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Barnes & Noble interview with Khaled Hosseini

(Page 8 of 9)

One aspect of the problem may be that the whole notion of who the Taliban are has also changed. The Taliban are no longer just a group of young Afghans who were raised in refugee camps in Pakistan or who went to these madrassas, but rather a whole number of groups, including Uzbeks and Chechens and Arabs and Pakistanis and Filipinos, who are loosely clustered under the moniker of the Taliban. Although the Afghan arm of that may be interested in laying down its guns and in power-sharing, the more virulent and extremist arms of that group have much more ambitious goals than parliamentary ones in Kabul; they have global ambitions, and they want to cut the head of the snake. Those are not people who you'll be able to bring into the fold. So I think even the notion of sitting down with the Taliban is problematic in complicated ways.

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JM: Let's return to your writing career. You clearly had what must have been, to you as a first novelist, an unimaginable success with The Kite Runner. Did the success of your first book cause great anxiety as you embarked upon the second? A Thousand Splendid Suns had an enormous act to follow.

KH: The anxiety for me was never over whether people were going to read it, whether it would end up on this list or that list, how many copies it would sell. Those issues didn't trouble me. But there was an anxiety, and it was caused by the fear that everything I knew, sensed, felt, had insight into, had something of meaning to say about -- that all of that had already been said in The Kite Runner. That I might have emptied the magazine and there were no bullets left -- that I would sit in front of the computer and stare at a blank screen for three years. That was a very real anxiety. So for me, even though The Kite Runner was my first book, the finishing of my second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was by magnitudes a more satisfying experience, in that it came against my own fears. I had no pressure on The Kite Runner. I felt under no pressure to write a novel, and it almost wrote itself. But the second novel had to be willed into being, in a way. That it turned out the way it did, that it pleased me the way it did, and that (at least I felt) it was as honest as it was, and had something to say -- and then to see that other people agreed with me -- that was a tremendous relief. But once the manuscript was done, I felt no pressure whatsoever. I guess the pressure at that point switched to my publishers and their own worries about who was going to buy this thing! For me, 99% of the anxiety was relieved in the act of actually watching the last page of the manuscript come out of my printer.

JM: When A Thousand Splendid Suns came out, Jonathan Yardley wrote this in the Washington Post: "[J]ust in case you're wondering whether in yours truly's judgment it's as good as The Kite Runner, here is your answer: No. It's better." I'm wondering if you felt the same way. Did you sense your own growth as a writer during the composition of the second book? Did you feel that your powers were increasing, that you had more tools in your toolbox, or was it the same kind of experience in the writing as the first book?

KH: I did feel like there was a process of growth for me. I sensed that the second novel, whatever its shortcomings may be, was a little bit more nuanced -- a more complex work than The Kite Runner. There were more shades of gray in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and less reliance on archetypal characters. As a writer, I trusted my reader more. I felt like I was more patient as a writer. And I felt like the language itself was in some ways better than in The Kite Runner. That said, The Kite Runner is my first novel, and it has an enormous heart; for all of the flaws, it's a unique story and a unique book. So it will always be dear to me. But I would probably agree at some level with Jonathan Yardley.

JM: You returned to Kabul in 2003, after you'd finished The Kite Runner, and you went in search of your father's house, just as Amir does in the book. And then the film of The Kite Runner was made. What was it like to go back to explore, physically, a world you had so thoroughly imagined, and then to see it recreated in a kind of third dimension on the screen?