I had seen a story about the Taliban banning kite flying in Kabul, and since I grew up in Kabul flying kites with my brother and my cousins, my friends, it struck a personal chord, and I wrote a short story, which I thought was going to be about kite flying, and it ended up being about something altogether different. If you're not personally moved by your characters, if you don't feel something personal at stake in the fate of one of your characters, then there's no way that the reader will. Khaled Hosseini addresses Academy student delegates at the 2008 International Achievement Summit in Hawaii. Both of my books, in some sense, have been about the loss of innocence. When Khaled Hosseini was in third grade, he taught Khan to read and write.
That school is a beautiful pink building. Now that community is about, I would say, maybe 80,000, 90,000 people, maybe more. Education actually is one of the success stories of the regime. This is not a well written novel. Hosseini: Well, the storyline itself was fairly fictional, although, you know, I was watching a news story in the spring of 1999 on television, and this news story was about the Taliban. You clearly had what must have been, to you as a first novelist, an unimaginable success with The Kite Runner. There isn't, even now, a great tradition of novel-writing in Afghanistan.
Another important example is Baba's relationship with both Amir and Hassan. Both of those were shaped, I'm sure, by my having grown up in , where there was a very strong sense of oral storytelling. So I got a lot of letters for that theme as well. They had this theme of the clash between the different social classes and the kind of inequities that exist in the world. The first few months were very difficult for me, and there were days when I thought I had made a very, very big mistake. He now calls the collected poems of Hafez, the Divan-e-Hafez, his favourite book. Then, you see a darker side in the excerpt from the book Escape From Afghanistan, by Farah Ahmedi with Tamin Ansary.
The effect of this setting demonstrates how dramatically Afghan culture changed since the Soviet invasion. Khaled Hosseini: Well, I had been writing most of my life. He was very convincing in his optimism that things could get better fast. There are pages in that book that very much resemble my own life, and there's far more of me in its pages than in A Thousand Splendid Suns; but at the same time, I feel it has a life that is separate from me, that other people have a claim to it. Morality lacks because of this class structure, which allows people to be treated as second-class citizens. I had a beautiful childhood growing up in Afghanistan, and I'll always think of being a child in a very romantic way because of my own particular circumstances.
Khaled Hosseini: I went to general medicine. In fact, I was raised in a household where classic Persian literature and poetry was revered and prized. A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. It was some sort of defense of your people or something like that? Hosseini describes his upbringing as privileged. The cultural belief of the Hazaras being an unworthy caste.
Amir hides his secret from others and himself, even though his guilt was overwhelming. They are in private school, and the parents have jobs. And there were a number of families there already. I went into this book, as opposed to The Kite Runner, with a slightly more sense of mission. Tell us about your writing process.
As a medical student, as a resident, you always have the luxury of having the attending who takes the ultimate responsibility and cosigning your orders and so on and so forth. One aspect of the problem may be that the whole notion of who the Taliban are has also changed. In fact as a kid, I grew up around the likes of Saadi and Hafez and Omar Khayyam and Rumi and people like that. They're gonna miss me when I'm gone on book tour. But there's such an abundance in this country, and my children have their pick -- the challenge is how to narrow it down.
Because when you grow up in a Third World country, you know, poverty and affluence are juxtaposed. Something about the plight of Steinbeck's Okies spoke to me in that sense. They feel, not that there is a great love for having foreign troops on their land, but because they feel that if they were to do that, it is all too easy to imagine that the country would slide right back and be back into chaos and be, once again, a playground for commanders and drug traders and extremists, which you have to agree with. I was a practicing, a full-time practicing physician at that time. How did you feel about the film when you saw it? I feel blessed that I can still do those things without too much worry. This is where I was born, this is where I learned to speak, to walk.