‘Kite Runner’ author revisits homeland in books

Khaled Hosseini to speak Sunday in New Orleans

When Khaled Hosseini visited Afghanistan in 2003, he was not yet the renowned author of the international best-seller “The Kite Runner.” Instead, he was simply an expatriate on a mission to revisit his ancestral home in Kabul and discover what meaning it still held for him.

“I saw the home that my father had built, where I was raised, and it was nothing like it was when we lived there,” he recalled. “There were seven soldiers living in it, and they were agreeable enough to let us walk through. It seemed smaller than I remembered, of course, because you remember things from your childhood as being so much bigger. But the house had not been cared for. Walls were crumbling. And the grass, the flowers were gone — it was barren.”

Themes of remembrance, family, loss, home and separation weave through works by Hosseini, who will speak at Temple Sinai on Sunday evening at an event organized by Octavia Books to celebrate the release of the paperback edition of his third novel, “And the Mountains Echoed.”

He said the book was inspired in part by a news story he heard sometime in 2010 but also by an image that sprang into his mind that he could not shake.

“I read a news story about the bitter Afghan winter that year and how many had died from the cold. It led to parents selling their children to wealthy families, both to give them a better life and to get the money from the sale to be able to take care of their families,” Hosseini said.

“I had in my mind an image of a father walking across the desert pulling a wagon with his young son and daughter in tow. The image mixed with this news story and became the core of the novel.”

There is much that Hosseini has experienced in his own life that mirrors the sometimes heart-wrenching predicaments of his protagonists.

He was born in Kabul in 1965 to a wealthy diplomat father and schoolteacher mother. The family moved to Paris for the father’s work when Hosseini was 11.

By 1980, the political situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated to such an extent that the family sought asylum in the United Sates.

They were impoverished when they landed in California, and Hosseini’s parents worked menial jobs to take care of the family. Hosseini went on to become a physician, practicing at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles beginning in 1996.

“I didn’t make a conscious choice to stop being a doctor, but writing began taking more and more time,” he said. “I had been writing since I was a child — it was always a passion of mine — and once the first book came out and was a success, I became deeply involved in the second. I realized I couldn’t practice medicine part time any more than I could write part time, and writing won out.”

Hosseini said he draws on the vivid memories of his childhood when he writes about Afghanistan in his novels.

“I didn’t make a conscious choice to stop being a doctor, but writing began taking more and more time. I had been writing since I was a child — it was always a passion of mine — and once the first book came out and was a success, I became deeply involved in the second. I realized I couldn’t practice medicine part time any more than I could write part time, and writing won out.” Khaled Hosseini, author, on leaving medicine to pursue a writing career

“I write about what I know, what I remember, and though we left when I was 11, the memories are powerful,” he said. “I pay attention to everything I can read or hear in the news to try to understand what it is like now — when I visit, I educate myself.”

Hosseini has two children of his own, ages 15 and 11, whom he hopes to take with him on a visit to his home country one day.

But with much of Afghanistan still in the grip of political violence, corruption and poverty, and with 9,800 American troops stationed there until at least the end of the year, it is unlikely that day will come soon.

“Now it would be irresponsible,” he said. “They are interested; they would like to go and to understand. I know that when it happens, they won’t see the country that I experienced as a child; you can’t recapture that. But I want them to know the place that has had such an influence on me.”