Novelist Khaled Hosseini speaks at the Garde
The fiscal aspect to a life in the arts is fickle, indeed, and talent is often not the prime factor in what determines success.
The novelist Khaled Hosseini, who grew up scribbling stories for the pure enjoyment of it, certainly never expected to become a literary and bestselling sensation - and, by the way, "literary" and "bestselling," as adjectives describing the same writer, comprise a fairly rare exacta.
And yet Hosseini, 49, author of "The Kite Runner," "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and "And the Mountains Echoed," is an extremely successful author renowned for his exquisite, heart-felt prose and plotting.
"I wrote all my life for pleasure; it was something I've loved doing since I was a child," Hosseini says by phone last week from California. He travels east for an appearance Wednesday in New London's Garde Arts Center in celebration of the publication of the paperback edition of "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
"I never considered writing a career option because I understood the long odds of getting read by a publisher," he says.
In Hosseini's case, Plan B was medicine. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini moved with his family to the U.S. in 1980. He graduated from the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine and practiced internal medicine for more than 10 years. All along, Hosseini continued to write as a hobby - and then "The Kite Runner" got published. A much-heralded film was made of the book even as Hosseini published his second novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
Hosseini says, "I continued to work as a doctor for another year and a half and, along the way, 'The Kite Runner' became very successful. I asked (his medical partners) for a year off to write, and then a second year - and then they asked me to choose between medicine and writing. As a career, it more or less just happened."
Hosseini says that his complete ignorance of the publishing business saved him a lot of worry. "I'm a complete outsider and I had no idea about the literary world. I was focused on medical school and training to be a physician."
He describes his own taste in reading as very eclectic. "I read a lot of commercial fiction as well as what one might call literary fiction," he says. "I don't classify what I write one way or another. Others do, but I'm not sure that's necessary. At the end of the day, people write and read books. That's what's important."
All three of Hosseini's novels have Afghanistan at their heart - interspersed with the idea of family and how people react to different situations. Over time, Hosseini and his wife started their own family, but the author can't precisely quantify how fatherhood has affected his work.
"Family perspective does change when you get married and have children," he says, "but things seem no less enigmatic. A family is a weird organism and people will always behave in fascinating ways and it provides ample material for storytelling. In the culture I come from, family is a very central concept. In Afghanistan, that's very central to their identity because it's a very difficult situation over there with the political chaos."
In 2007, Hosseini, a U.S. Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency, returned to Afghanistan to meet with refugees and talk about their experiences. The trip and the families he met helped inspire "And the Mountains Echoed," which starts with the horrific separation of two young siblings - Abdullah and Pari - and expands across generations and takes characters beyond Kabul to Paris, San Francisco and the Greek Islands. The vast, interlocking minutiae of family that unfolds is heartbreaking and triumphant and deals with themes of honor, sacrifice and betrayal.
"The resilience I saw over there astounded me as a writer, a physician, an Afghan and an American," Hosseini says. "I am humbled and awed by just how resourceful people are. That they can make lives for themselves seems so unlikely."
He says that the multi-layered plot and cast of characters basically spun out as he started work on "And the Mountains Echoed."
"I'm not interested in telling the same story over and over again. I'm loathe to walk in my own footsteps, " Hosseini says. "I hope each book expands a bit as I try to challenge myself. As a writer, I need each book to feel urgent."
Another result of that trip to Afghanistan was that the writer and his wife were moved to start The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. Hosseini says they fund projects based on proposals - many of which focus on Afghan female medical residents and efforts to reduce the exploitation of children.
In his Garde appearance, which is sponsored by Carol Marks' "A Touch of Grey" radio program, Hosseini will be interviewed by Alice Fitzpatrick of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. After the conversation, there will be book signing in the lobby.
KHALED HOSSEINI, 7 P.M. WEDNESDAY, GARDE ARTS CENTER, 325 STATE ST., NEW LONDON; FREE; (860) 444-7373.
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