Translating Trauma in Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner
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Khaled Hosseini’s 2003 novel The Kite Runner, as the first Afghan novel published in English, garnered attention in a post-9/11 political climate fascinated by the potential for insight offered by its setting and subject matter. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 brought unprecedented attention to a region that had been summarily ignored by conceptions of history formulated by the West, despite the impact that Western politics had had on its development. Hosseini’s novel advocates for Afghanistan in a Western context whose dominant discourse has effectively reduced it to “the caves of Tora Bora and poppy fields and Bin Laden”, as Hosseini put it in a foreword to the tenth anniversary edition of The Kite Runner. Hosseini acknowledges an intended Western audience as he emphasizes the fact that The Kite Runner has helped to make Afghanistan more than “just another unhappy, chronically troubled, afflicted land” for his readers (III). Hosseini achieves this in a narrative that traces his protagonist Amir’s journey through political and personal turmoil, and, crucially, as a witness to trauma. At twelve years old, Amir is a bystander to the rape of his childhood friend Hassan; his own inaction during the assault traumatises Amir and leads him to a lifetime spent seeking redemption. This essay traces the ways in which Hosseini presents this assault as an allegory for the national rupture that occurs in Afghanistan during the mid-1970s as the country experiences the collapse of the monarchy and the invasion of Soviet forces. Through the use of this allegory, Hosseini translates the trauma of ongoing conflict for a Western audience.