The Kite Runner
Khaled Hosseini, 2003

I had to read this one for my seminar on curriculum—​it’s hard to brainstorm plans for a unit on a novel without a novel that everyone’s read.  I can see why it was selected.  First, it’s pretty good: it was enough of a page‐turner that I finished it nearly a month before it was due, and there were moments that brought tears to my eyes.  Second, it has local interest: the protagonist is an Afghan from a wealthy family who flees the Soviet invasion and settles in the United States, and since Fremont, California, is the center of America’s Afghan commutiny, that’s where he ends up.  And third, if you want to teach literary techniques to high school students, The Kite Runner is a pretty good choice, because its use of these techniques is about as subtle as a sledghammer.

I looked at some of the instructional units that different school districts had built around The Kite Runner, and I wasn’t too surprised by what I found.  The proposed class discussions actually sounded like the story conferences I took part in back in my screenwriting days.  I can’t count the number of times a call would circle back around to “What’s the external conflict, and what’s the internal conflict?”, and sure enough, there were worksheets asking those same questions.  And as the external conflicts of the book unfold, the internal conflicts raging within the narrator are always easy to follow, because he explicitly goes on and on about them!  Studios are also very keen on the setup-callback gimmick in plot and dialogue—​but even they may not be as keen on it as Khaled Hosseini.  The district unit plans included motif tracking worksheets, and there is enough repeated dialogue and repeated action to fill up those worksheets right quick.  And Hosseini is kind enough to the high school students of Portland and Providence as to point out those motifs for them!  For instance, literature classes love to call out instance of twinning, and there's plenty of it in The Kite Runner, particularly between the two main boys, Amir and Hassan.  Hassan has a cleft palate—​a “harelip”, in the parlance of the times in which the novel is set—​which is corrected in his tween years, leaving a faint scar.  When Hassan comes to grief at the hands of the book’s chief villain, Amir seeks revenge, and nearly dies in a bloody hand‐to‐hand fight with said villain.  He ends up in the hospital, where a doctor tells him:

“The worst laceration was on your upper lip.  The impact had cut your upper lip in two, clean down the middle.  But not to worry, the plastics guys sewed it back together and they think you will have an excellent result, though there will be a scar.  That is unavoidable.”

I thought, okay, that was pretty heavy‐handed, but I guess that it’s a handy example of twinning that the kids will pick up on.  Actually, yeah—​they can cite it in their papers and feel clever for picking up on it!  And then, just as I’d finished that thought, I hit this:

I kept thinking of something else Armand/Dr. Faruqi had said: The impact had cut your upper lip in two, he had said, clean down the middle.  Clean down the middle.  Like a harelip.

So much for letting the readers be clever.  For fuck’s sake.

Anyway, the other thing that some of the units focused on was context: integrating whatever literary analysis might accompany the Kite Runner unit with a deep dive into the historical background of the novel.  Because somehow 9/11 is already history.  The kids I’m teaching this year were born the same year The Kite Runner was released: 2003.  9/11 happened before they were even conceived.  They have to learn about it the same way that, back in my day, we had to learn about the Russian Revolution in tandem with reading Animal Farm.  And on that note, I hope you all had a lucky Clown Tiger Day.

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