Published in 2003, Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner received generally positive reviews. The hardback edition sold respectfully, if not spectacularly, and Hosseini received some recognition as a first-time novelist, winning the Stephen Crane First Fiction Award among other honors. Most critics considered The Kite Runner a powerful first novel, but little was expected from the trade paperback edition that was published a year later. However, following the trade paperback's publication, booksellers' and readers' enthusiasm increased dramatically, turning The Kite Runner into a national sensation.
In 2004, friends began to pass the paperback edition of The Kite Runner to friends, family members, and reading groups; everyone seemed eager to share the story of Amir, Hassan, and Baba. The combination of hardback and paperback sales resulted in The Kite Runner being a top-50 bestseller for 2004, yet that was just the beginning. During the next four years, The Kite Runner would remain a top-10 bestseller each and every year. A variety of factors combined to create this interest and positive buzz: Readers were interested in Afghanistan, especially after the attacks of 9/11; colleges and universities began to make the novel required reading for incoming freshmen; and high school teachers began sharing the title with colleagues on list servs and during conferences. But what seemed to be the most important aspect of the novel's growing popularity was the fact that Hosseini's novel was a gripping read. The novel's movie adaptation, which earned $15 million domestically in 2007-2008, also contributed to the continued success of The Kite Runner.
An historical novel about the pre-Russian invasion and pre-Taliban rule of Afghanistan, The Kite Runner also reveals life in Afghanistan under Taliban rule and life in a post-Taliban Afghanistan. Although the story is fictitious, the information about the political, social, and cultural systems of this Middle Eastern country provides a contrast to the contemporary news headlines about Afghanistan primarily being home to terrorist cells. Hosseini's novel paints a quite realistic portrait of a country about which most Western readers probably know very little and enables readers to separate the people of a country from its sometimes leaders — the Taliban — and groups — such as terrorists — associated with it. The Kite Runner is a humanizing text that broadens its readers' understanding of the world in which they live.
In addition, The Kite Runner is a coming-of-age novel about finding one's place in a world of turmoil and transition. It explores the difficulties of a child's developing an adult relationship with his or her parents, especially when the parent-child relationship is significantly strained. Amir does not think he is the son whom his father longs for him to be, and Amir cannot help but be jealous of the relationship his father has with Amir's own servant and quasi-friend, Hassan, who seems to be the type of son Baba wants Amir to be. Simultaneously, the novel explores ideas about the human capacity for good and evil, and the relationship between sin, forgiveness, and atonement. Amir's struggles with these universal ideas appeal to Christian and non-Christian readers alike. The novel's settings, in both Afghanistan and the United States, illustrate the universality of both its characters and its themes. And in addition to these topics, The Kite Runner also touches on social awareness, religion, and philosophy.
Ultimately, The Kite Runner is a compelling story that is told in a compelling way. Hosseini's narrative technique consists of combining flashback and flashforward with a somewhat linear timeline, circling around the important incidents and events, revealing important information bit by bit and layer by layer. The suspense Hosseini creates draws readers in, while his characters connect with readers, for even Hosseini's best characters demonstrate flaws and shortcomings, making them more "real" and thus more human. Hosseini's stylistic devices — including the insertion of Afghani words, his sentence patterns and sentence structure, the use of rhetorical figures, as well as his subtle use of foreshadowing and his extensive incorporation of symbolism — separate The Kite Runner from typical bestsellers, resulting in both its critical accolades and popular success, elevating it from popular to literary fiction.
The Kite Runner is a novel that is simultaneously embraced by academia and the general reading populace. Not only is it considered mandatory reading in book clubs and high schools throughout the country, it has been cited by the College Board on the AP English Literature and Composition Exam. The Kite Runner has seemingly found its place in the ever-broadening contemporary canon of both American and world literature.