“For you, a thousand times over”: Thoughts from The Kite Runner
The Japanese have a concept ‘Jo-Ha-Kyu’ which articulates a sense and dynamic of time. In the western world our storytelling (usually) follows a cycle of three: ‘beginning, middle and end’ format. Jo-Ha-Kye suggests that there is a beginning, middle and end to each part of the cycle-
i.e. ‘the beginning of the beginning, the middle of the beginning and the end of the beginning…the beginning of the middle, the middle of the middle, the end of the middle, the beginning of the end, the middle of the end, the end of the end’
Due to unexpected traffic our trip to see The Kite Runner onstage was later than unexpected and we unfortunately missed the first 20 minutes of the show- arriving during the end of the beginning.
Sadly, this meant we did not get to see Amir and Hassan’s childhood, something which is reflected on throughout the play.
This adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s famous novel was poetic. Subtle nuances in lighting gave a sense of time and location. Much of the drama was relayed via monologue by the character of Amir following the first person viewpoint employed in the novel. The fact the style of the play stayed true to the novel is a positive though this required effort on behalf of the audience who needed to listen to the story being told rather than being shown the entire narrative visually/physically.
It was interesting to have a character such as Amir narrate his story as he is not particularly likeable- we are shown his cruelty to his friend Hassan (when he hits him trying to get a reaction) and his lying (by planting a watch under Hassan’s mattress to suggest theft) and, crucially, failing to intervene when he observes Hassan being attacked by their rivals. This cruelty has a ripple effect on relationships between Baba, Hassan and Ali which results in Ali and Hassan leaving the household (and making Amir feel in some way accountable for Hassan’s death). It is this guilt that motivates Amir to return to Afghanistan and rescue Sohrab (Hassan’s orphaned son, from Taliban captivity).
Amir gains the audience’s sympathy not through his personality or actions (mostly self-serving, in stark contrast to the altruistic and loyal Hassan), but his honesty.
We, the audience, benefit from dramatic irony throughout the performance as Amir confines to us all that he cannot to tell the characters onstage.
At one point in the second act Soraya tells Amir “sad stories make good books” and I would add, sad stories also make good plays.
The subject matter is dark on a micro and macro scale- the strained relationship between Amir and his father and infertility in Amir’s and Soraya’s marriage show us struggles on a personal level. The rise of the Taliban- massacres, ethnic cleansing, rape and torture is darkness on a national scale. The Kite Runner manages to portray both respectfully and with feeling, marks of a good page-to-stage adaptation.
Our trip was poignantly topical given the USA’s recent travel ban restricting entry to America for citizens from nine (predominantly Muslim) countries. The Kite Runner shows us the difficulty of Amir and his father adjusting to American culture ” in Kabul, we snapped a tree branch and used it as a credit card. Hassan and I would take the wooden stick to the bread maker. He’d carve notches on our stick with his knife, one notch for each loaf of naan he’d pull for us from the tandoor’s roaring flames. At the end of the month, my father paid him for the number of notches on the stick. That was it. No questions. No ID”, the hazardous journey risked by the family to get to America, and the consequences of the Taliban’s rule on the people who stayed in Afghanistan (Hassan and his wife’s murder, their son’s experience at an orphanage and being taken by the Taliban) and Afghan institutions (the corruption of Zaman’s orphanage and repurposing Kabul’s soccer stadium for stoning).
The play does allow it’s audience to laugh though. We laugh at the dancers who introduce us to the 1980’s dance scene in California, we laugh in agreement with Baba who moans that in America “even the flies are pressed for time” and we laugh at the sassy shop assist and who has a confrontation with Baba. These moments add a touch of daily life and comedy into a relentless play which has somehow managed to cram 300-something words and 30 years into two one hour acts.
Another way in which the play is brightened is by the ending scene- we are left with a final tableaux- of Amir running a kite with his new adopted nephew. Finally, catharsis.