Maybe you should brace yourself, because most people will hate what I have to say…
Hugely popular and considered one of the best books of 2006, this is the story of Amir, who witnesses something horrific happen to his best friend, Hassan, and does nothing, then tries to redeem himself by returning to Afghanistan many years later to help Hassan’s son. I know that I’m hugely in the minority here when I say that I really disliked this book. But hear me out for a second. It’s a riveting story and it’s great for those who are looking for a quick and easy read (easy like it flows well, but that won’t make it any easier to stomach the material). However, I got to a point about halfway through the book where I became annoyed with how many things were going wrong. I don’t want to spoil it for the few people out there who have yet to read this, but everything was just too coincidental, too horrifying for the sake of being horrifying. It’s written to pick you up with glorifying images, then knock you down with a traumatic incident, then pick you back up…and knock you down again, over, and over, and over. I realize that there are many hardships to those in Afghanistan and that traumatic events happen every day to children and adults alike over there, but everything in this book happening to one person is just too depressing to be real. For example (this is by no means a spoiler), Amir meets with someone in the embassy at one point to travel back to America and that person is rather short and rude to him. On his way out, he says “Your boss could use some manners” to the secretary, and she replies back with, “Yes, he hasn’t been the same since his daughter killed herself.” Really? Seriously? Why did that have to be so shocking!? Why can’t this character, who literally exists in all of 3 or 4 pages of the book, just be a crabby guy? Does he have to have such a tragic background? He can’t just be in a bad mood? Apparently not. And that’s why I hated this book, because about halfway through I got sick of everything being so damn sad and started laughing at the ridiculous circumstances that make it this way. This book has a great story in there, if you just subtract some of the bad coincidences and give it a reality check. However, it seems as though it was written to be a Hollywood film, complete with twists and tragic turns and in my opinion, that is no way to write the sad story of two Afghani boys.
The movie captured a lot of the book, in both beautiful and haunting images, yet something felt as though it was missing. While the book is twisty and tragic, the film is all off on the deliverance. When it reveals the book’s biggest twist, it’s a fact that’s simply stated to Amir and takes just moments for him to accept. It relies too much on the audience to fill in the emotional blanks, and I just couldn’t do it. Even the few parts that choked me up in the book did nothing for me on film. I did enjoy the kite flying and racing competitions. As silly as it may sound, the sound effect that accompanied the cutting down of kites was really neat. I never realized that the point of flying kites was to cut down other ones (personally I would have been pissed if someone did that to my kite when I was a kid), but to see it executed on film was pretty cool. Other than that, I really had a hard time enjoying this film and it wasn’t because it was so sad to watch (though it is), it was because it was lacking any engaging performances or plot lines.
The film manages to cram a lot of the book’s material into it, but of course there are some losses. We don’t get much of Ali, Hassan’s father and the missing mothers are cut out altogether (most noticeably Hassan’s gypsy mother who reappears in the book). When Amir arrives in Pakistan, there is less of him and Rahim Khan and no fake American family living in Pakistan taking in orphans. There’s a lot less of Farid, the driver who takes Amir from Pakistan to Afghanistan and we don’t meet his family at all. There’s no embassy issues, no hospital stays, and finally, the most notable absence is the last tragic event of the book that befalls Amir and Sohrab.
Not a lot. The film is almost a direct adaptation that cuts characters and plot lines out, but never adds to it. Even most of the dialogue is ripped directly from the pages of the book.
I didn’t like the book, and therefore liked the film even less. While I can see how the book would be very emotional to some, the film felt like it lacked that heart. They were just going through the motions of adapting this tragic story, rather than embracing it and making it their own. There are cases when a direct adaptation is not necessarily a good thing, and I believe this is one of them.
Okay, commence the insults because I know they’re coming. I have yet to meet someone who didn’t like the book, so I imagine all the ones who love it will be a bit upset by this review. But bear in mind, I’m in no way belittling the hardships that have fallen on those who still live in Afghanistan or have managed to escape. I know that it’s not easy, and these tragic things happen every day, but this book just does it too neatly for me to truly believe it. I’m generally against the norm in my opinion, and this is no different.