University packs Pavilion for author’s arrival

Oscar Chicas

Students, faculty, administrators and members of the surrounding community gathered in the Pavilion on Tuesday to hear “Kite Runner” author Khaled Hosseini speak of his own life and its connection to his widely acclaimed novel.

The novel was distributed to all undergraduates, faculty and staff, as the first selection in the One Book Villanova program. This widespread distribution played a significant role in making the program a success.

Hosseini, who turns 40 this year, appeared on campus as part of the English Department’s eighth annual Literary Festival. Alluding to the series of popular novels that were turned into a Jim Carrey movie, he told an intriguing tale of what he called “a series of fortunate events,” often moving the crowd to laughter at his life abroad in the United States.

His tales of his homeland during childhood were particularly vivid. “I consider myself infinitely fortunate to have lived there and seen it with my own eyes,” Hosseini said.

“The way I remember Kabul was a city that was always poor in one of the poorest countries in the world; it was never Tehran, Beirut, or Baghdad,” he said. “It had its own charm, and though my folks were not quite rich, we lived a privileged life in that city. What I remember most fondly about my childhood is on the front cover of the book, the kites.”

He also explained how he became a writer. “Aside from now with my novel, my childhood was perhaps my most prolific time as a writer, when I would frequently create stories for my family and friends,” he said. “One of these stories actually made it into the book- the story about the man and the cup that made pearls.”

Though his life was interrupted by the revolution, Hosseini was fortunate enough to have left the country before the worst of the fighting began. His father, a diplomat for the Afghan government before the revolution, had been appointed to a position in Paris.

“I remember climbing the steps of the plane thinking, ‘it’s October of 1976 and we’ll be back in fall of 1980,'” Hosseini said.

A subsequent internal coup and an invasion by Russia put a halt to those plans, eventually leading Hosseini’s family to successfully seek political asylum in America.

“There was a shame, however, having lived fairly well in Afghanistan, particularly in taking welfare when we first arrived,” Hosseini said.

“What should have been a time of incredible glory and peace after the demise of the Soviets was probably instead the worst four years any country had seen in recent history,” he said. “The Cold War had pumped the country full of weapons to defeat the Soviets, and suddenly Kabul found itself the battleground between all these different factions. Conflicts were commonly caused by ethnic rivalries, which were alluded to in the book. People couldn’t leave their homes without fear of being shot by a sniper, stepping on a landmine or some other victimization at the hands of hostile factions.”

Hosseini read aloud several autobiographical passages from the novel, including the one where the main character finds the father’s house upon his return and watches his father perform Khastegeri.

The author also spoke of how he first met his wife, a second-generation Afghani woman raised in Bethesda, Md. He recalled calling his future wife and asking her parents for her hand in marriage after meeting her only once. He related the story of finally becoming a doctor as she became a lawyer, before they got to know each other.

Hosseini also reflected on the turmoil of his country as seen from abroad. After moving to San Jose, Calif., in 1980, he graduated high school by 1984. He moved on to Santa Clara University and received a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1988 before completing medical school at U.C. San Diego in 1993. Throughout this time Hosseini kept a close eye on his former country, as did many of his fellow expatriates.

As Hosseini concluded, he told of how he had promised, as a teenager in Paris, to buy a beer for a friend if they should ever both become writers. Upon his visit to Paris to promote the book, he looked up the friend and came through on his promise.

“Writing started as kind of a personal vendetta against myself, really, to prove to myself that I could write a novel,” Hosseini said. “It truly was a story that came from deep inside me, something very personal and also something very small.”

“I was intrigued by the dynamic of the two central characters, Amir and Hassan, the interaction between the two seemingly polar opposites: Hassan, someone impossibly good, with Amir, someone who I feel has a moral compass but is somehow weak, troubled, and disturbed,” he said. ” I didn’t want to create a character who was completely irredeemable, and I feel it’s ultimately up to the reader as to whether or not Amir is in the end, redeemed.”

As with many novels, several drafts were written before publication. “The first draft was dramatically different from the second, which was dramatically different from the third, which was sent to the publisher. After sitting down with the publisher and editing the submitted draft, what was essentially a fourth draft emerged,” Hosseini said.

“Major characters became minor, minor characters became major, and I would say that the middle and end of the story were distinctly different from what I first envisioned, once the novel was finally completed for publication.”

Still working as a full-time doctor from March 2001 to June 2002, Hosseini commonly found himself writing from the hours of 5 a.m. to 8 a.m., returning to work as a doctor after a few pages of writing.

“The process,” he said, “came fairly naturally. It is laborious of course, and not without many small revisions in addition to the major re-writes.”

Hosseini acknowledged that Sep. 11th affected the workflow.

“I stopped writing for a few months, returning to work in Dec. 2001. I felt such an event was too big to be effectively dealt with by the novel in depth.”

In regard to the movie version of “The Kite Runner,” currently in pre-production phase, Hosseini noted that he was involved creatively with the movie, as an informal consultant, though not formally under contract.

He also mentioned his next book, set exclusively in Afghanistan, in which the main character is female.

“A lot of the themes dealt with in my first book were about separation – religious, ethnic, economic – and so naturally with the main character being female, the gender disparity becomes a main issue,” he said. “My writing, again, is a very personal endeavor, and I wouldn’t say, however, that world opinion and other external views haven’t any affect on the process.”

After Hosseini answered questions, Director of Student Development Thomas Mogan concluded the evening by announcing next year’s selection for the One Book Program, Timothy B. Dyson’s “Blood Done Sign My Name.”