“Like a compass needle that points north, a man's accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.”
Khaled Hosseini (born March 4, 1965) is an Afghan-born American novelist and physician. After graduating from college, he worked as a doctor in California, an occupation that he likened to “an arranged marriage”. He has published three novels, most notably his 2003 debut The Kite Runner, all of which are at least partially set in Afghanistan and feature an Afghan as the protagonist. Following the success of The Kite Runner he retired from medicine to write full-time.
Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father worked as a diplomat, and when Hosseini was 11 years old, the family moved to France; four years later, they applied for asylum in the United States, where he later became a citizen. Hosseini did not return to Afghanistan until 2001 at the age of 36, where he “felt like a tourist in [his] own country”. In interviews about the experience, he admitted to sometimes feeling survivor’s guilt for having been able to leave the country before the Soviet invasion and subsequent wars.
All three of his novels became bestsellers: The Kite Runner spent 101 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, four of them at number one. A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) was a Times Best Seller for 103 weeks, 15 at number one. And the Mountains Echoed (2013) debuted near the top of the Times list and remained on it for 33 weeks until January 2014.
Hosseini was born on March 4, 1965 in Kabul, Afghanistan, the eldest of five children. His father, Nasser, was a moderate Muslim who worked as a diplomat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kabul while his mother worked as a Persian language teacher at a girls high school, both originate from Herat. Regarding his ethnicity, Hosseini stated, “I’m not pure anything … There’s a Pashtun part of me, a Tajik part of me.” His mother’s family is believed to be from the Mohammadzai tribe of Pashtuns. Hosseini describes his upbringing as privileged. He spent eight years of his childhood in the middle class Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood in Kabul. Hosseini does not recall his sister, Raya, ever suffering discrimination for being female. Kabul itself was “a growing, thriving, cosmopolitan city” where he regularly flew kites with a number of cousins.
In 1970, Hosseini and his family moved to Iran where his father worked for the Embassy of Afghanistan in Tehran. In 1973, Hosseini’s family returned to Kabul, and Hosseini’s youngest brother was born in July of that year. In 1976, when Hosseini was 11 years old, his father secured a job in Paris, France, and moved the family there. They were unable to return to Afghanistan because of the April 1978 Saur Revolution in which the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power. In 1980, shortly after the start of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, they sought political asylum in the United States and made their residence in San Jose, California. Hosseini, then aged 15, did not speak English when he first arrived in the United States. He describes the experience as “a culture shock” and “very alienating”.
Despite their distance from the country’s turmoil, the family was aware of the situations faced by a number of their friends and relatives. Hosseini explained:
“We had a lot of family and friends in Kabul. And the communist coup, as opposed to the coup that happened in ’73, was actually very violent. A lot of people rounded up and executed, a lot of people were imprisoned. Virtually anybody that was affiliated or associated with the previous regime or the royal family was persecuted, imprisoned, killed, rounded up, or disappeared. And so we would hear news of friends and acquaintances and occasionally family members to whom that had happened, that were either in prison or worse, had just disappeared and nobody knew where they were, and some of them never turned up. My wife’s uncle was a very famous singer and composer in Kabul who had been quite vocal about his dislike for the communists and so on and he disappeared. And to this day, we have no idea what happened to him. So that sort of thing, we began to hear news over in Europe of mass executions and really just horror stories. So it was surreal, and it also really kind of hit home in a very real way.”
Hosseini graduated from Independence High School in San Jose in 1984 and enrolled at Santa Clara University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1988. The following year, he entered the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, where he earned his M.D. in 1993. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in 1996. He practiced medicine for over ten years, until a year and a half after the release of The Kite Runner.
Hosseini is currently a Goodwill Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He has been working to provide humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan through the Khaled Hosseini Foundation. The concept for the foundation was inspired by the trip to Afghanistan that Hosseini made in 2007 with UNHCR.
He lives in Northern California with his wife, Roya, and their two children, Haris and Farah.
In 2003, Hosseini released his first novel, The Kite Runner, the story of a young boy, Amir, struggling to establish a closer rapport with his father and coping with memories of a haunting childhood event. The novel is set in Afghanistan, from the fall of the monarchy until the collapse of the Taliban regime, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically in Fremont, California. Its many themes include ethnic tensions between the Hazaras and the Pashtuns in Afghanistan, and the immigrant experiences of Amir and his father in the United States. The novel was the number three best seller for 2005 in the United States, according to Nielsen BookScan. The Kite Runner was also produced as an audiobook read by the author. The Kite Runner has been adapted into a film of the same name released in December 2007. Hosseini made a cameo appearance towards the end of the movie as a bystander when Amir buys a kite which he later flies with Sohrab.
Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was published in 2007, and is also set in Afghanistan. The story addresses many of the same issues as Hosseini’s first, but takes a more feminine perspective. It follows the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become entwined. The story is set during Afghanistan’s tumultuous thirty-year transition from Soviet occupation to Taliban control and post-Taliban rebuilding. The novel was released by Riverhead Books on May 22, 2007, at the same time as the Simon & Schuster audiobook. Movie rights have been acquired by producer Scott Rudin and Columbia Pictures.
Hosseini’s third novel And the Mountains Echoed was released on May 21, 2013. Prior to its release, Hosseini said:
“I am forever drawn to family as a recurring central theme of my writing. My earlier novels were at heart tales of fatherhood and motherhood. My new novel is a multi-generational family story as well, this time revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for each other.