An Evening with Khaled Hosseini

KH

I was lucky enough to get a seat at Khaled Hosseini’s recent book tour for the paperback launch of And the Mountains Echoed. I first read Khaled (I’ll take the liberty of calling him by his first name ;-)) when The Kite Runner took all the bestseller lists by storm, and it’s one of the few “hot” books that, for me, lived up to the hype. I had not read any Afghan writers nor had I read about Afghan culture before The Kite Runner and so like for many readers, I am guessing, it was an eye-opening experience to be introduced to the human faces of a country that has otherwise been portrayed so severely in the media.

Khaled did a 60 minute Q&A with the designated interviewer and with the audience. He talked about And the Mountains Echoed, a story about the ramifications of one Afghan family’s decision to sell their youngest child to another family, and he also talked about his writing process and a little about Afghanistan. Like at Junot Díaz’s talk, I struggled a bit with the note taking, this time because (1) my pen ran out of ink and (2) I accidentally deleted my notes a few minutes after I started taking them on my phone. (A post about author talk attendance do’s and don’t’s is forthcoming…) Anyway, I did my best to recoup what I heard. Here is a sampling of his quotes (paraphrased to the best of my memory) from the evening:

On the Sophie’s Choice-esque theme of And the Mountains Echoed:

Those things that are very difficult to imagine are the things I’m drawn to write.

On how to find your story:

I had an impulse in the past to write something educational, moral…to get on a soapbox, but the writing always suffered. I learned that if I feel the characters, feel their pain, their wants and needs, I will find the point in the story. Whenever I tried to build a story around a point, it always became stilted. It always flattens me when I write with an agenda.

When asked how he writes so beautifully, especially when English is not even his first language (he didn’t speak any English until he came to the States at 15!):

There’s been a voice inside my head since I was a boy – I don’t mean that I have a psychological illness [audience laughs] – and over the years I have developed a cadence that I have felt comfortable with . . . I have had this inner language with me for a long time . . . when I was younger and we would all sit around telling stories, the room would get quiet when it got to my turn…it was very powerful [laughs].

On how he could write so well from the perspectives of women characters in his second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns:

I don’t think that I have any more insight into a woman’s mind than [interviewer] or any man in this audience [audience laughs]…in the beginning I would try to find out what they [the women characters] thought, but I learned to let them come to me, to let them tell me what they feel.

On The Kite Runner:

The Kite Runner was a grenade, it was divisive…some Afghans didn’t like that I aired our dirty laundry, and said that I was selling out to make money.

He said that support among Afghan readers was about 50/50, with the older, more conservative and religious generation more upset about his work. The younger and more urban Afghan people have been very supportive.

On his work with The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, which he started to provide economic, educational, and healthcare assistance to Afghan refugees:

We often forget the human story in war. Refugees live in a suspended existence. It is my job to bring to light the human story within the narrative.

I thought he was just wonderful. I was actually surprised, and then not when I thought about it, to see him initially looking a little nervous and fidgety up on stage. It’s so easy to assume that anyone this successful and intelligent would be comfortable in the lime light. He warmed up quickly as the talk went on, and I found him soft-spoken, humble, and extremely thoughtful and articulate. He showed no airs about him, and expressed gratitude that his books were being read.

After the talk was over I got in line to get my books signed. I didn’t try to craft anything special this time, especially as I observed that he was being pretty efficient in the process (there was a good sized crowd and the independent bookstore sponsoring the event was trying to move people along). I simply thanked him for coming and he smiled and replied, “Thank you.” He was quiet during the signings but spoke if readers initiated.

I was inspired after the talk to begin And the Mountains Echoed and so far it is fantastic. It’s my highlight at the end of the day to read it and I can see why everyone used to get quiet when it was Khaled’s turn as a boy to tell stories.

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22 comments on “An Evening with Khaled Hosseini

  1. whatmeread says:

    The Kite Runner was good, but I loved A Thousand Splendid Suns. I still haven’t read the newest!

  2. Ngan R. says:

    That’s fantastic you got to hear him speak. I did enjoy The Kiterunner for it’s eye-opening experience but have yet to pick up A Thousand Splendid Suns or When the Mountains Echo. I will try this book this summer (I hope). I occasionally go to book signings, too, and I always end up saying something dopey to the author. I’m always a bag of nerves, so bravo to you for speaking to the authors at these book signings!

    • Cecilia says:

      Well, I barely said anything to Khaled Hosseini – I decided not to stress, especially as he will most definitely not remember me anyway ;-) I wonder what it must be like for these big name authors to do these marathon book signings…they must meet all walks of life and have heard everything. Hope you get to the books at some point. I haven’t read A Thousand Splendid Suns yet but I’m really enjoying his current book.

  3. Naomi says:

    Oh, this makes me want to start reading one of his books right now. I can see why you were inspired to. I did read The Kite Runner when it came out, and loved it. So, why haven’t I read his other two yet? What am I waiting for? Oh yeah, all those other books I am also dying to read. :)

    Everything you wrote in this post is so interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience for those of us who couldn’t be there!

    • Cecilia says:

      Oh, I know what you mean. I got A Thousand Splendid Suns soon after I finished The Kite Runner but it’s been sitting on my shelf all these years! I am so glad to get back into him though, as And the Mountains Echoed is wonderful. I’ve been struggling a bit with my reading this spring but this one is keeping me up at night!

      • Naomi says:

        That’s good to hear! I own one of them, but I can’t remember which one. I will have to go searching for it, so I will be reminded to read it!

  4. Emily J. says:

    So jealous! What a neat opportunity.

  5. rudrip says:

    The only book by Hosseini I’ve read is And The Mountains Echoed. I am curious to know your thoughts after you finish it. I love that your posted his remarks from his talk. These Q & A sessions with authors always offer some great insights. So glad you could attend, Cecilia.

  6. Oh, how wonderful you got to hear him speak! I loved both books, but A Thousand Splendid Suns had me crying for 30 minutes after I finished reading. Will have to pick up the newest one.

    • Cecilia says:

      Oh, that is good to hear! Now I’m really intrigued about A Thousand Splendid Suns :-) I am also really enjoying his current book. Hope you enjoy that one too.

  7. […] feel as though I was talking to someone “famous.” Last week I went to listen to Khaled Hosseini. He’s a lovely, thoughtful man, but much more reserved than Junot Díaz and Arthur […]

  8. Shalin says:

    I just finished his The Thousand Splendid Suns and I’m now a fan of this guy. I was so impressed that I even wrote a blog only for the book. You should read that definitely.
    Link to my book review :- http://bloglovershalin.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/the-one-where-i-talk-some-sense/

  9. I love that you’ve been going to all of these events and sharing them here on your blog! I am not surprised that Khaled is a nice person. It seems impossible that he *wouldn’t* be, based on the things he writes about – and the way he writes about them.
    This post is also especially timely for me, since I just started And the Mountains Echoed!

    As for A Thousand Splendid Suns, I will admit that I did not really enjoy it. You know the section above where Khaled talks about having to learn not to write with an agenda? I wonder if he said that, in part, because of Thousand Splendid Suns, which very much seems like it is driven by the desire to hammer home a point. It also didn’t come across as very authentic.
    I am very much enjoying And the Mountains Echoed thus far, though. :)

  10. […] An Evening with Khaled Hosseini @ Only You […]

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