I had for some time been meaning to read the novels by Khaled Hosseini, beginning with The Kite Runner, which members of my book club had highly praised. But I was hesitant to read a book described as “heart wrenching,” “devastating,” and “brutal,” even if it is also called “beautiful” and “inspiring.” I took it off the shelf in the library one day, started walking toward the check-out counter, then after a few steps returned and put it back, deciding I would wait until some time when I felt ready for that challenge.
I’m not sure just when I would have decided I was ready, but my son was assigned the novel as summer reading for his pre-AP Language and Literature class. I don’t generally read the books he is reading for school, but in this case I wanted to read it first, to know what he would be encountering in the novel and to help him deal with whatever difficult issues arose from it.
It is well-written, but I admit that I was having to push myself to read it in the early chapters. When I discovered it on CDs in the library, I decided that would be an ideal way to get through the book faster than my son would. (Not that he read it through quickly. There are so many more interesting things for a teenage boy to do during summer vacation.)
I knew from reviews I had read before purchasing the book that it contains a scene of homosexual rape, and I was not looking forward to that scene – though it was obvious from the first page when it would happen and I was sort of relieved to finally reach that point instead of continuing to anticipate it. It is awful, what happened, but at least once I had read it, I could stop worrying about how bad it would be.
I also was relieved that it is not a graphic description – in fact, my son did not recognize it for what it was at all. I had to explain later that no, Assef did not “beat up” Hassan. My son is sixteen, old enough now to learn that such things happen. But I also felt good, in a way, that such things were so outside his previous experience, even vicariously in books or movies, that the thought of such a thing did not occur to him from Hosseini’s spare description of the event.