The author famous for the modern classic, The Kite Runner, sets his new book And The Mountains Echoed in his native Afghanistan again. It is about two siblings whose lives are split by time and history. He replies to an email
As someone who has spent most of his life outside Afghanistan, Hosseini, whose stories are set in locations he is personally familiar with, draws on his own childhood experiences in his works (he grew up in Paris). His first novel was about fathers and sons. The latest, And the Mountains Echoed (by Bloomsbury), is about siblings.
The story begins during the 1950s in Afghanistan and is about Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister who are split from each other when Pari is given to a wealthy couple who raise her in Paris.
Like The Kite Runner, there is nostalgia of separation, interwoven with lives of others, including a pair of twin sisters and a lonely warlord’s son.The tale was apparently inspired by a pair of lovely children he encountered in a remote part of Afghanistan. In that case the little boy doted on his big sister.
When you were a kid, your family lived in Paris, unable to return home to Afghanistan due to the 1978 coup. What memories do you have of exile?
The first two years in Paris, from the fall of 1976 to April of 1978, were wonderful.
I had never been anywhere outside Afghanistan and Iran, where I had lived as a child for two years. Paris flattened me the first time I saw it; it was a feast for the ears, the eyes, and in some ways for me, like having fast-forwarded 100 years.
I felt I had stepped onto the set of a science-fiction film. Prior to Paris, I had never seen a skyscraper, been in an elevator, ridden a subway, or watched cars speeding on a freeway. Those were happy years, with all of us in the family learning French, trying new foods, watching French TV, visiting famous sights, and generally adapting to a new culture — though with the understanding that this was temporary and that we would be reunited with friends and family back in Kabul once my father’s four-year post ended. Our last two years after the communist coup in 1978, were a time of transformation.
Our world unravelled. From our apartment in Paris, we received regular news of family and acquaintances who had been imprisoned, tortured, killed, or gone missing.
It was a time of great instability and anxiety, culminating with my father’s decision to seek asylum in the US, where we would have to adapt to a new culture, a new language, and new way of life.
You use a Rumi poem as an epigraph. Is this a poem you knew growing up?
Actually, this particular poem I learned about in English, and is not one that I grew up with. But I did grow up around a lot of Rumi, and other Sufi poets like Hafez, Khayyám, Beydel and others. Afghans, both urban and rural, traditionally grow up there around poetry, and it would not be unusual at all to run into an illiterate farmer somewhere in a barren part of the country who could recite from memory verse after verse of Rumi.
At the risk of self-referencing, a Greek character in And the Mountains Echoed says he loves Afghans. because even the graffiti artists spray-paint Rumi on the walls.
Indeed, on my visits to Afghanistan, I am always struck by how often, instead of vulgarity, I find poetry spray-painted on the walls of abandoned buildings. It is part of the Afghan DNA.
The success of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns allowed for the establishment of your humanitarian organisation, The Khaled Hosseini Foundation (TKHF)....
During my visit to northern Afghanistan in September 2007, I met poor families who spent entire winters cooped up in holes dug underground. I visited villages where families routinely lost ten to fifteen children to the elements every winter and every summer.
They had little shelter and no access to health facilities, to schools, food, or jobs. I was devastated.On the flight home, I feared this life-altering trip would be in vain.
My wife, Roya, and I held long discussions about how to extend our personal blessings to needy in Afghanistan. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation is the outcome.
We assist women and children, two groups who have suffered more than any other. We also focus on refugees. Since 2008, the TKHF funded 359 shelters for 2,000 people. In 2012, TKHF provided $110,000 to fund 55 shelters at current costs.
We also funded scholarships for young women, literacy programs for adult women and sponsored street kids.
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Most of the military aid US gave to Pakistan never went to counter-insurgency. It went into buying equipment to fight India.