By Pat ShermanKhaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling novel, “The Kite Runner” (basis for the 2007 film of the same name) was in La Jolla June 26 for a discussion and book signing at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Prospect Street.
During the sold-out event, hosted by Warwick’s bookstore and moderated by radio host
Martha Barnette, the 1993 UC San Diego School of Medicine graduate spoke of returning to his “former stomping grounds.”
“It’s great to be back,” Hosseini said. “I really loved my time here at UC San Diego. … I made some amazing friends and had four really unforgettable years here. … I ended up practicing (medicine) for a good eight-and-a-half years.”
Asked if he wrote during his time at UCSD, Hosseini chided Barnette, “Your even asking that question shows me that you know very little about medical school. I took a seven-year sabbatical from writing during medical school and my three years of residency training, but I was writing pretty much my whole time in the U.S. outside of those seven years,” he said.
Born in Kabul, Afghanistan Hosseini came to California with his family at age 15, as part of an initial wave of immigrants seeking asylum in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He spoke almost no English — though curiously, he said, he knew the word “gluttony.”
“It’s sort of the very by-the-book immigrant story,” he said. “My family arrived in the U.S. essentially stripped of all belongings and possessions and title. Like any other firstborn son of an immigrant family, I had my choice of three careers and I couldn’t imagine being an engineer or a lawyer.”
Before signing copies of his new book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” Hosseini fielded questions from the audience.
One woman remarked that she felt more connected to the characters in his new release than his first two novels, which includes his sophomore effort, “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”
As a writer, Hosseini said he considers himself more discriminating and tougher on himself these days.
“I’m much more careful about what I put on paper,” he said. “I’m not dissing ‘The Kite Runner.’ I love the book, but I haven’t read it in 10 years. I’d want to take out the editing pen.”
Hosseini said the characters and relationships in “And the Mountains Echoed” are more complex, nuanced and morally ambiguous than those in his previous works.
“Their failures, their fallibilities, their honorable points — it’s all there and it’s a big mess, and we catch them at moments of decision making … and to me that’s very interesting,” he said.
His new book is also filled with nods to his poetic education in Afghanistan, where he said verse is the traditional mode of artistic expression.
“It sort of transcends that; it’s really part of the Afghan DNA, part of even common people’s lingo,” he said, noting that even in areas with high rates of illiteracy, people can recite lines of poetry and Rumi’s verse is often found alongside graffiti on abandoned buildings.
“You were expected to memorize poetry, you were expected to understand it,” he said.
Though the new book pays homage to that poetic upbringing and touches on the wars and controversy in Afghan, Hosseini said it is decidedly less political and forceful than his first two books.
“My sense is that ‘Kite Runner’ was quite divisive in my community in that some people felt it brought out problems in Afghan society that might have been best kept in-house — that’s something that I fully understand,” he said, noting the skepticism felt by some Afghans who’ve personally lived through the “debacle of the last 30 years.”
“I do expect that as an Afghan living in exile writing about Afghanistan that I will always have my critics,” he said.
“That’s just par for the course.”