Khaled Hosseini goes to heart of characters' desires

St. Louis Post-DispatchJune 9, 2013 

Khaled Hosseini's first novel, "The Kite Runner," became a sensation in 2003. Hosseini, now 48, was able to stop working as a physician while writing his second novel, "A Thousand Spendid Suns."

His third novel, which features a brother and sister, went on sale last week. Hosseini talked by telephone from his home in northern California before embarking on a huge book tour for "And the Mountains Echoed."

Both of your novels have been big successes. Did you feel any pressure writing this new novel?

No, I've never felt any pressure on making it a best-seller. But the pressure that every writer feels is that one day you go to work and there is nothing to say. I love losing myself in a fictional world and creating character. There is an inherent sense of insecurity, though, about whether I'll be able to keep doing it. I think it's a healthy thing. Keeps you from resting on your laurels.

There's almost a "Sophie's Choice" angle, isn't there?

Yeah. I never thought of that. It's a decision that no parent would ever want to have to make. It's obviously heartbreaking for this guy -- that the only way to save his family is to give away one of his children.

I read a lot of stories about this kind of thing happening in Afghanistan in 2008. I asked my father, and he said he had heard of it happening when growing up in the 1940s and '50s. Where so-and-so sold his child because he had eight children and didn't have the means to take care of them.

Do you still practice medicine?

I haven't practiced since December 2004. I was behind while writing my second book and had to take a year off. After the year, I still wasn't done and decided to resign as a doctor.

Are there any parallels to your own childhood in the new novel?

Not from my own life. Part of it is set in Kabul, where I was growing up in the 1970s, when it was relatively more progressive ... woman wore makeup and worked in universities. I happened to live through the final few years of that era and I've re-created it. The closest this book comes to me is in the chapter with a young doctor who returns to Afghanistan after 27 years. There's a mixture of feelings that you landed at home in Kabul, but at the same time the place is so radically different that you feel like an outsider.

Have you noticed whether American perspectives of Afghanistan have changed since you wrote "The Kite Runner"?

Perhaps a little. Not so much forthe positive. Most people are tired of the war. They just see it as a failed stalemate. I understand and respect that. But at the same time, a lot of positive things have happened in Afghanistan, and they aren't always known: More children are in schools, thousand of kilometers of roads have been built, there's been a boom in telecommunications, more women working in government, significant improvements in child mortality. Lots of good things have happened, but the violence overshadows everything.

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