Khaled Hosseini, Author of The Kite Runner: He Came From Afghanistan to America, Became a Doctor and Then a Writer

From The Writer’s Almanac:

It’s the birthday of Khaled Hosseini, born in 1965 in Kabul, author of the novel The Kite Runner, which has sold more than 12 million copies.

He’s the son of a diplomat, and his affluent family immigrated to the United States around the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, receiving political asylum as members of Afghanistan’s government were being executed. They landed in San Jose, California when Khaled was 12.

His diplomat father found work as a driving instructor, and the family had to go on welfare. Khaled deferred his dream of being a writer, feeling that he had to have a career that guaranteed a healthy income. So he went to medical school, made it through his residency, and had settled in as an internist when he again began to think about writing. He got up at 5 every morning so he could write for two hours before he went to the hospital.

He wrote about his memories of Afghanistan, which were good—they’d made it out of the country just before the Soviet invasion. He wrote a story about a friendship between an eight-year-old boy, the son of an Afghan diplomat, and one of the family’s servants, an illiterate man from an ethnic minority group. The son teaches the servant to read and write and the servant teaches the child to fly kites.

When the book was written and in the publisher’s hands, he took a trip back to Kabul for the first time in 27 years. When he’d left, it was a thriving cosmopolitan city, but it had had war. What he found was even worse than expected. He walked the streets of his old hometown, now ravaged by war and with burqa-clad women and children on the streets begging for money, prevailing destitution and despair. He said, “I felt like a tourist in my own country.”

He said that because his first book had been so successful and expectations were so high, with a book contract and anxious publishers, he had a hard time getting started on his second book. He was plagued by self-doubt about whether he could measure up to his debut success. He said that he has “this almost pathological fear of boring the reader.” Eventually, he found his way into the rhythm of the story, and into the inner lives of his characters.

His second novel is a more ambitious book, not at all autobiographical and told from alternating points of view of two female narrators, their thoughts intertwined with a historical narrative of Afghanistan’s past three decades. The women weren’t based on anyone he knew, exactly, though were inspired by stories of people he’d encountered on his trip to Kabul. To get into his protagonists’ mindset, he even tried on a burqa when no one was around “just to see what it felt like.”

A Thousand Splendid Suns, the story narrated by Afghani women Mariam and Laila, was published in mid-2007. The book was also very successful and was Britain’s best-selling book in 2008. The title is an English translation from a 17th-century poem in Farsi. The Persian poet had written verses describing the splendor he’d experienced upon journeying to Kabul.

He has since written two more novels, And the Mountains Echoed, and Sea Prayer.

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