GeekDad Interview: Khaled Hosseini, Author of The Kite Runner

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2003 best-seller The Kite Runner reveals the beauty and agony of a tormented nation as it tells the story of an improbable friendship between two boys from opposite ends of society, and of the troubled but enduring relationship between a father and a son. The Kite Runner begins in Kabul in the 1970s, shortly after the overthrow of the last Afghan king. Set on a broad canvas encompassing the communist coup d’état, the Soviet invasion, the rise of the Afghan freedom fighters or mujahideen, and the early days of the Taliban, Hosseini’s tale also portrays the Afghan community of exiles in America with unparalleled insight and deft wit. The Kite Runner graphic novel is a beautiful new rendering of Khaled Hosseini’s beloved story.

I recently caught up with the author, Khaled Hosseini, for a brief interview:

GeekDad: With the success of The Kite Runner as a novel, why the decision to produce a graphic novel?

Khaled Hosseini: I was approached to do it by my Italian publisher, Piemme. It was their idea, but it really caught my fancy as I have been a fan of comic books since childhood. I also felt The Kite Runner was a story that would lend itself well to a visual retelling in a graphic novel. Indeed I believe Fabio Celoni’s work vividly brings to life not only the mountains, the bazaars, the city of Kabul and its kite-dotted skies, but also the many struggles, conflicts, and emotional highs and lows of Amir’s journey.

GD: Was creating a graphic novel similar to your experience in making a movie? As in, taking ideas from your head and converting them to images?

KH: Yes, except the images were created in Fabio Celoni’s mind. I chose to let him take the lead. Fabio and I did exchange an e-mail or two, but it was my intention to step out of the way and let his artistic instincts take over. He did send me pages as he progressed, both in black and white and some color samples as well. It was really exciting to see the sketches and to see the story shaping up visually

GD: Thinking back to writing The Kite Runner, what was that like? Had you written much before?

KH: Though The Kite Runner was my first completed novel, I had been writing on and off for most of my life, primarily short stories, and primarily for myself. The experience of writing The Kite Runner is one I will always think back on with fondness. There is an energy, a romance in writing the first novel that can never be duplicated again. I was entirely absorbed in that world as I wrote the book and to see the final page of that manuscript whir out of the printer was a very special feeling indeed.

GD: Where did this story come from? What was the inspiration?

Khaled Hosseini

KH: In early 1999, I was watching TV, when I came across a story on Afghanistan. It was a story about the Taliban and the restrictions they were imposing on the Afghan people, most notably women. At some point in the story, there was a casual reference to them having banned the game of kite fighting. This detail struck a personal chord with me, as I had grown up in Kabul flying kite with my friends. That is one of the seminal memories of growing up for me. So I found myself sitting at the computer, and I thought I was going to write a kind of simple nostalgic story about two boys and their love of kite fighting. But stories have a will of their own, and this one turned out to be this dark tale about betrayal, loss, regret. The short story which was about 25 pages long sat around for a couple of years. In March of 2001, I revisited the short story, and found that thought it did not work well as a short story, it might work much better as a longer one. The novel came about as an expansion of that original, unpublished short story.

GD: For those who do not know, you studied medicine and were a practicing physician for many years. What made you decide to change career paths to writing?

KH: It wasn’t planned. Even after The Kite Runner was published I continued to practice for another eighteen months. But I had always had a love of writing and a compulsion to do it. In 2004, I took a one year sabbatical to finish my second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. At the end of that year, I was not done with my book, and had to in effect resign from work. I did. I never went back. By then The Kite Runner had become quite successful and I found myself in a position that I had always dreamed of my whole life, which was to write for a living.

GD: You have already released your second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, so what is next?

KH: I am working on another novel. But probably the less said the better at this point in time.

GD: Anything else you would like to add?

KH: I started a foundation, called The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The mission has been to help the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. So the focus has been on women, children, and homeless refugees, most of whom are in fact women and children. So far, the bulk of our efforts has focused on helping build permanent shelters for returning refugees who are homeless, living out in the open or in makeshift homes. This is an area of urgent need as Afghanistan’s natural elements are quite harsh, with very hot summers, and freezing winters. We also support and fund projects that bring jobs, healthcare, and education to women and children. In addition, we award scholarships to women pursuing higher education in Afghanistan.

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