The Kite Runner: least likeable protagonist ever

Warning: Spoilers, lots of spoilers. All spoilers, all the time.

kite flying in afghanistanHi, I’m Amir, protagonist of The Kite Runner. I’m a lying coward and something of an idiot. It’s kind of weird that the book I’m in is at all enjoyable, since I’m such an unbelievable bastard.

For example, I spend the first several chapters of the book being a complete ass to my best friend, servant, and sidekick Hassan. Hassan has some kind of martyr complex, so it’s understandable that I would want to smash his face in, but you’d think that if his selfless devotion bothers me so much I’d just get some other friends.

Soon I’m watching as the neighborhood bully beats and rapes my buddy Hassan. This part is awesome because I do nothing to prevent it or to help him afterwards, and I never show him any concern. In fact, I frame Hassan for theft and drive him and his father from their home and livelihood. It’s pretty odd that I should be cowardly enough to treat Hassan like this, and yet also sensitive enough to be haunted by guilt about it for the rest of my life. I’m the most sensitive coward ever – totally in touch with my own moral failings and unwilling to do anything at all about them. I bet you’ll enjoy reading about my self-hatred.

The middle of the book is about my life in San Francisco after my charismatic heroic father and I escape from Russian-occupied Afghanistan. We live in an interesting and sympathetic community of Afghan immigrants and refugees. They’re all fun to read about. In this part I’m sort of likable because there are no challenges to my morals or physical safety; you kind of forget what a contemptible person I am.

The last part of the book is when you’d expect me to grow some balls and start redeeming myself. Things look promising for a while: I go undercover in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan to find the lost son of my old buddy Hassan. Who, in an astonishing coincidence, is being kept as a sex toy and molested by the very same psychopath who raped his father. I rescue him by getting the crap beat out of me. Wait, no, I get the crap beat out of me and then the kid rescues me. And then, because although I have grown about half a ball I’m still a thoughtless idiot, I break the only promise I’ve made to this orphaned abused child. So he attempts suicide.

By the end of the book things are looking up and I’ve forgiven myself (and I’ve even apologized to the kid!), but by now you probably don’t even care and you wish that all the other characters in the book would just walk away from me and go be in some other story that’s not narrated by a self-indulgent moral coward who might be some kind of anthropomorphic metaphor for modern Afghanistan.

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12 thoughts on “The Kite Runner: least likeable protagonist ever

  1. Megan

    Preach it, sister! Actually, I’ve avoided reading The Kite Runner, although I did read the more recent book. That one was good, but not great and did not make me want to read anything else by him. My problem with KR is the hype. . .I’ve found that books that popular rarely live up to the hype (The Memory Keeper’s Daughter springs to mind). Anyway, my neighbor lent me her copy of KR and now I’m afraid I’ll have to at least skim it. . .

    Reply
  2. Clare Post author

    Hey Megan – I agree about bestseller hype. I’m frequently disappointed by popular books, so I waited on this one until I heard about it from a friend. She didn’t actually recommend it , just pointed out that a lot of guys she knows who don’t usually read books read this one. I do think it’s a good guy book with all the father/son stuff and dishonor and redemption; and the main character’s pathological fear of fights might make more sense to a guy. I can’t decide if I actually disliked the book. All the descriptive stuff about Kabul and the Afghan community in San Francisco was great. Any time the narrator was talking about anything other than himself it was an interesting enjoyable read. But I don’t think it’ll inspire me to try his new one.

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  3. Meaghan

    Clare-Wow! I love someone who can be so honest about a book you dislike and everyone else loves. I too avoid the absurdly over-hyped and so haven’t read KR. I liked the 2nd book because it gave so much history and, for me, explained alot about the culture and how a country could produce people like the Taliban. But way to give it the book! M

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  4. Clare Post author

    Heh. Thanks, Meaghan, but I don’t want to set myself up as someone who just hates popular things for the sake of argument. I actually kind of liked the book. I read the whole thing and liked many scenes, I just hated the protagonist. The more I think about it, the more I think it’s because of how the author characterized him. I think if you’re going to have a character act despicably, you should show reasonable motivation for those actions, and I don’t think the author did. The character had a number of cultural and personal reasons to not act the way he did, and I don’t think the reasons given (fear and jealousy) were convincing enough to balance them out. The main tragedy seem falsely manufactured to me, which makes the protagonist a horrible person for no good reason. I don’t mind if books have nasty main characters, as long as there are good reasons for them to act the way they do.

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  5. julie

    I wish you’d been in one of my classes when I’d ask students if they’d ever taught a book to fly. A Thousand Acres flew across my study. Bonfire of the Vanities flew, and then I picked it up and tore it into several meaningless pieces, performance art suggesting the fragmentary meaningless of the novel at hand. Have you ever taught a book to fly?
    Again, you’re right about the Kite Runner, and to make your point by speaking as its protagonist couldn’t be more effective.
    Wasn’t there at least one character at least that annoying, but for very different reasons, in How to Make An American Quilt”?
    How about most likable protagonists in current fiction? Have you read Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories? Otto in “Another, Better Otto” is rather new and interesting, as are many of her other characters.

    Reply
  6. Clare Post author

    Julie, I haven’t read A Thousand Acres, Bonfire of the Vanities, or How to Make an American Quilt, and judging from your reaction to them I’m not missing anything! I haven’t ready any Deborah Eisenberg, but I’ll check her out.

    The last protagonist I liked was probably Kitty in Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil – I thought she was interesting because she started out hateful and spent the rest of the book deliberately trying to make herself likable, with mixed results. Hmm, hardly current fiction, though.

    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime? I thought the narrator was very likable. You get a real insight into how his brain works and end up rooting for him and wanting everything to end happily for him.

    Reply
  7. Jasmine

    hmm.. I thought the Kite Runner was a brilliant book. Perhaps if you have not spent time in an Afghani community or understand Afghan culture or their history you may not understand the depth and breadth of what is explored in this book. For anyone who is willing to open up their mind and take a walk down an Afghan lane I heartedly encourage you to read this wonderful story. The protagonist along with all of the characters, reveal aspects of human nature that are evident all over the world.

    As for those who were annoyed or frustrated by the characters of the book, you know what they say, “The things that tick people of are the things they dislike about themselves”. Have a think about it..

    Reply
  8. Clare Post author

    Thanks for commenting, Jasmine.

    You’re correct that I don’t know much about Afghan culture – this was the first book I’ve read set in Afghanistan. I enjoyed the cultural details in the book, particularly the descriptions of pre-Taliban Kabul and the courtship rituals in the refugee community.

    One of the things that puzzled me about the protagonist was the way he seems to be in opposition to his culture a lot of the time. He is raised in a system where honor, loyalty, and physical bravery were valued, where his favorite childhood stories are about heroic deeds, and where his father obviously wants his son to embody these traits, and he spends the first half of the book being anti-heroic. He is the opposite of his father, who is willing to risk his life for a stranger’s honor. I think the author has to be doing this on purpose – I think it’s Hosseini’s intent to make Amir unlikeable.

    And as for what it reveals about myself – yes, I do dislike myself when I’m afraid to stand up for my friends. Can’t argue with that.

    Reply
  9. kate

    are u kidding me!?
    i absolutely love this book!
    i think its amazing!
    I HATEEEEEEEE Amir and thats actually the part that makes me love it. You know a writer is great when he makes u hate a character. That shows how convincing he is.

    Reply
  10. Zach

    Wow…cause I am SURE none of you who agree with this article have NEVER done anything that would be looked down apon. Amir was a great protagonist. People mess up. Childhood is messy. Life is messy. This book and the protagonist show this. Amir is Dark and Twisty, damaged goods, scarred for life. That isn’t enough retribution for you? Hassan was perfect friend. But how often in life are you going to find someone like this. Never. Amir is a hero in my book and is more realistic. He messed up..but he did what was right in the end…he saved that child. That’s my opinion and I would strongly suggest you look at it from my perspective. Amir is AWESOME!!!

    Reply

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