Profiles in Beauty: Khaled Hosseini

khaled hosseini

Writer Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965. His father was a diplomat in the Afghan Foreign Ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at the high school. In 1976, the family was moved to Paris and although they wanted to return to their home in 1980, they could not because the Soviets had invaded and the country was at war.

The family received political asylum in the United States and moved to San Jose, California, where Hosseini grew up and eventually attended medical school and became an internist.  In 1999, he learned that the Taliban had banned the sport of kite flying in Afghanistan. Afghanis have been flying kites for more than 100 years. The competitive kite fighting sport was incredibly popular and the people took great pride in the colors and designs of their kites along with the skill used to win the fights.

Hosseini had loved kite flying when he lived in Kabul and the ban hit a deep cultural nerve. He decided to write a short story about two boys who fly kites in Kabul. He ended up writing the novel The Kite Runner, which was published in 2003 and became an international bestseller. Aside from exploring the cultural importance of kite flying, the novel helped Hosseini process his own “survivor’s guilt.”

While The Kite Runner delves into an important father-son relationship, his next novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns explores a mother-daughter story. Published in 2007, Hosseini wanted to write about the experiences of Afghani women.

Hosseini’s most recent novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was published in 2013. In a New York Times book review, it was described as “his most assured and emotionally gripping novel yet.” Again, Hosseini tells a multigenerational story but this time focuses on the relationship among siblings.

Hosseini has enjoyed a great deal of success as a writer. And although he has lived most of his life in the United States, he continues to be connected to Afghanistan. He was asked by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be a goodwill envoy, and he returned to Afghanistan in 2007, 2009, and 2010. The Taliban, war with the Soviet Union, and war with the United States have left the country in ruins. The Khaled Hosseini Foundation works with the UNHCR to provide humanitarian assistance to those driven from their homes. The foundation also provides health care, economic opportunities, and education to women and children.

Hosseini noted that the refugees he met on his return trips were “resilient, hard-working, and resourceful people, eager to rebuild their country and put their dark past behind them.”

In September 2014, Khaled Hosseini won the John Steinbeck Award for fiction, which is presented each year to artists who “capture the spirit of Steinbeck’s empathy, commitment to democratic values, and the belief in the dignity of the common man.” Previous winners include Arthur Miller and Studs Terkel.

I have to make an admission here—I have read only The Kite Runner. I loved the novel but found it emotionally wrenching and difficult to get through. Perhaps I have avoided his two subsequent novels because I haven’t felt quite ready to endure the feelings that will no doubt get stirred up. But having learned about his more recent writing and humanitarian work, I think I’m ready to take that journey once again.

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