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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,
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and Gore Vidal

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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini
Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini Interview (page: 6 / 9)

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

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  Khaled Hosseini

There was concern for the safety of the young actors who appeared in the film version of The Kite Runner. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

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Khaled Hosseini: This was less than a year ago. This was about six or seven months ago. A lot of the concern came from the father of one of the children who feared that something might happen were his family to stay. And I don't think it was entirely unreasonable. It is imaginable that people would do something foolish and drastic. So I think the studio, and I applaud them for this decision, because it went really against commercial grain, delayed the release of the film six weeks, which may have hurt the film commercially, and waited until the boys were out of Afghanistan and in a place of safety before releasing the film. So the children were removed to the United Arab Emirates, and nothing really happened. I mean, the film was released, the revolts and the demonstrations and the violence, the doom and gloom that everybody had predicted never materialized. The boys and their families were never threatened. They were never attacked. I spoke to one of the boys a couple of months ago, and they are doing well. They are in private school, and the parents have jobs. They have a home of their own now and are quite happy.

Did you participate in making the film?

Khaled Hosseini: As a consultant. I didn't really want to be that involved because I felt, I don't know that much about film, and I don't want to become one of those people that have worn out their welcome and be an intrusive, an annoying presence. And so I said, "Look, I'm here. If you need me, you can contact me." And so they did. So I became pretty good friends with the filmmakers, the director, some of the stars and the producers as well. And you know, I chimed in when they needed help. For instance, we decided together on the location, after we looked at hundreds of pictures, of where this film should be shot. Kabul was not an option, unfortunately.

Why not?

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Khaled Hosseini: For a variety of reasons. There is the issue of security, and also a film production is like a moving village, and you really need an existing infrastructure and an existing film industry locally to support it. And that just does not exist in Afghanistan today. So we saw pictures of Western China, Kashgar, and I was stunned at how reminiscent it was of Afghanistan architecturally, geographically, ethnically. So they shot the film in Western China. I took my father on the set, and he was so amazed at how much it reminded him of Kabul. And I chimed in on issues about clothing, about language, wherever they needed help.

How did you feel about the film when you saw it?

Khaled Hosseini: Oh, the first time I saw it, it was so hard for me, because I saw it at a special screening with the studio, and all of the studio people were there. The director was there, and I felt like all of the eyes of the theater were on me because -- "Is he going to like the film or not?" So I really had to see it a second time, and I saw it a second time, and I liked it quite a bit. You know, as the writer of the book, there are always things -- they say, "But I wrote this, and it's not in the movie" or "You changed that." But I understood film to be a completely different medium, and I didn't have expectations that everything I wrote on paper would be on the film. Otherwise, you would be talking about an eight-hour miniseries. So it was a two-hour film, and you have to live within those confines. That said, for me...

I was very proud of the film in two ways. One, I was really proud of the children in the film, particularly since they were amateur actors. Not only were they amateur actors, they had never been to a movie theater in their whole life. The scene where they are watching the Western in the movie theater, and the movie, that one, when we were shooting that scene in China, the boys told me, "You know, this is our first time in a movie theater." And the irony for me that they were acting in a Hollywood production before they had actually been inside a movie theater was -- it said so much about the lives that those kids have and what Afghanistan is today, to me. And secondly, for me, the film is a positive step forward for Hollywood that I think has a very checkered past in dealing with that region of the world and its depiction of the people who inhabit the Middle East. Not that Afghanistan is strictly Middle East, but that region of the world. Usually those films center around political violence, terrorism, things of that nature, and this was a film largely about family, about friendship, about personal guilt and betrayal and redemption, regret. Very, very human things. And yes, the characters in the film were Muslim, but they weren't in the film because they were Muslims. Their faith was incidental to that. And I think that is a really good, positive development.

Let's turn to A Thousand Splendid Suns. You portray the Soviet invasion and the subsequent civil war so vividly. You weren't in Afghanistan when these events took place, but you write about it with such vivid detail and passion and pain. Where did that come from?

Khaled Hosseini: Largely from my conversations with people on the streets of Kabul. In the spring of '03, before The Kite Runner was published, but after it was done, so in that period between the two, I went to Kabul for the first time in 27 years and spent two weeks talking to people. Now at that time, I didn't go there with the purpose of research. I mean, it was really there for me to reconnect, see the city and fulfill some kind of nostalgic longing that I have had for years. And three, to understand for myself what really happened, how it impacted people and how people coped.

One thing about Afghans is they are incredibly generous with their storytelling, and so when I was walking the streets of Kabul, you can literally walk to any shop and stop somebody in the middle of whatever they are doing and say, "So who are you? Tell me your story." And they will stop what they are doing, and they will talk to you. And chances are, they will invite you to dinner afterwards. And so I learned a lot about -- I knew the facts, I knew the figures, I knew the statistics and so on and so forth, but what it missed, what it lacked for me, my understanding, was a human dimension. It was the, "How did people survive and what was it like for them?" And so I spoke to hotel doormen, taxi drivers, people who sold baked beans on the side of the street, people who worked in clothing stores, women who worked in schools and in hospitals. And I got their stories from them, just so I could understand for myself personally. So a lot of the details, the incidents that are in that book come almost directly from things that I heard or saw in Kabul. For instance, there is a scene in the book where this young woman who is delivering a baby has to have a C-section. Unfortunately, the hospital has no anesthetic, and so she has a C-section without anesthetic.

I have visited a hospital in Kabul, and I was talking to a neurosurgeon, and he told me that when the mujahideen were fighting over Kabul, and on particularly violent days, the hospital waiting room would be packed with people who were badly injured. Some of them needed amputations and so on, and the hospital was already running on a threadbare kind of supply and had almost no supplies anyway. He would frequently have to perform amputations, C-sections, appendectomies, all sorts of things without the benefit of anesthesia. And so that's the kind of indelible, vivid detail that you can't forget, and I didn't begin writing this book until a year after that visit. But when I sat down to write it, a lot of those stories came rushing back. And they coalesced together and formed for me a world where I could plant these characters and navigate them.

Sometimes there is a delicate balance between portraying violence and brutality, and exploiting the suffering of others in some way. Were you at all conscious of that?

Khaled Hosseini: Yeah, I think the charge is legitimate if those things are being written about merely for the sake of shocking, or for the sake of the cringe factor, and they are not done in a greater context of creating an understanding, of painting a picture of a world in which people live that they actually suffered. Of creating, hopefully, a sense of enlightenment and illumination about the truths of that place and that time. I was quite sensitive to that, and in fact, there are things that I saw and heard in Kabul which I decided not to write about, because to me, they were so harrowing that there was no way of writing about them. You would have to be a far more skilled writer than I am to pull that off. So I stayed within the confines I think that would help me create this world for these characters and lend a sense of authenticity.

I went into this book, as opposed to The Kite Runner, with a slightly more sense of mission. And that The Kite Runner was really about, "Wow, I've got this little short story. Can I write a book? Can I make that novel?" At least that is how it started; it became something else. But the second book, I had decided already that I was going to write a book about women, and I wanted this book to be a fictional account, however narrow in its aim of what happened to these women in Afghanistan. So many people suffered in Afghanistan over the last three decades, but it's hard for me to find a group that has suffered more than women. Because they suffered the same things as the men did in terms of the violence and the indiscriminate bombings and so on, but they also had to suffer from gender-based abuse. So here are these stories of girls --12, 13, 14 years old -- being forced into marriage with militia commanders or being abducted and sold abroad. Or girls that were being raped as a means of punishing a family that had maybe supported the rival faction, girls being sold as prostitutes and so on. It was so harrowing, I felt that this was a really important story. It's a relevant story, and it's a story that is still developing today and that has not resolved. We still have many of those problems in Afghanistan today, even though it doesn't get as much press. Those problems are still very real today. And it had never been done in fiction before, at least not to my knowledge, and I felt like that was something very natural for me, and I felt a personal sense of passion to tell that story. But I didn't want to just write about those things. As a novelist, I need character, I need story, I need something to sit me at the computer, and I want to find out for myself a mystery about somebody. And it really wasn't until the characters of Mariam and Laila began to form in that fog that I was able to sit down and actually write this.

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