There is little denying that multicultural fiction is hot, for when Khaled Hosseini’s mediocre novel The Kite Runner hit the shelves, its Afghani perspective was enough to propel an ungainly plot into a bestselling sensation. Unfortunately, this book does not live up to the A-list hype.
Perhaps more disheartening than the acclaim the novel has received is the potential it had for being a truly good read. The first half of the story offers a unique glimpse of Afghanistan and the cultural particulars that make readers feel as genuine tourists for the bargain price of a book. The subtle buildup of the protagonist’s cognitive dissonance, created by his morals conflicting with cultural ideals—exacerbated and exemplified by the class differences between the protagonist and his servant-friend—is well drafted and sparks genuine interest. In short, the beginning is believable.
Then, the boom drops. What begins as promising literature is overtaken by Hollywood sensibilities—where competent writing is not necessarily king. As the story transitions to America, several movie hyperboles are employed: Our hero has a cryptic phone call demanding his presence without explanation; nearly everyone in his past either dies or disappears so he must go it alone; he’s obligated to save a gifted orphan; his nemesis is his childhood bully now, coincidentally, the head obstacle. Not enough extremes? Insert child molestation and a fight to the death, after which, the hero is allowed by the enemy camp to simply walk away—only to almost die later from his battle wounds! I’m not kidding. The reader is subjected to an ultimate machismo ordeal that makes anyone wonder if the author has ever really been in a fight, even over lunch money. Oh yes, and because of some loophole, the protagonist gets to keep the orphan.
Ultimately, the book reads as if the writer handed the first half—gleaned from the author’s genuine experience—to a book coach who then steered the plot off a cliff, hoping the excitement of the plunge would justify the predictable outcome. It doesn’t. The nuances of culture and literary workmanship were traded for the sledgehammers of cliché. The Kite Runner violates a rule for serious fiction: don’t let coincidence and cliché drive the plot. If a novel does, it could very well become a best-seller and be optioned for a movie. Sigh.
Ara 13 is the author of Drawers & Booths. Click here to learn more.