'Kite Runner' author Khaled Hosseini: building a bridge between Afghanistan and the West

'Kite Runner' author Khaled Hosseini says there are misconceptions on both sides of the relationship between Afghanistan and the West and that he is embracing his role as cultural emissary.

Eric Thayer/Riverhead Books/Reuters
Khaled Hosseini will release a new novel, titled 'And the Mountains Echoed,' this spring.

Some of the best authors, we think, are ambassadors, emissaries to a different place, time, body, or life, who help us, the uninitiated reader, begin to understand a largely misunderstood way of life.

Such is the case with Khaled Hosseini, author of the bestselling and widely beloved “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” As the first stage adaptation of “The Kite Runner” hits the UK, a film adaptation of “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Columbia Pictures is underway, and Hosseini reveals a drafted third novel, the doctor-turned author-turned UN envoy is embracing his role as a cultural emissary of sorts between Afghanistan and the West.

In a recent interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, Hosseini said he wanted to build a bridge between Afghans and Westerners to discourage the romanticism that can render other cultures “exotic” and therefore distant.

“There are still myths about Afghanistan in the west, such as that the country is stuck in the 12th century. There is an element of romanticism too, as well as the idea that Afghans hate the west,” Hosseini told the Guardian from his home in California. “People there do have grievances of course, about the night raids and civilian casualties. It is true too that they don't like having troops on their soil, but they have done the calculation and decided there is good reason for it. They don't see it as an occupation.”

As an Afghan-American who penned wildly popular books (together, his novels have sold about 38 million copies in some 70-plus countries) about his birth country just as the US troops were entering Afghanistan, Hosseini was thrust into a role as an ambassador between the two cultures. With a foot firmly planted in each land, he’s helped Americans appreciate the intricacies of Afghan culture.

These days, it’s official: Hosseini is a goodwill envoy for the United Nations high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) and has established his own foundation, the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, to provide humanitarian relief to Afghans.

As troops pull out from Afghanistan, Hosseini’s work is drawing fresh attention. His third novel, “And the Mountains Echoed,” a family saga, will be published this spring. And the Nottingham Playhouse and Liverpool Everyman theaters have secured rights to stage the European premiere for Matthew Spangler’s stage adaptation of “The Kite Runner,” according to the Guardian.

Giles Croft, artistic director of the Nottingham Playhouse, told the Guardian he wanted to bring the play to the UK to underscore the many parallels to modern British life, including the immigrant experience.

“But it seems to me that it has another profound connection to Britain; as we move towards a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan it is good, and important, to be reminded of the Afghans' own stories and histories,” Croft said. “We have inevitably become bound up in the tragedies and politics of this most recent Afghan war and the experiences of western troops,” he added. “It is easy to forget that the Afghans are a people with a complex and rich culture, with their own story to tell, and that story won't stop, or cease to be relevant when our troops come home.”

That’s why, as the world’s attention turns from Afghanistan to a volatile and changing Middle East, we’re grateful this Thanksgiving week for people like Khaled Hosseini, an author-ambassador who uses rich storytelling to build a connection between Americans and Afghans, one that we hope will outlast and transcend any military conflict.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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