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If you like Khaled Hosseini's story, you might also like:
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Khaled Hosseini Biography

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

Khaled Hosseini Date of birth: March 4, 1965

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  Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan, the oldest of five children, and spent the first years of his childhood in the capital city, Kabul. His family lived in the affluent Wazir Akbar Khan district of the city, in a cultivated, cosmopolitan atmosphere, where women lived and worked as equals with men. His father worked for the foreign ministry, while his mother taught Persian literature, and Khaled grew up loving the treasures of classical Persian poetry. His imagination was also fired by movies from India and the United States, and he enjoyed the sport of kite fighting he portrayed so vividly in his book The Kite Runner.

In the early '70s, Hosseini's father was posted to Afghanistan's embassy in Tehran, Iran, where young Khaled deepened his knowledge of the classical Persian literary tradition that Iran and Afghanistan share. Although Afghan culture lacked a long tradition of literary fiction, Hosseini enjoyed reading foreign novels in translation and began to compose stories of his own. He also made the acquaintance of his family's cook, a member of the Hazara ethnic group, a minority that has long suffered from discrimination in Afghanistan. Young Khaled Hosseini taught the illiterate man to read and write, and gained his first insight into the injustices of his own society.

Khaled Hosseini Biography Photo
The Hosseinis were at home in Kabul when the 200-year-old Afghan monarchy was overthrown in 1973. The king's cousin, Daoud Khan proclaimed himself president of the new republic, but a long era of instability had begun. In 1976, Hosseini's father was assigned to the embassy in Paris and Khaled moved, with the rest of his family, to France. Although he did not know it at the time, it would be 27 years before he would see his native country again. Only two years after their arrival in Paris, a communist faction overthrew the government of Afghanistan, killing Daoud Khan and his family.

Although the new government was purging civil servants from the old regime, the Hosseinis still hoped that they might be able to return to Afghanistan. Infighting among the new leaders, and armed resistance to the regime in the countryside, plunged the country into chaos. The Hosseinis were still in France when the Soviet army entered Afghanistan in December 1979. The Soviets attempted to reinstate their communist allies, while numerous armed factions attempted to expel them. The Soviet occupation would last nearly a decade, while 5 million Afghans fled their country.

A return to Afghanistan was now out of the question for the Hosseini family, and they applied for political asylum in the United States. Young Khaled arrived in San José, California in the fall of 1980 at age 15, speaking almost no English. Having lost everything, his family subsisted for a time on welfare, and father and son went to work tending a flea market stall alongside fellow Afghan refugees.

Khaled Hosseini Biography Photo
In his first year of school in the U.S., Khaled Hosseini struggled with English, but his encounter with John Steinbeck's Depression-era novel The Grapes of Wrath rekindled his love of literature, and he began to write stories again, this time in English. Khaled's father found work as a driving instructor, and the family's situation gradually improved, but Khaled, as the oldest child, felt a particular responsibility to succeed in the new country.

Determined to make a better life for himself and his family, Khaled Hosseini studied biology at Santa Clara University and medicine at the University of California, San Diego. He completed his residency at UCLA Medical Center and began medical practice in Pasadena. Now married, Khaled and his wife Roya decided to return to Northern California to be nearer their families. Dr. Hosseini joined the Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization and settled in Mountain View, California to start a family.

Throughout his medical studies, Hosseini had continued to write short stories in his spare time. Happily settled in his new country, he found his thoughts returning to the land he left behind. After the departure of the Soviets in 1998, the extremist Taliban faction had seized control of Afghanistan, imposing a brutal theocratic rule and providing a base for anti-Western terrorists. Women's rights, which previous regimes had promoted, were completely eliminated along with all foreign art or culture. Hosseini felt compelled to tell the world something of the life he had known before his country was consumed by war and dictatorship. In 2001, with the encouragement of his wife and father-in-law, he decided to try expanding one of his stories into a novel.

Khaled Hosseini Biography Photo
For a year and a half, he rose at four o'clock every morning to work on his novel before a full day of seeing patients. When the United States and allied countries launched military operations in Afghanistan, he considered abandoning the project, but with the defeat of the Taliban, he felt it more important than ever to tell his story to the world. With the eyes of the world turned on his country, he completed his tale of two Afghan boys, childhood friends separated by the calamities of war, and the divergent paths their lives take. Once Hosseini found an agent to handle the manuscript, the book was soon placed with publisher Riverhead Books, a division of the Penguin Group. The Kite Runner was published, with little publicity, in 2003.

Initial sales of the book in hard-cover were slow, but word of mouth built gradually as copies of the book were passed from reader to reader. The paperback edition found an enthusiastic audience around the world. The Kite Runner spent more than two years on The New York Times bestseller list, and returned to the list, five years after its initial appearance. As of this writing, it has sold more than 12 million copies, with editions published in more than 40 languages. Although it was greeted with acclaim in most circles, some Afghans objected to Hosseini's portrayal of ethnic prejudice in Afghanistan. Hosseini had no regrets, and hoped that his treatment of the subject would spark an overdue dialogue among his fellow countrymen.

Following the success of his book, Hosseini returned to Afghanistan for the first time in 27 years. He was shocked by the devastation that years of war had wrought on the city he knew as a child, but moved to find the traditional spirit of hospitality and generosity was unchanged. Everywhere, he heard stories of the tragedies his countrymen had suffered.

Hosseini continued to practice medicine for a year and a half after his book was published, but the demands on his time eventually compelled him to take a leave of absence. In 2006, he agreed to serve as a special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, assisting displaced persons in war zones around the world. In this capacity he has traveled to eastern Chad to meet with refugees from Darfur and returned to Afghanistan to meet with refugees returning from Iran and Pakistan.

Khaled Hosseini Biography Photo
Since his 2003 visit to Afghanistan, Hosseini had been at work on a second novel, focusing on the experience of women in pre-war Afghanistan, during the Soviet occupation and the civil war, and under the Taliban dictatorship. His new book, eagerly awaited by an army of readers, was published in 2007. A Thousand Splendid Suns takes its title from a poem by the 17th century Persian poet Saib-e-Tabrizi. The story follows two women, Mariam and Laila, both married to the same abusive man. Like its predecessor, A Thousand Splendid Suns became a massive international bestseller, topping the bestseller lists as soon as it was published. The paperback edition spent over two years on the New York Times bestseller list.

Later that year, The Kite Runner became a highly acclaimed motion picture, photographed in Kashgar province in the far west of China. Although the producers of the film were American, they chose to shoot the film in the Dari language to preserve the authenticity of the story. A controversy erupted in Afghanistan because a sexual assault against a young boy is depicted in the film. The child actor and his family were threatened with violence by traditionalists who believed this portrayal to be shameful. Release of the film was postponed while the boy and his family were relocated.

For the time being, Dr. Hosseini has given up his medical practice to write and continue his work for the United Nations. His third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was hailed by The New York Times as his "most assured and emotionally gripping story yet." He and his wife Roya, and their two children, make their home in Northern California.

This page last revised on Jun 02, 2014 15:26 EDT
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