WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.
It was a teacher workday today, so instead of cleaning out my desk drawers and taking down posters with inspiring thoughts “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop,” I spent the day finishing The Kite Runner. 225 pages in last night I was tweeting that I’m not sure I can teach this book because I found out the major hunch of Baba and Hassan and Amir. And then I was PISSED at Baba. I understood the two halves of himself coming together, but in the beginning I hated him for being a parent annoyed with the fact that his child is not a mini-him, then I grew to love him and his slight hobble asking for the sweet hand of a hook-nosed girl for his son, and then, I loathed him a little more than the beginning due to the secret he took to the grave.
Around 300 pages in, I had to walk down to Hawke’s room and ask her if I should keep reading and if Assef “gets his.” I’m putting a few almost spoilers in this review because I’m assuming that I’m the last person to actually read this book. It spent 101 weeks on the NY Times Bestseller List, so someone out there had to read it and then recommend it to all of their friends. I seriously wasn’t sure in those climactic moments that Amir could take the nazi (never deserves capitalization, I don’t care if it’s a “proper” noun) that is Assef. What a dick. The last time someone was stoned at a sporting event for me was reading “The Lottery” in my classroom and letting my students throw paper balls at the kid who won. (We weren’t killing trees, they had to write all their work on those papers and then de-ball them in order to turn them in. Sometimes fun is worth the crinkle of paper from a pocket binder). In other words, no one has ever been stoned at a sporting event…in my conscious….ever.
I felt so dang American when I read this book. I was beyond out of my element. I wanted to simultaneously look away in horror, fly a non-paper-cutting-kite, hug a small child, serve tea, and reanalyze France’s decision on banning burqas. It was 70% tragedy, 100% humanity, 39% horror, and 18% forced coincidence. I never said I was a math teacher, which is precisely why I finally read this book. I had already heard about the first horror of the book and knew just from that-that I wouldn’t be interested in a book like this. Who wants to read a book where their favorite character will be abused before the hundred-page mark? It’s like getting sick at breakfast and not being able to eat for the rest of the day due to your disturbing and wretched food poisoning. BUT, tenth grade at my school teaches The Kite Runner, so I had to trial run it.
As soon as I finished, I knew my students would love this book if they could get through the density of it. My freshman really appreciated Night, I’m not sure anyone can claim they enjoyed that one, and in Of Mice and Men, I had three girls cry and a choir of tense pressure build up by the end. Kids who claimed to hate reading told their friends “even I liked that book.” They were both wins for the academics of high school forced-reading and for humanity as a whole as my students learned what empathy truly means through the best superpower, reading. If we covered World War II in 9th grade, maybe covering the Soviet War in Afghanistan, the introduction to Americans of Taliban, and the lead-in to America’s role in a war with Afghanistan might be something golden to teach in 10th grade, especially to students who weren’t even walking when September 11th happened.
To own our history, we must understand the history of those around us. I’m not sure one person can ever analyze, or study all the histories of the world (obviously), but I am sure that students can understand history that directly relates to their lives and the times in which they have lived. I am SO looking forward to teaching my students this book. Although it was kitschy at times; the slingshot, the kite, the brotherhood, the unveiling of Assef and unbearding of Amir, it was still such an amazing book. I found myself getting nervous in the stadium with the characters, hearing the woman in the already dug grave screaming, seeing the old man ask for coins with his one spoiled eye, carving my name in the pomegranate tree along with Hassan and Amir.
I almost cried at the death of Baba especially when Amir said, “And for the first time in his life, Baba was alone.” I never want anyone in death to feel lonely even though they’re not bodily with their relatives. BAH. I fell in love when Amir met Soraya because she was such an honest female character. She’s one of the best-written minor female characters that I’ve read in a long time. Khaled Hosseini made her so likable in so few paragraphs. I’ll admit, her husband, it took time for me to like him, but what I like about that is that I only liked him at the time he also finally liked himself completely. It wasn’t until he had fully forgiven himself that I fully forgave him as well. Tone and mood came together, my feelings and his matched from that naked bathtub scene to the very end.
Just, what a great book. What a great book for the education it makes you research, for the simple fact that sometimes it’s important to feel like an “other,” like you know nothing about the world and pitfalls of the people in that world that live nothing like you (they didn’t even have television, just imagine America in that telescope). There are few books that are both enjoyable and drive their reader to keep reading books on the same topic. I want to learn more about literature of the Middle East and I want to start right now. I want to load up my cart and suck the life out of this history so that I can teach as many aspects as I please next year. This is a book that you will read through the dead heat of night this summer if you haven’t yet picked it up.
I do wonder if I will ever get at the true feelings of what it is to be an Afghani if I can’t read Farsi. This is one of those times that that the translation can never be as good as the book in the actual language. I will always be reading from the point of view of the “other” if I can’t learn different languages. What a disappointing epiphany brought out my an honorable work of literature.
Any recommendations for literature from or about the Middle East? What did you think about The Kite Runner and other books by Khaled Hosseini (that I need to read)? If there are any teachers out there, how do you teach this book? What is your favorite lesson? SHARE AWAY!