I recently finished The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, and Afghan-American writer. It came highly recommended by my dance instructor, Tom, who said it's much better than Hosseini's second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns.
The Kite Runner has gotten a lot of publicity recently, both as a book and as a movie. The movie was very controvertial, at least in Afghanistan, for portraying the rape of a young boy, a (maybe the) pivotal scene in the story. The young actor and his father say they didn't know about that scene (they had to flee the country because of death threats). All that means to me is that they can't have read the script.
In short, it is the story of the deep friendship (they were like brothers) between an upper-class Afghani boy named Amir, and a servant's son, Hassan, a Hazzara. They grow up in idyllic childhood (except that Amir learns to read, and Hassan doesn't--Amir reads to him). Throughout, class and religious distinctions ("why would you do this for a mere Shia?") abound. But in the beginning, it's all about climbing trees, reading stories, flying kites. Every year, dozens of locals buy and fly kites in competition. The strings are impregnated with ground glass, and the kites fight to cut one-another's strings. Then, the kite runners (spectators or inactive competitors) run down the rudderless kites as trophies. Amir is a great flyer, Hassan a great runner.
Jealousy exists between the boys because of favoritism shown by Amir's father, Baba, who seems to have more in common with Hassan (bravery, spirit), than with the bookish Amir.
After the rape of Hassan by a local bully gang, Amir can't tolerate having him around, and shamefully sets up a series of circumstances that part the former friends.
The rest of the book is about Hassan's journey to atone for his perceived sins.
It was beautifully written, and the sense of place and way of thinking is so human, yet frighteningly alien to the Western mind. To mine, anyway.
A thoughtful, engrossing book. I recommend it highly.