Yesterday afternoon, while waiting for my plane in Kuala Lumpur, I decided to spend the last of my ringgits on a book to read on the about six-hour flight back to Tokyo.
Sleep deprived after a ten-day trip through Thailand and Indonesia, I wanted to invest in some much-needed shut-eye, so I wanted to avoid anything too riveting—no suspense or mystery.
I decided on a book I’d been meaning to read for years: Khaled Hosseini’s 2002 debut novel, The Kite Runner. A tale set in 1970s Afghanistan that centres on a friendship between two young boys from very different backgrounds, it sounded perfect—something I’d be able to enjoy for an hour until dozing off into a peaceful slumber.
In the end I didn’t sleep the entire flight. Even when I put the book down to eat dinner or tried to close my eyes, my mind stayed immersed in the story and its characters. And, as the plane touched down at Tokyo’s Haneda airport, the plot descended into tragedy for some of the main characters, and I found myself moved to tears.
Hosseini’s ability to keep the language of his story refreshingly simple, the plot moving, the characters vividly real and highly relatable—all while sprinkling in some regular suspense-inducing foreshadowing—was impressive and rewarding. It also turned my thoughts to the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the generations of Afghans who have been caught in the cross-fire of battle and lost their childhood, friends, family members and even their lives.
Coincidentally, today I came across an open letter addressed to the United States, written by the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, a group of Afghan ‘youth of the mountains,’ who are promoting a message of global peace to try and change their country for the better. It’s been published recently by several online publications.
The young people explain their mission in this touching passage:
‘We desire the security that other peaceful nations have. The Taliban had wreaked havoc in this valley too. And killed many of us. Our people fled from them across this very Hindu Kush mountain range. We do not accept their violent actions, just as we do not accept the violent solutions the world has been counting on. We have become a terror to one another, in our inconsiderate actions and in our cowardly silence, and this must stop.
‘We hope to continue the ten years of security in Bamiyan by refusing violence and by refusing to take revenge. And we wish to refuse the “insurgent” any further excuse to hurt us because of a foreign presence; brothers killing brothers, friends killing friends, humans killing one another.’
It turns out that the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers were also greatly inspired by Hosseini’s book. ‘We desire to recover those friendships captured by Khaled Hosseini, the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, in his book The Kite Runner,’ they say, ‘the kind of friendships in which we can say to one another and to all others, “For you, a thousand times over”…In it, we find some of our hopes too.’
They also quote one of the most poetic passages from the book in their letter:
‘We dream that God will guide us to a better day. We dream that our sons will grow up to be good persons. We dream that lawla flowers will bloom in the streets of Kabul again and rubab music will play in the samovar houses and kites will fly in the blue skies…There is a way to be good again.’
Although it doesn’t come as a surprise after my plane ride yesterday, it’s remarkable that nearly a decade after its initial publication, The Kite Runner is still motivating the young people of Afghanistan toward taking positive action. And it’s always inspiring to see how a powerful story, even one of fiction, can make a long and lasting impression in the real world.