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If you like Khaled Hosseini's story, you might also like:
Benazir Bhutto,
Mohamed ElBaradei,
Joan Didion,
Carlos Fuentes,
John Grisham,
John Irving,
Hamid Karzai,
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Joyce Carol Oates,
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Amy Tan
and Gore Vidal

Khaled Hosseini can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini
 
Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini Interview (page: 3 / 9)

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

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  Khaled Hosseini

Did your parents' economic situation stabilize after they arrived in the U.S.?

Khaled Hosseini: Yeah, I mean, they worked really hard.


My mom, who was a vice-principal of a high school in Kabul, started getting a bunch of jobs. I remember she worked the grave shift at a Denny's, where she was a waitress, and my dad would take all of the kids in our new used car, and we would go to see my mom and sit in her section, and she would serve us ice cream sundaes. But she did that for a while, and then she had a bunch of other jobs. Eventually she studied cosmetics and became a beautician and worked at a little hole-in-the-wall salon in East San José for close to 20 years until she retired a few years ago. My father worked -- God, he held a bunch of jobs -- he worked on an assembly line, he worked, he tried to sell insurance, he did a bunch of different things. Eventually he became a driving instructor. He was a driving instructor for years, and his specialty was teaching the physically challenged how to drive. So he had these vans, and the school had given him this van that came with all of these lifts and levers and all of these gadgets, and he would pick up the students and then drive them up and down the hills of San Francisco and teach them how to drive. And then eventually he found a job with the City, the County of Santa Clara ironically enough, as a welfare dispenser to recent immigrant families. So he was then back to the role of dispensing aid and charity to people who needed it. And he worked that for 15, 20 years until he also has retired.


Did you and your family face prejudice here in America?

Khaled Hosseini: I can't say there has been an instant where I felt anything. And I don't think I'm aloof or dense about it. Quite the opposite.


I thought that maybe when September 11th happened -- I said to myself that morning -- especially after it became clear that the Taliban, who were then in Afghanistan, had had a hand in it. At that time, I said it hasn't happened in 21 years, but now we're going, now we're going to feel something. People are going to say something. I was a practicing, a full-time practicing physician at that time. And then the next -- when I went back to work and my voicemail was full -- and it was calls from my patients, some that I had seen maybe once, some that I had seen a couple of times, some of my more chronic patients. But all of them had left messages for me. You know, "We hope that you're not being harassed. We hope you're okay. We hope you know nobody blames you, your people." It was really kind and gracious. I never felt, my family nor I never felt personally attacked in any way.


So what direction did you take in medicine?


Khaled Hosseini: I went to general medicine. You know, you have a chance to dabble into a little bit of everything in medical school -- surgery, pediatrics and so on. But I like general medicine, because it seemed to me rather than surgery, it seemed to be more of a people and more of a social work. And surgery, it's skill-driven. Most of internal medicine, primary care, is really a people skill. It's the -- the science of it is pretty easy to pick up, it's the art of talking to people, being able to hear what they are really telling you, what they are not saying but what they are really trying to tell you. Knowing how to break bad news, knowing how to handle grief and anxiety and fear and those things. That's really what separates a competent doctor from a really great doctor. And that's what was attractive to me about internal medicine. So I went to internal medicine and practiced for a total of eight and a half years as a primary care physician, first in Southern California and then in Northern California.


Where were you in Southern California?

Khaled Hosseini: I trained, I went to medical school at UC San Diego. I trained at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles and then was in practice in Pasadena for three years. Then my wife and I decided to move back up north to be close to both of our families, and we were thinking about starting a family and so on. So we moved back to the Bay Area, and I worked in the Kaiser system for five and a half years. I worked in Mountain View in the South Bay.

Was it rewarding?

Khaled Hosseini: Absolutely.


I had a rough time of it at first. The first few months were very difficult for me, and there were days when I thought I had made a very, very big mistake. It's overwhelming to suddenly be responsible for people. 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. But when you have your own practice, suddenly there is nobody behind you -- you're it. And so that -- and every young doctor feels this. That first day at work when they worry that they did the wrong thing or they -- should I have sent that patient home, maybe I should have sent him to the ER. You know, you are kind of wracked by those anxieties, but eventually you get the hang of it. And I grew into medicine, and it became a very rewarding career for me. I grew to like it over time. It wasn't love at first sight at all. It really took me a few years to really grow into it and to really appreciate it. In fact, by the time I left medicine, which was in December of 2004, is when I was most at peace with my career and when I was enjoying it the most. But at that time, I had to leave.


When you were practicing medicine, did you still feel the pull to write fiction?

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Khaled Hosseini: Well, I had been writing most of my life. I started as a kid in Kabul and wrote steadily most of my life, with the exception of the four years of medical school and three years of residency, which really takes away everything from you. You basically are slave to your schedule. But I had been writing as a hobby, as a way of just personal reward for years. And I happened to write a short story called The Kite Runner back in the spring of 1999. 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. And that short story sat around for two years until March of '01 when I picked it up, and my wife found it and read it and she loved it. I went back to it, and I realized, "Wow! I think there is a novel in this thing." And I had been thinking about writing my first novel for years and never had the courage to, never had the right material. I said to myself, "I think this short story is very flawed as a short story, but it could make maybe a good novel." And it kind of was a personal challenge to finally write that first novel, and I began writing it.

In your spare time?

Khaled Hosseini: Well, what passes as spare time.


I was working full-time as a doctor then, so I would basically get up at about 4:45, 5:00 in the morning, and I would write the novel for about three hours and then get ready and leave, see my patients at 8:45, and then I would do it again the next day. But it became a routine for me. I learned a lot about myself that year. I learned a lot about what it takes to write a novel. There is a romantic notion to writing a novel, especially when you are starting it. You are embarking on this incredibly exciting journey, and you're going to write your first novel, you're going to write a book. Until you're about 50 pages into it, and that romance wears off, and then you're left with a very stark reality of having to write the rest of this thing. And that's where a lot of novels die. A lot of 50-page unfinished novels are sitting in a lot of drawers across this country. Well, what it takes at that point is discipline, and it really comes down to that.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance



You have to be more stubborn than the manuscript, and you have to punch in and punch out every day, regardless of whether it's going well, regardless of whether it's going badly. And I said to myself, "I'm going to wake up every day at 5:00, and I'm going to keep wrestling this thing until I've got it down, and I'm going to win this thing." And that's pretty much what it took both times to write my novels. It's largely an act of perseverance and outlasting the manuscript who really, really wants to, wants to defeat you. The story really wants to defeat you, and you just have to be more mulish than the story. And that's what it came down to. I'm being slightly facetious, but it really is, you really can't give up. And of course, at one point the story, something grabs, took hold of me, and at that point, there was no choice left. I was so taken with the story, and so swept up in that world, that I had to write it. At that point, there was no choice. I really had to finish it.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance


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