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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Khaled Hosseini’s Latest Bestseller Spans Generations

Khaled Hosseini is author of "And The Mountains Echoed." (Elena Seibert)

Khaled Hosseini is author of “And The Mountains Echoed.” (Elena Seibert)

Author Khaled Hosseini found international fame with his debut novel, “The Kite Runner.”

Now he’s out with his third book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” which tells a story spanning decades and stretching from a village in Afghanistan to Paris and California (excerpt below).

Hosseini mines his own experiences as a transplant from Afghanistan to show how tightly intertwined all of our lives are.

The idea for the book

Out of the success of “The Kite Runner,” Hosseini was given the opportunity take a greater role in giving aid to his native Afghanistan.

“I’ve felt helpless for such a long time,” Hosseini told Here & Now. “I watched this country that I have a very strong connection to just fall apart. I felt like there was nothing I could do. When the refugee agency — the UNHCR — asked me to work with them, it was an absolutely perfect opportunity.”

There are some core universal human experiences that we’ve all had, no matter our backgrounds, and this book does speak to them.

– Khaled Hosseini

The chance he was given to work with UNHCR helped him formulate his new book, about an Afghan doctor living in Northern California and returning to Afghanistan as an adult — a plot line that echoes Hosseini’s own experience.

“It’s impossible to not write about myself,” Hosseini said.

Feeling like an outsider

Hosseini went back to Afghanistan at the age of 38, his first time there since he was 11.

“And yet when I walk the streets of Kabul, I realize this isn’t home.”

He wanted to ask locals questions about the wars, but he wasn’t sure if he was “entitled” to do so. But even as he felt self-consciousness, he watched other Afghan Americans — who he calls “ugly” Afghan Americans — act as if they belonged.

In “And the Mountains Echoed,” he describes one such man by saying, “He was working on his pecs at Golds Gym while these people were getting bombed to death.”

Hosseini feels incredibly lucky, which sometimes makes it even harder to experience Kabul.

“I do recall going to Kabul and being bowled over by this immediate instinct to want to help everybody … and I’m a physician.”

But to follow through on helping everyone, or anyone, takes a whole lot more than just good intentions. The lead character in his book experiences just that. He meets a little girl who is brutally injured and he promises to help, but he realizes that isn’t quite so easy.

Universal human experiences

He also describes a younger character in the book who realizes his father may not be the heroic figure he had always believed.

“That’s why I love writing about 12-year-olds, because they have one foot in childhood and they have a foot in this other place where the foundations of the world as they have thus far understood it are beginning to crack. It’s a transformative period. We all want to think that we are heroes and we’ll stand up and do the right thing, do the brave and courageous thing.”

The turmoil this young boy experiences over discovering truths about his father, is an experience shared by people in every culture.

“There are some core universal human experiences that we’ve all, had no matter our backgrounds, and this book does speak to them,” Hosseini said.

Book Excerpt: ‘And the Mountains Echoed’

By Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini "And The Mountains Echoed"Back home, in Shadbagh, Pari kept underneath her pillow an old tin tea box Abdullah had given her. It had a rusty latch, and on the lid was a bearded Indian man, wearing a turban and a long red tunic, holding up a steaming cup of tea with both hands. Inside the box were all of the feathers that Pari collected. They were her most cherished belongings. Deep green and dense burgundy rooster feathers; a white tail feather from a dove; a sparrow feather, dust brown, dotted with dark blotches; and the one of which Pari was proudest, an iridescent green peacock feather with a beautiful large eye at the tip.

This last was a gift Abdullah had given her two months earlier. He had heard of a boy from another village whose family owned a peacock. One day when Father was away digging ditches in a town south of Shadbagh, Abdullah walked to this other village, found the boy, and asked him for a feather from the bird. Negotiation ensued, at the end of which Abdullah agreed to trade his shoes for the feather. By the time he returned to Shadbagh, peacock feather tucked in the waist of his trousers beneath his shirt, his heels had split open and left bloody smudges on the ground. Thorns and splinters had burrowed into the skin of his soles. Every step sent barbs of pain shooting through his feet.

When he arrived home, he found his stepmother, Parwana, outside the hut, hunched before the tandoor, making the daily naan. He quickly ducked behind the giant oak tree near their home and waited for her to finish. Peeking around the trunk, he watched her work, a thick-shouldered woman with long arms, rough-skinned hands, and stubby fingers; a woman with a puffed, rounded face who possessed none of the grace of the butterfly she’d been named after.

Abdullah wished he could love her as he had his own mother. Mother, who had bled to death giving birth to Pari three and a half years earlier when Abdullah was seven. Mother, whose face was all but lost to him now. Mother, who cupped his head in both palms and held it to her chest and stroked his cheek every night before sleep and sang him a lullaby:

I found a sad little fairy
Beneath the shade of a paper tree.
I know a sad little fairy
Who was blown away by the wind one night.

He wished he could love his new mother in the same way. And perhaps Parwana, he thought, secretly wished the same, that she could love him.

Excerpted from the book AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED by Khaled Hosseini. Copyright © 2013 by Khaled Hosseini. Reprinted with permission of Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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