Last week on Krystal Clear we discussed the book “And the Mountains Echoed," the latest work by Khaled Hosseini, the New York Times best-selling author of “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns." The book is now out in paperback.
Last week we asked you what questions you had for Khaled about his latest work and his work as an author. Now, Khaled Hosseni has responded to your questions! Read on for his answers.
I see that you left Kabul in 1980 - What major occurrences have taken place there since then that have had the greatest impact on your novels?
You would have to begin with the Soviet war, which began in 1979, three years after I left Kabul. No inquiry of modern day Afghanistan can be taken seriously if it does not begin with the Russian war. That war changed the face of Afghanistan, and the lives of millions of Afghans. Without the Russian war, a million people don’t die, millions don’t become uprooted, cities and villages are not destroyed, state institutions are not ravaged, we have no warlords, no civil war, no massive influx of Islamists, and likely no Taliban. The domino effect of that war is dizzying.
First of all, what a lyrical, haunting, beautiful, heartbreaking book. The book deals with a number of characters who choose between personal ambition and very physical care of an injured person, wrapped up in cultural and humanistic obligations. It almost seems central to the narrative, this idea of fulfillment in life through tending gently to other people's physical needs as their bodies deteriorate. I think of this as your response to the cruelty that seems to thread through some of the characters in this work, as if this may be the way to adjust the universal balance when faced with cruelty. Could you comment a little bit on this question and the role of physical infinity, deformation, stroke, decay and illness as it informs your work?
You write about things that feel pertinent and urgent to you, and that varies depending on what stage of life you are going through. The Kite Runner examined the father-son relationship, at a time when my father had received some bad medical news. By the time I finished And The Mountains Echoed, this idea of decay, illness, the inevitability of decline, it had all become part of my own life in a very personal way. It was no longer something that happened to other, less fortunate families. By then, I had lost several relatives and my father as well, who succumbed at last after a long and painful battle. That reality, the enormity of that painful experience loomed very large in my mind as I was writing this book and I think there was essentially inevitable that it would spill into the story.
I'm wondering what made you decide to tell this story from multiple perspectives instead of just exploring one. I thought that it was an interesting choice--was your intention to make the narrative more ambiguous?
My intent from the start was to write something with both the heft and the arc of a novel. I never meant this book to be a collection of stories. For a brief time, it took the course of a more traditional, linear novel. But I discovered, as I went on, that that a whole host of characters were taking shape in my mind and crying out for their stories to be told –Nabi, in particular, as well as Nila, and Parwana. Each demanded his or her own place at the table. I became intrigued by a large number of characters and felt compelled to explore the journey for each of them. This was a feat that proved impossible with a traditional linear structure. The end result is that each chapter stands more or less on its own and is structurally complete, but each also augments and illuminates part of a much bigger story, a little like listening to one specific voice in a choir and then another and then another, until there is a sense of all the different voices joining and creating a single, cumulative song. I wanted each chapter to provide answers to questions raised earlier in the book, each to reveal epiphanies both minor and major, and each chapter to be better understood and appreciated if you had read the previous ones. The intent –to what extent I succeeded is of course up to my readers- was to create a better whole from a series of units that are, to varying extents, free-standing and complete.
What inspired you to write this book?
I read a news story in 2008 about impoverished Afghan families who were trying to survive what had turned out to be a brutal winter in Afghanistan (winters are very harsh in Afghanistan and routinely claim the lives of young children, especially among the poor who cannot protect their kids from exposure due to lack of proper clothing, shelter, etc. As a result, this story said, some families had resorted to selling some of their children to wealthy people in Kabul, to give those children a better life and to acquire money to support the remainder of their families. As a father myself, this story touched me deeply. I thought a lot about the Sophie’s Choice type of mental anguish that those parents must have experienced. I could not imagine making such a decision or how one even makes it.
And the Mountains Echoed began with three characters that popped into my head almost fully delivered: A man walking across the desert pulling a wagon containing a little girl, and there was a boy shadowing them. It came with perfect clarity. So I began to explore who these people were and what their story was, and immediately I linked it to the story of people selling their children that winter of 2008. The trip to Kabul for those three characters (father and his two children) became then the central event, the lynchpin for all that happens later in the book.
Name a few of your favorite books that everyone should read in their lifetime.
Wow. I always struggle with this because there are so many great books and it seems arbitrary almost to include one and not the other. Given the inherent flaw of such lists, here is a very flawed one, in no particular order:
The Great Gatsby
The Grapes of Wrath
Slaughter House Five
The Things They carried
The Good Soldiers
Shahnameh (book of kings)
Anything by either Rumi or Saadi or Hafez or Khayyam
Anything by Alice Munro
Interpreter of Maladies
And many more…
Loved the book. What made you tell the story of And The Mountains Echoed through siblings? Did any elements of your relationship with your own siblings make it into the book?
I have four siblings of my own (I am the oldest), and I am very close to each of them. Thankfully we are all, now in our middle age, very close and have solid relationships. But siblingship has such powerful dynamics, all those early, transformative life experiences that are shared between siblings, experiences that affect each brother or sister in his or her own way and create bonds rich with drama, contradiction, envy, pettiness, love, rivalry, generosity, betrayal, in short all the elements that make for great storytelling. I would never reveal whether any one specific thing in the book was inspired by my personal relationship with my own siblings, but certainly growing up as the eldest of five was an education in the nature of this powerful relationship.