I think one of the functions of fiction, whether the author intends it or not, is to help people leap over the wall of their own lives and inhabit someone else's’ world for a while.
- Dr. Khaled Hosseni
by David Miller
Cincinnati, Oh. - The Kite Runner, by Dr. Khaled Hosseni was published in 2003. It was his first novel. The story is about the boy Amir, growing of age in the war savaged Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, the ruthless Taliban, and his terror ridden escape. His second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns is about the lives of two Afghan women who experience the human capacity for evil during three decades of war in Afghanistan. The Kite Runner was also adapted to a movie released in 2007.
Hosseni was at the downtown branch of the public library on may 31 to talk about his newest novel, And the Mountains Echoed. He was interviewed by Elissa Yancey an Assistant Professor at University of Cincinnati. Like The Kite Runner, And the Mountains Echoed his new fiction is about the betrayed honor of those we most love and trust.
Hosseni has a medical degree and was a practicing internist for eight years. He said however that, “Medicine was an arranged marriage, writing is my mistress.”
Sitting down, just as a sketch artist would, with paper and pencil, Hosseni said he began his latest novel, “To doodle with words.” First a very vivid image of a little radio-flyer red wagon, the one like we all grew up on. Doodling…traveling across a desert. Doodling…inside of it was this cute little girl, maybe about three. Then doodling a few paces back, a little boy about ten.
This image was just so startling in how vivid and clear it was, it became very clear that the little girl and the boy were brother and sister and they had this very deep and powerful bond, and loved each other and they were headed to Kabul with their father.
Hosseni did not have an outline, either in his head or on paper, he doodles until his story is told. He said that The Kite Runner was composed the same way. He did not realize the wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant were brothers until near the end of the book – when he doodled it.
Hosseni continued about his new work, “And, something was going to happen in Kabul that was going to separate them… that separation would affect them in different, but very deep and profound ways and shape the adults they would become.” The story’s home base is Afghanistan, but goes to the United States, France, and to the Greek island of Tinos. Make no mistake, this influential American artist is writing about America also, because Afghanistan is now part of the great American novel.
Hosseni said his book is shaped like a tree. There is the trunk which is that story about the children, then it branches out from there and gets bigger. It is a much larger book, looking at more generations, than Hosseni’s previous books.
Hosseni went to Kabul for the first time in 1976 and then again in 2003; twenty-seven years later. He was overwhelmed and completely bowled over by the shear helplessness he felt walking those streets again. “My first instinct was to help this person, that person, this person, that person. This person needs something. Every person had a compelling case why they needed help,” he said. “What I found in the last ten years was that actual caring for people and actual work that has some kind of impact on the lives of people takes a lot more than just feeling bad about somebody’s predicament. I mean, that’s necessary, but it is not enough.”
Hosseni said about the father in his latest novel, “And that’s sorta the lesson the father learns.” He described him as a normally very reticent man that is not even able to cry at funerals or in a very intense emotional experience. When he comes back home to California he becomes very judgmental about his own life. As he is remodeling his kitchen he realizes he could have built five schools in Afghanistan. His kids are playing video games all the time and when he tries to tell them about Afghanistan - they are not even interested.
Americans are interested however. The Kite Runner was on The New York Times Best Seller list for 101 weeks. A Thousand Splendid Suns, 21. And the Mountains Echoed is now on the list in several categories.
Hosseni doodles more words, this time to the 900 standing room only fans gathered at the library. Is he talking about us – or his novel? His children complain, yet when in Afghanistan there are children living on the streets or have just watched their parents murdered. They have become grownups at the age of seven, eight, nine, they have lost their childhood.
The storyteller said he will take readers, listeners, and the fictional characters into unexpected places to learn lessons, “But not the one they think they are going to learn.”
Hosseni was asked by an audience member about creative expression in the war torn Afghanistan of today; such as performance art, writing, painting, and music. The novelist said that he sees some, but the aftermath of thirty years of war occupies such a big space in so many people’s life, and still occupies their daily life to such an extent that it makes creative expression difficult.
But I have great hope in the future generations. This is a very, very young country, Afghanistan, I mean. The medium age is like seventeen. Sixty percent of the country is under twenty. For many, their daily diet revolves around how to get water.
He said that this young generation wants to engage with the outside world. “And my hope is
they get that chance. Because I hope they will transform Afghanistan if given that chance.”
Another audience member went to the microphone and thanked Hosseni for “…writing stories that humanized people in some of the worst conditions in life.” He then asked what was perhaps second most on minds, “Have you noticed that people’s attitudes have shifted about Afghanistan, particularly people in the United States, since your writing about that situation? Or, do you think that there is a greater misunderstanding… um… with you know, Islamophobia, and a lot of negative – of Muslims in particular?”
Hosseni responded that he didn’t want in any way to overstate his own influence, but among his readers who have sent him comments over the last ten years, besides those who say 'Enjoying the story,' he most often hears, “I hadn’t given it much thought, just thought of it as just sort of this backward place where women were workers and men had beards, and there were drugs, and BinLaden.” But by no means all people expressed this because there were some amazing letters from many people who were very sophisticated about Afghanistan history, he clarified.
Hosseni elaborated, but downplayed the perception of the humanizing effect of his writing, yet, he was probably not aware of leaning forward in his chair on the elevated platform to get even an inch closer to the ear of the questioner, or that now he was even more interested in his own answer. “But you know for the average American, Afghanistan is an enigma, ya know it’s sort of this chronically troubled country in that region of the world that’s been at war for the last three decades,” he said.
I think one of the functions of fiction, whether the author intends it or not, is to help people leap over the wall of their own lives and inhabit someone else's’ world for a while. And, see through the eyes of somebody that is so different and see that we are bound by these deep human things, like ya know, the love for your parent, with sense that you want to provide for your children, the need to belong to something meaningful that’s bigger than yourself.
No one asked Hosseini his views on the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Success? Failure? Withdrawal? Aftermath? And, he did not offer.
Inspired by his trips to Afghanistan, Hosseini established The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. In 2006, Hosseini was named a Goodwill Envoy to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. The Foundation works with the United Nations refugee organization (UNHCR) to build shelters for refugee families
Khaled Hosseni is an Afghan-born American novelist and physician. He is a citizen of the United States where he has lived since he was fifteen years old. His 2003 debut novel, The Kite Runner, was an international bestseller, with the paperback spending 101 weeks on the bestseller list (#1 for 4 of those weeks). In 2007, it was followed by A Thousand Splendid Suns which has spent 21 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for paperback fiction and 49 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list for hardcover fiction (#1 for 15 of those weeks). The two novels have sold more than 38 million copies internationally. The Kite Runner was also adapted to a movie released in 2007 - Wikipedia