39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

WARNING: spoilers and non-sequential conversation.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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.

Apparently, The Kite Runner is a graphic novel as well.

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.

Movie Image @ Crash Landen

Taliban @ Wikipedia Commons

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.

Slingshot @ Pixabay (Creative Commons)

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.

Old Television @ D.F. Shapinsky (Creative Commons)

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!


26 thoughts on “39% Horror, and 18% Forced Coincidence | I never said I was a math teacher.

  1. thewindupbird says:

    If you liked the Kite Runner, you have to read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini. Seriously, that one is probably even better.

    Recommended reading for other middle eastern books–
    Reading Lolita in Tehran by Afiz Nafisi
    A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison (set in Mumbai, but still a must)
    Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson (really funny, great author)
    The Butterfly Mosque by G Willow Wilson
    And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

    Also, if I was to teach it in school, which would be beyond awesome, because I’m 14, I would really go in depth about the culture and religion, which makes you understand the context and plot incredibly more in focus. A lot of these books can easily cause prejudice and hatred because of certain really horrible things that happen, but the situations become much more complex once you read more into them. And if it was a wish-granting world, definitely would bring in someone from Afghanistan (preferably a woman) to talk to the class. Good luck, and great post!

    • Cassie says:

      You’re a really articulate fourteen year old, dear. I JUST tweeted last night about getting an American soldier to come to my class or skyping a soldier currently in the Middle East. I live close to an army base so I think I might be able to make that happen, but I’m not sure soldiers are allowed to talk at length or at all about their experiences.

      I’ve read (or own) a few books you mention. Interestingly enough, I didn’t feel any sort of prejudice while reading, more like disgust and empathy. It’s hard to hate someone that has very little control over their world and even those who did in the book (Assef, who had what he thought was control at times) led by fear, which as we know from history, never really works.

      Maybe I will just have you Skype my sophomores and you can create a lesson and teach it. How awesome would that be? You’re the same age even. Ah, if the world just worked out like that – students teaching students. Love it!

      Which one of those books that you mention is your favorite?

      • thewindupbird says:

        I just re-read the Butterfly Mosque and have to say its pretty spectacular. Its basically about a westerner moving to Egypt and is so well written and real–the sort of real that’s weird to read at first but really brings depth to the region and people. Its basically a memoir, but if you are looking for something a bit more secular which has the added bonus -probably not for a lot of your students lol- of discussing major literature, I would go for Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is incredibly terrifying but hopeful in its own right.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I happen to be online and see your post. I am a lucky girl!
    Well, I am ashamed to say I have not read this book. A friend gave it to me as a gift. (She loved it so much she gave me her copy. Odd.) I have been putting it off because like you said, there’s some terrible things that happen. I wouldn’t have imagined it would be allowed in a classroom, but I’m glad. Students should be exposed to these things. We can’t keep them in the dark and we can’t keep turning away, pretending life is only at arms length. There are things going on everywhere, good and bad. I know, that was morbid.
    So, on your classroom wall there is a poster that says, “Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the poop”? Haha, I love it.
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Cassie says:

      Haha, there is! It’s got a beautifully drawn pigeon too, just in case my kids need a reminder that they truly are the pigeon most days.

      My students were SO DONE with dark books by the end of last semester. Everyone always died at the end. I taught Othello as the Shakespeare and even that they were like “Oh COME ON,” haha.

      I think tenth grade is a lot of depressing literature too. It’s World Lit so it’s often even more depressing and depressing from all cultures. Should be interesting if I have the same students I had in ninth grade to see how they take that, or if they take it differently.

      You have to read it. I think, think, after only being done with it for a few hours, that it was worth the times that I wanted to throw it.

  3. Haley Abene says:

    I didn’t get passed the first paragraph of this post because I STILL HAVE ANOTHER WEEK OF SCHOOL BEFORE MY WORKDAYS. and that made me 100% feeling like AKJHDFOHFOEFH

    • Cassie says:

      You’re so close! We had a weird schedule this year – they added twenty minutes to our day so we could get out earlier and have teacher workdays once a month (but then the snow blizzard came). I should have been out a week ago!

  4. zettew says:

    I read, “The Kite Runner”, and I thought my final view would be described as “disturbing”, but by the end I think all of my different feelings averaged out to “sadness”. Because of that, I didn’t read his next book.

    I have the book, “A Walk Across the Sun”, as “thewindupbird” suggested, however I haven’t read it yet. If you beat me to it, let me know what you think.

    • Cassie says:

      It was a very sad book, and just sadness after sadness after sadness. I was actually upset with the ending, I wanted it to be realized as truly happy and I didn’t get that. Plus, I see how it couldn’t be that way.

  5. zettew says:

    I read “The Kite Runner”, and I thought my final view would be described as “disturbing”, but by the end I think all of my different feelings averaged out to “sadness”. Because of that, I didn’t read his next book.

    I have the book, “A Walk Across the Sun”, as “thewindupbird” suggested, however I haven’t read it yet. If you beat me to it, let me know what you think.

    • Cassie says:

      I heard that his next book is much happier and my friends here seemed to like it better. A Thousand Splendid Suns, I think? It has a girl narrator so a lot of my girl friends liked that : ) I really want to read The Wind Up Bird – it sounds like a book I would like with bird in the title. PS. I can’t wait to write you back!

  6. alenaslife says:

    Oh Cassie, how I love your reviews. I’m a big fan of Hosseini and would encourage you to read his other works as companion pieces. He opens up this world in such marvelous ways to us “others.”
    In that description and in the way you describe your students’ reactions to the books you teach, you have hit upon the magic of fiction. It opens us up. Your students are very lucky to have you.

    • Cassie says:

      I LOVE watching my students discover their own love of reading. And it doesn’t happen with every student, maybe not even the majority, but there is always a passage, poem, or book that my students find they connect with the most – at least one. It’s just always a blessing to hear them say “I actually really like this.” It’s quite possibly the BEST part of my job. That and them seeing all the things they can achieve. : ) I love that you love my reviews. I’m not sure I can review the last book I read. Trash by Dorothy Allison – I’m not even sure I wanted to finish it. BLEH.

  7. Kyla says:

    You should definitely read Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat. It’s a memoir rather than fiction but it’s amazing, and you still feel like an “other.”

  8. deborahbrasket says:

    For some reason I didn’t particularily like this book. It felt “fake” when I read it. I’m not sure what I mean by that–maybe “forced” is a better word. “Not genuine”??? But I watched the film not too long ago and enjoyed it.

  9. superboltie says:

    I really liked “The Bastard of Istanbul” by Elif Shafak and I definitely recommend you to read it. It made me fall in love with turkish culture so later I’ve read most of the books from their novelist Orhan Pamuk which is now my favorite author. Give it try.

    • Cassie says:

      I definitely will give this a try. I’m always happy to hear about great World Lit because I’m going to be teaching it this coming year and I’m trying to get as prepared as I possibly can. : )

  10. nicolajewell says:

    I enjoyed the Kite Runner, but please, please, please (!!!) read A Thousand Splendid suns. My word, so so sad. But beautifully written, just like this one, if not more so.

    Another couple I’ve read from the middle east include Born Under a Million Shadows, and The Blood of Flowers. Out of those I’d recommend Shadows more, it was quite light hearted at times from what I remember with a really heart-warming ending. Happy reading!

    • Cassie says:

      Thank you so much darling. I have A Thousand Splendid Sun. It’s in the “TBR” pile :) I promise I will get to it. I also have The Blood of Flowers in that pile.

  11. C. M. Cox says:

    I’m late to the party, but I highly recommend ‘The Poppy Field Diary’ by Carey Richard. It’s a beautiful book that follows the entire life of an Afghan woman with heavy themes of pain and forgiveness. The writing is beautiful and the characters are vivid. It’s not so dark as ‘The Kite Runner’, but it hurts in all the right ways.


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