier was saying, shaking hands with the others, grinning. Later, in the dark, after the movie had started, I heard Hassan next to me, croaking. Tears were sliding down his cheeks. I reached across my seat, slung my arm around him, pulled him close. He rested his head on my shoulder. "He took you for someone else," I whispered. "He took you for someone else."
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