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“The Kite Runner” Launches in San Jose

Before 9/11, Americans,  to a great extent, pictured Afghanistan as a land of cave-dwelling terrorists. Khaled Hosseini’s novel, The Kite Runner, helped fill in that very rudimentary picture. Translated into 40 languages, the book has bridged the cultural divide and surmounted headlines with its story of a young boy contending with political and personal turmoil. 

In 2007, Hollywood turned the novel into a big screen epic (cue: sweeping, poignant music). And this week, the San Jose Repertory Theatre will stage the world premiere theatrical adaptation, (cue: minimalist aesthetics).

As refugees from Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion, Hosseini and his father settled in San Jose. "It's almost surreal for me to think my family came here in 1980, a family of nine living on welfare in East San Jose, and now San Jose Rep is doing my story.” Hosseini also told The San Jose Mercury News that this production is a lot more faithful to the novel than the film was.

The movie, which got mixed reviews, earned a truckload of outrage from the Afghani people. Many were deeply offended by a 30-second scene depicting a rape of a boy.  Word of the rape scene triggered threats of violence against the Afghan child actors and demands that the scene be cut.  The Afghan government has since banned the film from movie theaters and DVD shops because of scene and the ethnic tensions and class struggles that the film highlights.

Before the movie opened in the United States, Hosseini told me that the while he thought the scene would raise eyebrows, he had not anticipated the depth of anger it would provoke. He went on to say that he hopes the controversy “doesn’t overshadow the fact that this is a film that also shows the virtues of tolerance, friendship brotherhood and it speaks against violence.  There’s a lovely scene in the film,” said Hosseini, “ where Amir in a moment of distress and personal anguish goes to a mosk and he prays. How many times have we seen Muslim characters in a film pray? Usually when they do in the next scene they’re blowing something up.”

In this respect Hosseini felt that the film, like the book itself, can do a lot to help demystify Afghanistan and help Americans put a human face on international news. After 9/11, Hosseini’s wife persuauded him to write the novel. He enventually agreeed that "this story could show a completely different side of Afghanistan," said the author. "Usually stories about Afghanistan fall into: Taliban and War on Terror or narcotics --  the same old things. But here's a story about family life, about customs, about the drama within this household, a window into a different side of Afghanistan.”

With the opening of “The Kite Runner,” the play,  a new audience will be introduced to Hosseini’s gripping story and, perhaps to the humanity of the Afghan people.