Multi-layered and thematically rich, Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner is especially intriguing for its treatment of the first-person narrator.
Towards the end of the novel, the older Amir indulges in some serious navel-gazing: ”You’re gutless. It’s how you were made. And that’s not such a bad thing because your saving grace is that you’ve never lied to yourself about it … But when a coward stops remembering who he is … God help him.’’
Self-flagellation is nothing new to our narrator, who emphasises throughout the course of the story his weakness and unworthiness. This is an unusual approach and readers would do well to raise their antennae. Does the narrator want our sympathy? Are we being manipulated? Is the story skewed?
This also throws up the interesting question about the role of the first-person narrator in general. Does one have to like a narrator to be caught up in a story? In the extreme case, think Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, think Alexander Portnoy in Portnoy’s Complaint — unbeautiful characters actually enhance the success of their narrative through their very unorthodoxy.
So can we trust Amir? As with all narrators, we must tread carefully. Amir is an adult looking back from America on a sweet and sour childhood in Afghanistan — how much can he really remember? He is prone to fantasy, a prolific dreamer and, special care here, a professional writer.
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