‘Kite Runner’ author dedicates new book to Afghan women

La Jolla’s local bookstores have hosted countless literary heavyweights through the years, but perhaps none arrived to the fanfare that greeted Khaled Hosseini.

Hosseini, author of the international bestseller “The Kite Runner” and the new book “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” appeared before a gymnasium full of fans at the Bishop’s School on June 15. Hosseini read passages from his new novel and answered questions from the audience before signing copies of his book for hundreds of San Diegans at the event hosted by Warwick’s bookstore.

“The Kite Runner,” published in 2003, sold over 4 million copies worldwide and was published in 38 countries. The story of a young Afghan who lived through the Soviet invasion and the rule of the Taliban before emigrating to the United States drew upon Hosseini’s own personal experiences.

Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, in 1965, Hosseini and his family moved to Paris in 1976 for his father’s work with the Afghan Foreign Ministry. They planned to return to Kabul in 1980, but by then the Soviets had invaded and the family sought asylum in the United States. They lived in San Jose, and Hosseini went on to graduate from Santa Clara University before studying medicine at UCSD. He wrote “The Kite Runner” while practicing medicine in Los Angeles.

“There’s a fair amount of me in (“The Kite Runner”),” he said. “But I am not Amir, and I’ve tried to tell people that. You hear a lot these days about people writing memoirs that turn out to be novels. I’ve written a novel that people think is a memoir - it’s the opposite problem.”

The book has been made into a film that is expected to be released in November. Hosseini said he was on set for much of the filming in western China, but his involvement was limited.

“I kind of stayed on the sidelines,” he said. “But the producers kept me involved and pulled me on to the field. I was there as a kind of cultural/literary consultant.”

Hosseini has seen a cut of the film and said he was pleased with the results.

“It was really moving,” he said. “The boys in the film are beautiful. They light up the screen.”

Hosseini’s new book, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” was released in May and moved quickly to the top of the New York Times Bestseller list. He said the book came out of his considerations of the struggle of women in Afghanistan, which he called “one of the greatest struggles in recent world history.” He said women in Afghanistan still today are humilated, raped, abducted, sold into prostitution and denied fundamental human rights. Hosseini said a radio director and a young news anchorwoman were killed in Afghanistan in recent weeks because of their outspoken views on women’s rights.

“I consider this novel as my small tribute to them,” he said.

The story follows two women: one a modest, uneducated older woman living in a small village in western Afghanistan, and the other a young middle-class girl living in the big city of Kabul. As Afghanistan unravels and the Taliban comes into power, the women’s lives become intertwined in unexpected ways, he said. Hosseini read a selection from the novel in which the young girl tries to go to a hospital to give birth, only to find that the Taliban has instituted a new rule: women and men must be treated in separate hospitals. The women are directed to a run-down hospital that is without proper equipment and medication.

Hosseini said the passage was in part inspired by his trip to Afghanistan in 2003. As a doctor, he was very interested in visiting the medical facilities there. He said a doctor told him he frequently performs surgical procedures including amputations and c-sections without anasthetic.

Responding to a question from the audience, Hosseini said conditions for women have made only small gains since the fall of the Taliban.

“Seven years ago, women were being beaten in the streets,” he said. “Now they are sitting in the lower houses of Parliament - of course, they’re being threatened and suspended for their beliefs.”

Hosseini received an enthusiastic reception from the huge crowd, which he noted was much bigger than the first time he appeared at Warwick’s, just after “The Kite Runner” was published.

“About 90 percent of the people there that day were related to me,” he said.

Audience members praised both Hosseini’s work and his engaging speaking style.

“He makes people think about other things going on in other places,” said audience member Karen Wait. “He makes you open your eyes.”