From the period of its rule under Genghis Khan to its 1979 Soviet invasion, the area today known as Afghanistan perpetually has been at the crossroads of military conquest. Today, the fractious nation lies at the very center of a global hotbed, yet few Americans understand the place or its people beyond the context of actions publicly ordered by our own military commanders. Dr. Khaled Hosseini, an Afghan diplomat’s son who spent his childhood years in pre-Soviet Afghanistan, uses his storytelling gift to relate the complex history and culture of Afghan people in his novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both are epic yet personal tales that follow the lives of Afghans through the most tumultuous years in the country’s recent history. On Tuesday, September 29, UCSB’s Arts & Lectures and Westmont College bring Hosseini to the Arlington Theatre.
Having lived in Tehran and Paris during parts of the 1970s, Hosseini’s family gained political asylum in the United States in 1980, eventually settling in San Jose, California. Adjusting to their new life in America wasn’t easy. “I didn’t speak any English, and started school 10 days after I got here,” he explained in a recent telephone interview, “but for my folks, it was even harder. They were in their forties and had to leave behind their lives and identities.” Despite the obstacles they faced, Hosseini’s family made a successful transition. He went on to receive a medical degree from UC San Diego in 1993, practicing medicine until after the release of The Kite Runner, a story familiar to many from its 2007 adaptation for film.
Like Hosseini himself, the protagonist in The Kite Runner, Amir, is caught up in the upheaval of the Soviet invasion. But the autobiographical nature of the novel ends there, allowing Hosseini to explore a familiar situation through the eyes of a unique character. “One of the attractions of that character is that he was so deeply flawed,” Hosseini said. “He lacked courage and could tell lies and could be petty and cruel, but he had an endearing capacity for self-analysis. It was very interesting for me to write [Amir] because he had so much room for improvement, and he also had a much broader arc of transformation than any of the other characters in the book.”
CANCELED: Khaled Hosseini
- When: Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 8 p.m.
- Where: Arlington Theatre, 1317 State St., Santa Barbara, CA
- Cost: $18 - $28
- Age limit: All ages
Although his time spent living in the capital city of Kabul is now a distant memory, the roots of Afghan culture prove deep in Hosseini’s writing. Recently, he has returned to Afghanistan twice-with plans to return again-under the auspices of the United Nations Refugee Agency. “The situation is pretty serious in Afghanistan,” he said. “In the south, it’s a hotbed of insurgency, and in the midst of IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices] and suicide bombings, it’s been tough to get development programs started.”