Refugee's story of Afghan children tops book club poll

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The Independent Culture

A heart-rending story of children growing up in war-torn Afghanistan, written by an Afghan refugee, has been voted the favourite read of the year by British book clubs.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, a doctor whose family received political asylum in America from Afghanistan in 1980, topped a list in which all the other novels were written by women. They included two winners of the Orange Prize for Fiction - We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, which won last year, and Small Island by Andrea Levy, which was victorious the year before - who were tied in third place.

The runner-up was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, whose novel was one of the choices of the highly influential Richard and Judy book club on Channel 4. The only book in the top five not published within the past three years was Harper Lee's tale of racism in the American South, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Sixty titles were submitted for the Reading Group Book of the Year organised by Orange in conjunction with the publishers Penguin.

Jenny Hartley, who has researched reading groups, said: "Although several books chosen have won or were shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, it's interesting to see the winner is a first novel that was published three years ago and has won no literary prizes. This demonstrates the great reading group dynamo of word-of-mouth is still as strong as ever."

Hosseini said: "I am thrilled that reading groups in the UK have selected The Kite Runner as their favourite read of this past year and am honoured that, of all the distinguished novels out there, The Kite Runner has most resonated with them. Reading groups are a celebration of books and reading, so to receive an award from people who are constantly in the flow of books and who have so many to choose from means a lot to me."

The Kite Runner tells the story of Amir, who grows up in an affluent Afghan family and his friend Hassan -in fact his half-brother - who is the victim of discrimination and whom Amir fails to save from a beating and rape. In later life, Amir returns to Afghanistan to atone for this sin.

The book has sold more than 750,000 copies in the UK. It has also been on The New York Times' bestseller list for more than two years.

Votes for the Reading Group Book of the Year were collected via the Orange and Penguin websites and from reading groups entering the 2006 Penguin/Orange Reading Group Prize. Five out of the six shortlisted reading groups are all-female. They are the Bretton Book Group, Cambridgeshire; the Parish Reading Group of members,Leicestershire; the Bredhurst Women's Institute Reading Group, Kent; The Litronauts-Hove Reading Group, East Sussex; and the Willerby and Kirkella NWR (National Women's Register) Book Group, East Yorkshire. The single mixed-sex group, which has more than 100 members, is the Wivenhoe Bookshop Reading Group in Essex.

The winners will be announced later this month. The aim of the prize is to find reading groups that "illustrate individuality, reflect diversity of reading choices and demonstrate the pleasure of shared reading".