This book starts off really great, it does not deteriorate into crap but I want to stress that it starts off really great.
I have never been to Afghanistan before (I imagine very few of us on Goodreads have) but this book paints such a vivid mental image of life in Kabul during the early 70s (before the Soviet deployment of their Army there) that I feel as if I have some kind of first hand experience. I am not saying it is an accurate
picture of the real Kabul at the time, just that the image and the imaginary atmosphere seems very real. Wild horses couldn't drag me there now, but I imagine back then it was a nice place and time to grow up in (depending on your station in life there I guess).
The first part of the book that is focused on the childhood of Amir the privileged kid and his servant / friend Hassan is wonderful evocative. It resonates with me particularly as I come from a culture where servants and maids are fairly common place. The servants who serve their employers for many years tend to live in or near their employer's home and tend to have kids of their own who grow up along with the boss's children. The servants’ children often becoming their playmates if not exactly friends; a close friendship would require a more equal status in life.
The pivotal scene where Amir betrays Hassan to save himself from some serious pain is quite disturbing and tragic. His subsequent actions to expunge shameful reminders of his cowardice are even worse and nearly had me flinging the book across the room in disgust. This is actually a compliment of the book, I like books that evoke strong feelings, a novel transcends from being merely good to truly special if it can make the reader feel something.
Unfortunately the second half of the book which focuses on Amir's adult life in the US does not quite live up to the promise of the first half. The story of Amir's poverty stricken life with his father, his courtship of an Afghan girl is charmingly narrated but to me it is fairly standard soap opera material. Amir's subsequent return to Afghanistan, the violent climax and bittersweet denouement are all good reading but does not resonate anywhere near as strongly as the first half of the book. In fact when the author starts to pile on the melodrama I began to feel a little jaded. The book ends on a quietly optimistic if somewhat melancholy note. I am glad I read it and I can quite happily recommend to anyone who have read the book's synopsis (not part of this review) and find it interesting. Will I reread the book? Ask me in a couple of years.EDIT:
About 3 weeks ago I rated this book at four stars because I had some reservations about the second half of it, but in retrospect I find that I really do like this book a hell of a lot as a whole, it has given me new insight, food for thought, and knowledge. It is as if the overall virtue of the book has been percolating in my mind for a few weeks until I am finally ready to appreciate it in full. If that is not worth 5 stars I don't know what is.
Take five Mr. Hosseini!