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If you like Khaled Hosseini's story, you might also like:
Benazir Bhutto,
Mohamed ElBaradei,
Joan Didion,
Carlos Fuentes,
John Grisham,
John Irving,
Hamid Karzai,
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Joyce Carol Oates,
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Amy Tan
and Gore Vidal

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Khaled Hosseini
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Khaled Hosseini Interview (page: 8 / 9)

Afghanistan's Tumultuous History

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  Khaled Hosseini

How is the U.S. viewed in Afghanistan today?

Khaled Hosseini: Still in a positive way. There is still, I think, a reasonable amount of goodwill for the U.S. They were never perceived in a negative away.


I think Afghans are a sovereign people, they have a long history of not welcoming invaders. But I don't think the States, the U.S., or NATO are seen as invaders largely. I think what preceded the arrival of the Western forces was so horrible, namely the commanders, followed by the Taliban, that the West is seen as, at least hopefully an antidote to those ills. So people are still, have goodwill for the U.S. I think when you talk to people, there is actually a fear that the West will pack its bags and leave. They feel, not that there is a great love for having foreign troops on their land, but because they feel that if they were to do that, it is all too easy to imagine that the country would slide right back and be back into chaos and be, once again, a playground for commanders and drug traders and extremists, which you have to agree with. And so there is still quite a bit of goodwill, but I think the danger is that we have to -- we being the West -- and I say this purely as a lay person, I don't think there is a military solution in Afghanistan. I think the military -- I think the solution comes not only from military, but it comes really, I know a tired clichÈ, of winning the hearts and minds of the people. It's a race between us and the Taliban to convince people which is better for them and which will keep their promises and which understands them better. And I'm not sure that that's a battle that we are winning right now.


We spoke to President Hamid Karzai shortly before the last elections.

Khaled Hosseini: Five years later, you have to say that, fairly or unfairly, that his image has eroded to some extent. I met him as well last September.

He was very convincing in his optimism that things could get better fast. Five years later, it doesn't look like things have gotten better that fast.

Khaled Hosseini Interview Photo
Khaled Hosseini: No, they haven't. To give an analogy, the rebuilding of Afghanistan is not a hundred meter dash, it's a marathon. And we have to be ready for long-term commitment. When you go to these conferences about Afghanistan, those three words come up again and again and again. It's natural to want to see results fast, and I also think things could be better than they are today. There's definitely some legitimacy to the concerns that people have, but I think we also have to wait. This is a country in which every meaningful institution was ravaged, and that saw massive human displacement. Millions of people live as refugees abroad, and in which there was a destruction of an already threadbare infrastructure. This country has to be raised from the ashes, basically. Is it reasonable to expect that in six or seven years it would be great? I think any success in Afghanistan has to be measured in decades. That's probably what we are looking at.

Your poor country has had such a history of invasions and massacres. What is the draw for other countries? Is it geographical?


Khaled Hosseini: Afghanistan's great draw is its position. As Afghans call Afghanistan the heart of Asia, it's always been a gateway, a passage, throughout history, for different empires to march through. Peter the Great always had dreams of the waters of the Indian Ocean, and for that, he needed Afghanistan. And of course, the British Empire wanted to prevent that, so they had a stake in Afghanistan, and it was the genesis of the Great Game in the 19th century. For the Soviet Union to invade Afghanistan in the late '70s, there is a lot of debate over why exactly they did that. By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert, but one school of thought is that the situation had gotten out of hand in Afghanistan, that the puppet regime, the communist puppet regime was losing control of the country, and the Soviets invaded really to take matters into their own hands. But Afghanistan's draw has always been its position, and it's a passageway.


The success of your first two novels has been astonishing, but there were a few negative reviews as well. How do you react to criticism of your writing?


Khaled Hosseini: You have to have a very thick skin, and also to not dismiss somebody who is critical of your work right off the bat. It may be that they have a legitimate point about something. If it's personal -- it's rarely personal, but if it's just done to be clever, to be glib, that is one thing. But I find that most people, most critics don't write that way, and whatever objection they have, whether I agree with them or disagree with them, comes from a viewpoint that has coherently been thought about. It's never easy to see unkind things said about your writing, but I actually have benefited from largely good reviews in both of my books. And certainly you can't have uniformly great reviews, but the reviews on both of my books have been great. And the fortunate thing for me is that the reviews for my second book were actually better than The Kite Runner, and that was rewarding for me, because I felt like as a writer, I definitely had grown, I had become a better writer the second time around than I was when I wrote The Kite Runner. But you have to take negative criticism of your writing with a grain of salt. It's a privilege to be published, and that comes, that is part of the game.


One of the challenges of your second novel is writing largely from the point of view of a woman, something that writing teachers frown upon in college. Could you tell us about the challenge of writing from a woman's point of view?

Khaled Hosseini: Had I known that college teachers frown upon that, I might have been less enthusiastic about doing it. I think part of my good fortune is that I trained in the sciences, so I have never been in those conferences. I never sat in those classrooms where you are told what is allowed and what is not. So I said I want to write this story, and it's going to be about a woman, and then I realized it's about two women. And I called my agent before I began writing the book, and I told her, "Here's what I think the book is," and there was a long pause at the other end of the line, and she goes, "Well, you have your work cut out for you." I said that I thought I would be okay, and then I began actually writing it and realized what I had taken on. This novel took me almost three years to write. The Kite Runner took me a year, and that was with working full-time. I wrote this novel largely away from medicine. I had already quit my career and yet it took longer.


I struggled with the notion that I'm writing from a woman's perspective, and the last thing I want is to sound like the reader to read it and say, "Oh, yeah, this is a guy imagining what it's like." You know, I became borderline obsessed with the idea of capturing that voice, definitely, of writing with the understanding that women live in a slightly different emotional arena than men do, and that they perceive the world in a different fashion than men do. And that somehow I have to find that. I have to slip my feet into those shoes and live in that skin. And until I do, it's never going to work. And of course, the harder I tried, the worse the writing and the more self-conscious and stilted and contrived it came across. Eventually, all of the solutions that I've ever found in writing have been very simple, but I have to go through all of those blind valleys to get to it. And of course, with this one, I finally gave up on this and said, "Look, I'm just not going to worry about it, I'm just going to write these people as people, as human beings, and just focus on what it is that they fear, what it is that they hope, how were they disappointed by life, what are their illusions, their disillusions. You know, what way are they deluding themselves, in what way are they honorable or less than honorable. Let's just figure those things out and just write them as people and not worry about whether it's a man or a woman." And of course when I did that, suddenly I began to notice that my voice was fading away and that these women, these characters, were starting to speak for themselves. And that was, for me, in the writing of this book, really a watershed moment. I should not think of these characters as Afghan women in italics, but rather are just people. Write them and hopefully it comes across as genuine. And I haven't had too many complaints about the voice and so on, and so I feel, personally I feel pretty pleased with it, and I'm glad to see that a lot of people agree.


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