The best-selling author of The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini, stopped into town last Friday to sign copies of his latest book, A Thousand Splendid Suns ( reviewed last week on the Last Blog on Earth). He spoke with Tina Safi.
CityBeat: Most of your life has been spent outside of Afghanistan, so I was wondering, how are your stories so detail-oriented and accurate? Were you told stories by your parents growing up?
Khaled Hosseini: I've been in the States for 27 years, but I lived there for 11. So I have my own recollection of Afghanistan, and that's pretty much the way I wrote Kite Runner, the first novel. The second novel, obviously, it doesn't dissect my life all that much, so a lot of the story itself, I don't know where stories come from ultimately, but the events in Afghanistan, the details- a lot of that came from a visit to Afghanistan in 2003 and conversations with people on the street, people in schools, hospitals, people who work for NGOs, so I kind of (not that I was interviewing people) learned a lot about what had happened and how people coped just by having conversations with people.
CB: How do you try to maintain that sense of culture in your children?
KH: Well, I think it starts with language. I try to teach them how to speak Farsi, make sure that at the minimum they understand it, but they can speak it. Hopefully we'll be sending them soon to Farsi schools, so they can read and write and so on.
CB: You add Afghan words to your stories that are written in English.
KH: I add as a way of adding a little musicality, as it were, to the dialogue. Add a little cultural flavor, a little ethnic favor, to the dialogue, spice it up a little bit. Give it a sense of a different place, a different culture. I think it works a lot of the time, I'm not sure if it works all of the time. Hopefully it works more often than not.
CB: What do you wish to see in order to help Afghan women? I mean, what do you think people in the U.S. could be doing?
KH: First of all, in terms of my novels, I am a novelist, I'm not a political activist really. But I hope that the novel creates a sense of understanding for what a lot of Afghans, particularly women, went through. And that it creates a sense of compassion. And there are people who go a step further, people who feel motivated by things like this, who do want to help, and for those who do, I hope the world reaches out the organizations that give women vocational skills, organizations that focus on the education of women, healthcare for women, and you know, either make a donation or get involved, whatever they feel inclined to do. Even if they don't do that, at least they have a sense of empathy, understanding, and awareness, and I think that's an important step forward too.
CB: Do you think introducing Afghan women in Afghanistan to democracy is too much too soon?
KH: Well, Afghanistan is not a homogenous country. You know, there's Afghan women, and there's Afghan women. In urban areas, professional, urban women are much more inclined to accept democratic principles than women who had been living in tribal patriarchal regions where the environment is not quite right for that yet. I don't think you can force it. It's been tried before and it didn't work. I think whatever change comes about must come from within Afghanistan and within its own culture and customs, its own traditions. It kind of has to be still and gradual. I don't think you can go out to a village in Southern Afghanistan and say, 'OK guys, new rules, here's how we're gonna do things from now on.' It's just not gonna work.
CB: Do you personally know anyone who struggled to get out of Afghanistan when the Taliban were in power, or was it kind of just what you had heard?
KH: No, I don't have any personal friends or relatives or anybody who did that but I mean a lot of those things are based on conversations I had with people. When I was in Kabul in 2003, people tell you stories of their relatives, of their friends, sometimes their own stories. My family and relatives have been out of Afghanistan for more than two decades now. It wasn't based on the experiences of my family, but rather on anecdotes and accounts and stories I learned about in Afghanistan.
CB: I read somewhere that the title of your new novel was from a poem. So, I know that you read poetry. When did that begin and how did it influence your writing?
KH: I grew up in Afghanistan and there's a long tradition of reading poetry. My own parents were university educated and were very into poetry, and I kind of grew around that in my household. The title came from a line of poetry which I actually looked for a poem about the city of Kabul, so I wanted to use a poem about Kabul in a particular scene and when found this one and I also found the words 'a thousand splendid suns' kind of poetic and very evocative and it fit in with some of the scenes I was working with. So I switched the title from 'Dreaming in Titanic City' to 'A Thousand Splendid Suns.'
CB: What was it like watching them make the movie [of The Kite Runner]?
KH: It was fun and surreal, I had never been on a movie set before, so it was great to see how they shoot certain scenes and watch them stage the whole kite fighting tournament. Watch them herd 300-400 extras around and put artificial snow everywhere. It was kind of a fun experience, but a little surreal to see your own creation, your private thoughts, your private creation kind of be out in the open and people trying to bring that into a visual experience. And to see how much effort to put something on the screen that you had maybe spent a page writing. It was a little surreal.
CB: Do you think they honored your version of it?
KH: I think the movie is very much true to the spirit of the novel, to the emotional core of it. Inevitably, when there's film based on the book, there's going to be a divide, there's going to be gap, you can't put everything in a book on the screen. But the important thing is that you can't mess with the emotional journey that the novel put the reader through and you have to capture that on the screen, I think. This movie does that.
CB: Do you think you're going to ever go back to being a doctor, or is this your set profession?
KH: It's starting to feel more and more like a career, frankly. You know I've been out of medicine for, this is my third year now, and it's starting to feel like I might actually be doing this for a while.
CB: Are you working on anything new right now?
KH: No, I haven't had the time as of yet, I've been traveling quite a lot for the new book, so I haven't had time to write anything.
CB: Are you planning on returning to Afghanistan anytime soon?
KH: I haven't made any concrete plans, I hope so.