Barnes & Noble interview with Khaled Hosseini
(Page 5 of 9)
JM: One of the reasons your books have been so beloved by readers, I suspect, is that, while you're writing about a culture that may not be familiar to non-Afghans, your ability to broadcast so clearly, if you will, from a child's wavelength strikes some universal chord that is evocative for many people; as a result, we're immediately linked to the protagonist more strongly than we might be if you had started with a teenager or a young adult whose experience might be more narrowly circumstantial and less broadly recognizable. I think of Dickens, who often takes us from the earliest consciousness of a child all the way through the adulthood of his or her central character. Following that thread is consoling, in a way, because we've shared something of the journey it marks ourselves.Skip to next paragraph
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KH: No matter where we're born, which countries we're raised in, what cultures we come from, there are some universal experiences we all have as children. I don't want to say that we're all the same, but we all kind of start the same. We want the love of our parents, we want companionship, we want friends, we want to have fun, we want to play, and we're all hurt the first time we learn that the world is a far from perfect place -- it's the start of a series of epiphanies and realizations that is what growing up is all about. The Kite Runner in particular is a story about childhood and disillusionment and growing up to be a less-than-perfect adult. I think in that book people see their own childhoods, even though the story is set in Kabul in the 1970s. People remember what it felt like to be a child, what it felt like to feel so passionately about things that, in the end, were so completely inconsequential. People remember how stable and permanent life felt when they were kids, when the notion that everything they'd ever known and loved could change -- the possibility that you would become something else -- was entirely absent. It doesn't matter if you're from New York or Kabul; at some level, kids are kids.
JM: To me, one of the most poignant aspects of The Kite Runner is Amir's father's experience in America. There's a section of the book that begins, "Baba loved the idea of America. It was living in America that gave him an ulcer." It's almost as if, for want of a better description, the novel of Amir's father in America hides quietly within the pages of The Kite Runner; that secret story reveals the sorrow of his immigrant life, the diminishment of the expansiveness and magnanimity which had been the soul of his being in Kabul. What was an opportunity for Amir, an opening-up of the world, was a closing-down for Baba. If I read that correctly, does it reflect your own experience in any way?
KH: You read it, I think, very correctly, and it certainly does reflect my own experience. Years ago, I began seeing my parents in a very different way than the way I used to see them in Afghanistan. Afghanistan -- I shouldn't say even Afghanistan, I should say Kabul -- was a small community, where virtually everybody knew each other. Not only did they know each other, but they knew who each other's parents and grandparents were, and who had married whose cousin and aunt and so on, for three generations back, who could trace their lineage to such-and-such king, and whose father had been minister of this or that. It was almost like a national pastime to figure out how people were related. There's a line in The Kite Runner that says, "Put two Afghans in a room, and within five minutes they'll realize how they're related." There's an element of truth to that.
In that environment, my parents were big players, and they had, I think, a very firm sense of identity, a very firm sense of self. When we came to the United States, the enormity of life here, and of the culture, diminished them in some way. It reduced them; it made them smaller. It's something that, at some level, I expected, but I was still surprised to witness it. They became a lot more human to me when we came here, especially my father, who was not unlike the Baba character in the book; he always has been a strongly principled person who is very charitable, and in Afghanistan he was widely respected in the society. When we came to the States, I think he felt in some ways bewildered by the changes that had come over us. He was 41 years old, with five kids, a wife, and a mother in tow, and he had to start a new life. He became an assembly line worker. He tried to sell insurance. He became a driving instructor. He didn't outwardly complain -- he never vocalized it -- but I can't help but imagine what it was like for him to reconcile his new self with the old one.