Barnes & Noble interview with Khaled Hosseini
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A conversation with James Mustich, Editor-in-Chief, Barnes & Noble Review
Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965. At the age of 11, he moved to Paris with his family as a result of his father's diplomatic posting to the French capital by the Afghan Foreign Service. Four years later, unable to return home because of the Soviet invasion, the Hosseini family was granted political asylum in the United States and moved to San Jose, California, where the future author pursued his high school education. He subsequently enrolled in Santa Clara University, earning a Biology degree before attending the University of California at San Diego's School of Medicine. He spent seven years as a practicing internist before the publication of his first novel, The Kite Runner, in 2003.
A phenomenal bestseller in both hardcover and paperback, The Kite Runner was adapted for the screen in 2007; that year also saw the appearance of Hosseini's acclaimed second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. With the latter book's first paperback publication imminent, I spoke with Hosseini by telephone at the end of October. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation. -- James Mustich
James Mustich: Could we talk a bit about the formation of your literary sensibility? In other interviews, you've referred to the strong Afghan tradition of oral storytelling. What kind of role did that tradition play in shaping your own sense of telling stories?
Khaled Hosseini: A great one, I think. I entered the literary world, really, from outside. My entire background has been in sciences; I was a biology major in college, then went to medical school. I've never had any formal training in writing. So what I know about writing, I know from my own instincts, and whatever the narrative voice is in my own head. Both of those were shaped, I'm sure, by my having grown up in Afghanistan, where there was a very strong sense of oral storytelling. It seems to me now, in retrospect, that the people I grew up around were very skilled storytellers, even under the most casual of circumstances, and that the people listening to them had a longer attention span for stories.
My grandmother was probably my very first influence. I distinctly remember myself and my brother sitting with her as she told us stories of her childhood -- how she went to Hajj and Mecca with her mother when she was a little girl, and what it was like to be on a ship with a thousand people. She was just a fantastic storyteller. And there was a radio program in Kabul called "Stories," a radio serial that was clever and really well told. You'd have to tune in the following week to catch what happened after this week's cliffhanger. We'd sit around the radio and listen to these stories.
I grew up with that kind of storytelling instinct, and when I write, my default setting is to find a story and then to tell it. It's the only way I know how to write.