Published in 2003, Khaled Hosseini’s first novel deals with issues of loyalty, betrayal, and redemption. Set in the 1970s and continuing through to the early 21st century, the plot revolves around Amir, a well-to-do Pashtun boy whose childhood mistakes were left unmended as the Afghan monarchy fell and the Soviets invaded the country. His father and he are forced to flee to Peshawar, Pakistan and later Fremont, California, where they undergo family struggles, monetary issues, and finding new love in their new life. Growing up, Amir believes he can run from his past the way he ran from Afghanistan, but fate has something else in store for him. Having abandoned his childhood friend to an unforgiving crime, he is given a second chance of making up his grievances and fulfilling their childhood promise that, for each other, they would give "a thousand times over".
Hosseini's novel found itself both critically acclaimed in America and considered highly controversial in Afghanistan. Afghan American readers were particularly hostile towards the depiction of Pashtuns as oppressors and Hazaras as the oppressed. It was number one on the New York Time's Bestseller List for more than two years, sold over seven million copies in the states, and has been translated in 42 languages and published in 38 countries. On its success, the author states that "because its themes of friendship, betrayal, guilt, redemption and the uneasy love between fathers and sons are universal themes, and not specifically Afghan, the book has been able to reach across cultural, racial, religious and gender gaps to resonate with readers of varying backgrounds.”
Something interesting to note about the journey Amir takes in The Kite Runner is that it heavily parallels Hosseini's own life. His father being a diplomat of the Afghan monarchy, Khaled Hosseini was relocated much like Amir to Paris, France, and then to San Jose, California. On leaving, he claims that he felt survivor's guilt: "A lot of my childhood friends had a very hard time. Some of our cousins died." Hosseini returned to Afghanistan in 2003, four years after hearing a news report that the Taliban had banned kite flying, which had been a huge part of his childhood. Despite the similarities to his life, Hosseini insists that The Kite Runner was not written as an autobiography and that its plot is fictional.
The success of The Kite Runner has made it the most prominently known of Hosseini's three novels. In the decade since its original publication, a special 10th anniversary edition has come out, multiple stage plays have been directed revolving around the story, and a film version was adapted in 2008. While there is much controversy surrounding the book's darker themes of rape, racism, war, and various types of abuse, most critics agree that the themes of friendship, familial ties, and love are relatable to all readers.
"Beautifully written, startling and heart wrenching". -Erika Milvy, Salon
"Reveals the beauty and agony of a tormented nation as it tells the story of an improbable friendship between two boys from opposite ends of society, and of the troubled but enduring relationship between a father and a son". -Tony Sims, Wired
"Amazing storytelling... It's about human beings. It's about redemption, and redemption is a powerful theme." -Aasif Mandvi, Indian-American actor
"It's simply an excellent story. Much of it based in a world we don't know, a world we're barely beginning to know. Well-written, published at the 'right time' by an author who is both charming and thoughtful in his personal appearances for the book." -Melissa Mytinger, marketing director of The Kite Runner
"Hosseini's depiction of pre-revolutionary Afghanistan is rich in warmth and humor but also tense with the friction between the nation's different ethnic groups. Amir's father, or Baba, personifies all that is reckless, courageous and arrogant in his dominant Pashtun tribe ... The novel's canvas turns dark when Hosseini describes the suffering of his country under the tyranny of the Taliban, whom Amir encounters when he finally returns home, hoping to help Hassan and his family. The final third of the book is full of haunting images: a man, desperate to feed his children, trying to sell his artificial leg in the market; an adulterous couple stoned to death in a stadium during the halftime of a football match; a rouged young boy forced into prostitution, dancing the sort of steps once performed by an organ grinder's monkey." -Edward Hower, The New York Times