Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Take on "The Kite Runner" - Part I

For my Identity: Self and the Other course, we were asked to think of and discuss something, preferably pertinent to our research interest if not to the course readings we've done so far (all of which have this idea of a Self and an Other, often a Western other, one of which is better and the other not; one's the ideal, one's the reality; etc.). Immediately, I thought of the Kite Runner, one of my favorite novels. I loved the book. I loved the movie, which I watched last night to prepare myself for a discussion on the story. In this post, I won't talk about who the Self and the Other are; I might do that some other time, especially because I've a lot to suggest for Pashtuns as I see their negative response to the book. In particular, we had a discussion on it over a year ago on an online Pashtun community, and the sort of responses received are very interesting--but intellectually empty: No one answered my questions of why they didn't like the book and how Hosseini represents Pashtuns. I won't say the "debate" was a waste of time, since I'm gonna paste my responses to that thread here, but I do think it's silly when people talk about a book they actually haven't read -- and claim they don't want to read it because "It's not worth reading." If it's not worth reading, why are you debating about it, then? How do you have an opinion on it, then? I still cannot forget an epic line from that discussion: "Qrratugai, here, please read this article written by my friend, a Pashtun with a PhD in Chemistry, who is saying how stupid the book was." Or something equally silly. The message I was supposed to get from that "argument" was this: "Qrratugai, you and all of us need to follow the opinion of this guy who has a PhD in Chemistry." I still smile when I think of this. It's such an innocent thought. Since when did people with PhDs gain authority over Qrratugai? Since when did I ever give them the right to think for me, to tell me what's wrong or what's right or what kind of an opinion I should have on a book?

Khair, I'll post here my thoughts. They haven't changed since then -- in fact, renewing my thoughts on the Kite Runner have strengthened those previous opinions I expressed in that "discussion."

Post 1: Question for those who didn't/don't like Hosseini's The Kite Runner: Can you give specific examples of how the author presented Pukhtuns in his book?

Every author writes what she/he *believes* is true, or what makes sense to her/him. Hosseini had his reasons for writing that novel and for giving the view of Pukhtuns that he did. If it was a Pukhtun author writing it, it would obviously have been a different perspective. I don't think it's fair to condemn him for his view at all. The portrayal MAY have been his personal experiences, it MAY have been based on his observations, it MAY have been what others told him -- it was certainly inspired by *something*, whatever it was.

To those Pukhtuns who don't agree with it, I suggest this: Write a novel in which you -- a Pukhtun -- give a better view of Pukhtuns. How many contemporary Pukhtuns have published any novels? How many of us find our representation in other people's novels/books intolerable? And how are we responding to it? How many wars have we witnessed? How much suffering have we lived and tolerated? And how much have we written on it? What have we told the world *about* ourselves? It's not Hosseini or anyone else's responsibility to write good things about Pukhtuns; it's *ours, the ones who ARE Pukhtuns and live Pukhtun lives and know Pukhtuns better than any non-Pukhtun ever might.

We need to tell our story (or stories) from our perspective. Really, it's silly of us to expect any non-Pukhtun to portray us in a positive light to the world in a novel that *he/she* writes.

As for The Kite Runner, I had no problem with it; I loved and enjoyed the story, and I read it when my mom was in Swat, so almost everything I was reading in the book, my mom would tell me was happening in Swat! That was when the saying that "history repeats itself" was proven true to me. It really does. 
When the members (heck, all of them) responded that "How can you say such a thing! He portrays us as homosexuals, as abusive, as racists, ...," I said this:

We have some members here [on the forum, on every online community, like the online (and real) communities of all other nations on earth] who are beyond racists, bash those who are not Pukhtuns (especially the non-Pukhtuns in Afghanistan!), so I think they prove Hosseini's "stereotypical" view of Pukhtuns right.

Other stereotypes about Pukhtuns include that our men are extremely abusive and controlling [this is true for a looooot of Pukhtun men, too; are we gonna deny this, too, now? If so, would you like to hear the millions of stories I have to tell about abusive Pukhtun men? No, don't be an idiot, whether you're Pukhtun or non-Pukhtun, whether you love Pukhtuns or hate them, and assume that these abusive men necessarily represent all Pukhtun men -- but they exist! Live with it]; the cities of Kandahar in Afghanistan and Banu in Paksitan are known for the practice of homosexuality, so I'd assume that's where the author got that from. (This is not to imply that I agree with Hosseini's view/representation of Pukhtuns, though. I'm only showing you why he did what he did in his book. And I certainly do not believer homosexuality is prevalent in the Pukhtun community - or at least as common as many non-Pukhtuns think it is. This is untrue)

Another member said something like, "The author's a Tajik, and Tajiks are known for being liars and cowards." (Ironic much?) So, I said: You do realize you're accepting a certain stereotype against Tajiks, right? If a Pukhtun wrote a book in which he portrayed Tajiks as "coward liars," what would you think of that book? What would you think of the author's personality and character? What would Tajiks think of it?

I'd think the Tajiks would say, "Just becuase some of us are cowards and lie doesn't mean we ALL do! This is an unjust view of our race! Shame on the author!"

My point? Hosseini is a Tajik, and note the way you're talking about Tajiks. So if you don't respect them, don't hold them in high regard, and accept the stereotypes against them (which might not be true and certainly don't apply to even most Tajiks), don't expect him to respect you or other Pukhtuns either; don't be surprised that he accepted with the stereotypes against Pukhtuns.

Let's not play the double-standard game here.

Someone else said Pashtuns are hospitable and Hosseini shows otherwise. I don't remember any example from the book in which he portrayed Pukhtuns as un-hospitable.

I'll add more later 'cause there's sooo much more to add here, y'all.

Bbbbut, while you're at it, you might also want to take a look at another response that this discussion stimulated from me, a little post I wrote on burdening an author with a moral responsibility of representing an entire group of people, an entire religion, an entire race, an entire country, an entire gender. This: On Writing a Novel and Telling a Story. Another post you might be find worth reading is my thougths on the film MeherJaan, the "controversial" Bengali film that's also not appreciated in Bangladesh because of how it represents Pakistani soldiers during the war of 1972/1973, who (the Pakistani soldiers) raped over 40 thousand women. Of the less than 1% of the soldiers who might have been respectable and decent, ethical, moral, human-enough men, some fell in love with Bengali women. In the film, the director tells the story of one of the women she's interviewed during her research and turns into a beautiful, innocent film. I loved it. I appreciated it. I was inspired by it. I believe in and strongly support individuality, and I do not respect the idea that one person, one tiny group of "powerful, influential" people should take advantage of their "power" and "skills" and "talent" to paint a whole picture of an entire society. No. Why should they? And what picture is this that they must present? Someone's always going to complain about it.

Feel more than free to share your thoughts on it (either MeherJaan or The Kite Runner... or both) as well. I won't harass you if you disagree with me, haaa haaa.


  1. I loved this book, however I did not like how it was portrayed on screen, but then which movie has ever done justice to the book it is based on..!

    Also have you read A thousand Splendid Suns??

  2. Yes!! Yes, I've read A Thousand Splendid Suns! :D I looooooooooooooved it! It was even better than The Kite Runner!

  3. Side note, I really wasn't impressed by A Thousand Splendid Suns, and I keep thinking I must've missed someone cause people keep telling me how great it is :P

    Anyways, you wrote about homosexuality, as if it was portrayed in the book as being prevalent in Pukhtun society. Now, it has been years since I read it, but, as I recall it, the only homosexual incident is when the boy is raped by other boys. That's got nothing to do with sexuality, as it is RAPE, and rape is never about sex, and always about power.

  4. Beckyyyyy-o! Thanks sooo much for your comment, jaan!

    I absolutely agree that rape has to do with power. I, too, didn't get the impression that the author represented Pashtuns as homosexuals just because there's a rape scene in the story. But many Pashtuns do believe that there's a reason why the author chose a group of Pashtuns to be the perpetrators of the rape -- why not, they ask, a Hazara, Tajik, Uzbek, or some other ethnic group?

    Homosexuality, I think, was portrayed in the scene where Amir goes back to Afghanistan to get the Hasan's son, who was in an orphanage but is taken by the Taliban for entertainment purposes. This is not an uncommon phenomenon: certain young boys are selected to dance to men, wearing make-up and anklets, and they're almost always raped as well. And the Taliban in the book (and a majority in reality as well) are Pashtuns.

    I'll write a post that presents the majority Pashtun view of the book without my own input in it some time soon, ka khairee.

  5. Ah, I had forgotten about that scene, but I would once again argue, that when we are talking about young boys, it's a question of power, not sexuality (at least not homosexuality, if anything we're talking about paedophilia).

    I'm not familiar enough with the issues in Afghanistan, to know which groups are "in power", but I would imagine, that he has chosen a group that is in power, to show how that can influence a society?

  6. It certainly is pedophilia, and rape is rape whether it's homosexual or heterosexual.

    Well, the popular assumption among some non-Pashtuns in Afghanistan as well as many people outside of Afghanistan that Pashtuns are homosexuals, even though it is not culturally accepted. And by "homosexual," they, too, often mean that elderly men have a young boy "customer" for entertainment purposes. I can't deny this practice does not exist, but I also know that it's not necessarily a part of the culture or as common as many think it is.


Dare to opine :)

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