Author to Read, Fiction

Why You Should Read Khaled Hosseini’s Books

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. His father was a diplomat forced to seek asylum in the United States in 1980, after Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Army. His life experience adds authenticity to the kind of books he writes and helps Westerners understand such a different culture.

If you seek more cultural diversity in your reads, books set in Afghanistan or want to find out more about different customs, values and traditions, his books are for you. They are emotional roller-coasters that blend the beauty of friendships with the ugliness of war and violence. They all deeply explore relationships and character growth. All characters are complex and evolve because of what they go through. We feel each one is a very real person and that makes us suffer as intensely as they do. They span through multiple years, they are brutal…and you’ll still love them!

If you’re not convinced by now, you will definitely want to read them after you hear all about each one (spoiler-free, of course):

1. The Kite Runner

1.1. The Kite Runner Main Theme

I feel this book is about how one moment can change your entire life. One moment can change your entire behavior. One moment can define you as a person. Repenting an entire life about one moment can seem a sad life to lead. For me, it seemed beautiful. The idea of atonement that transforms you in a better person than you’d had been had you not sinned, is beautiful. This is what makes a character grow.

There is a way to be good again, he’d said. A way to end the cycle. With a little boy. An orphan. Hassan’s son. Somewhere in Kabul.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

1.2. The Kite Runner Plot

“The Kite Runner” is set in Afghanistan in 1964 about a child, Amir, and his journey into adulthood. The way it starts, it makes you think this is an autobiography, especially since the author Khaled Hosseini is an Afghan as well. Though the story has autobiographical parts, especially those surrounding the experience of an immigrant in America, it is not an autobiography. It is, however, considered historical fiction because it seems to portray quite accurately life in Afghanistan, before and after the Russian and then the Taliban invasions.

The book starts with his activities as a child with his friend, Hassan. Hassan was also his servant, the son of his father’s servant. He was a Hazara, while Amir, a Pashtun. This ethnic divide is what sadly makes their real friendship difficult, and the author emphasizes this reality with heart breaking examples.

I dream that someday you will return to Kabul and revisit the land of our childhood. If you do, you will find an old faithful friend waiting for you.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

When Amir and his father flee Afghanistan, Hassan and Ali, his father, stay behind. The story then takes us to California, following Amir and his experience as an immigrant in the US. More than fifteen years after, he is forced to return to Afghanistan and we get to understand the atrocities of years of war through his eyes.

1.3. The Kite Runner Characters

The book is surprising and really descriptive of the Afghan way of life, values, traditions. But most of all, it excels at presenting moral ambiguity. We see and feel compassion for Amir and his deep desire to please his father. We thus understand his jealousy towards anything else that keeps his father away from him. We hate him when he is a coward and all the more love the book for it. Amir is flawed. Though he is always afraid, he also manages to grow, to evolve as soon as he realizes his father is also flawed and he doesn’t have to live up to his expectations anymore.

A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

I absolutely loved how their relationship evolved when they were alone in America. They grew fonder of each other. This is something I’ve experienced myself – when you are in a new country and you only have your family with you, the connection and the closeness get deeper.

They spoke. “He says this is war. There is no shame in war.”

“Tell him he’s wrong. War doesn’t negate decency. It demands it, even more than in time of peace.”

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

The book also deals with trauma (“rape” should be a trigger warning for it), but the trauma is the trigger that helps with character growth. In the end, though not perfect, not the same, everything is still hopeful.

Huddled together in the dining room and waiting for the sun to rise, none of us had any notion that a way of life had ended.

Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

1.4. Why you should read it?

This book is, for me, the perfect example of how remorse can make you a better person. It is rich with cultural references and Afghan traditions, as well as ideal for understanding the immigrant experience in America. If you’re looking for an emotional read, that will completely devastate you and make you cry, this book is for you.

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2. A Thousand Splendid Suns

This novel is a marvelous story set in Afghanistan, starting in the 1950’s and spanning for almost 50 years. Through the eyes of Mariam and Laila, we get to see how war and religious fundamentalists affect women in this country, but that is just the tip of it all.

Marriage can wait, education cannot. You can be anything you want, Laila, I also know that when this war is over, Afghanistan is going to need you as much as its men, maybe even more.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hosseini is masterful at describing family life – the beauty and the brutality of it. He walks us through the sorrows of being an illegitimate daughter, longing to be accepted by her father, the shame and risk of having extra marital relationships, the duties of being a wife to an abusive, terribly violent husband, the deep sadness of miscarriage, the permanent pain of having lost a child in war, the fear and pain of seeing your children hungry.

The women in this part of Kabul were a different breed from the women in the poorer neighborhoods – like the one where she and Rasheed lived, where so many of the women covered fully.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

The writing is superb. Violent images felt like punches in the stomach. Literally. Even characters that I feared and hated were so well created I understood them. Their backstory made sense. I felt their pain as well and that made them even more cruel, in my eyes. Because, for example, if you know the pain of losing a child yourself and you still want to inflict the same pain unto others, that makes you pure evil, more than if you had not felt the same pain yourself first.

You see, some things can I teach you. Some you learn from books. But there are things that, well, you have to see and feel.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

As in all the other books by Hosseini, we see again here the history of the Taliban, this time from the women’s point of view. We see how they beat women for walking alone of laughing, we see women forced to wear a burka, we see them rendered powerless physically, as well as intellectually. No access to education, no access to health or medicine.

Learn this now and learn it well. Like a compass facing north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam.

Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hosseini creates breathtakingly sad, expressive scenes to show each one of the problems, to make us deeply aware of the injustice of it all. Sadly, now, everything is back the way it used to be. The fact that there are women who, today, go through everything described in this book, horrifies me.

Luckily, Hosseini also lets room for hope. We see, in spite of everything, love giving hope. We see a powerful “mother-daughter” type of relationship being created and evolving to the point of ultimate sacrifice for each other. The nobility and beauty in sacrifice brought me to tears many times throughout the book and is what kept me going. Through the sea of hurt, the ray of light was this supreme act of love, shaped in many forms, but present at every step.

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3. And the Mountains Echoed

The crowning jewel of Khaled Hosseini’s work is a multi-generational novel, set in multiple places (Afghanistan, France, Greece, USA) and told from multiple points of view. Every character in this story is beautifully developed. Each one gets to tell the story from his own point of view and we get to see how each character plays a role in another one’s story. We see how all the stories intertwine and tangle. It’s, the way the author puts it, something I feel is very Afghan – “Take two Afghans who’ve never met, put them in a room for ten minutes, and they’ll figure out how they’re related.” (“The Kite Runner”) This novel puts the quote to the test. And the result is an astounding story.

I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old “Ah, I wish I was not good to that person.” You will never think that.

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

3.1. And the Mountains Echoed – Plot

This time, I felt, the stories were, though still sad, less violent. It all starts again in Afghanistan with a family who needs to sell their daughter, Pari, to a rich, adoptive family because they are unable to provide food for themselves. Her brother, Abdullah gets to stay with the family and remember her his whole life. She, on the other hand, will forget him, as she is too little when she is adopted.

I learned that the world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care a whit about the hopes dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that.

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

We see the deep contrast of how rich versus poor families live. We see how driving a car (not even owning one) is regarded as an achievement. We see how indoor toilets are seen with wonder and amazement by the poor. Images like this make your heart brake.

We then get to see Pari live a privileged life, though her adoptive parents’marriage is completely gone when Wahdati has a stroke and Nila, his wife, takes Pari and they leave together to Paris, leaving him with Nabi, his driver and Pari’s real uncle. We follow Pari and her brother even into old age. We get to see their families grow old as well.

Beauty is an enormous gift given randomly, stupidly.

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

In other, connected stories, we see the guilt of those who get to leave Afghanistan and their reaction to what they find when they come back. They feel like strangers in their own land because they haven’t lived through the horrors of war. I especially loved the story of a doctor who comes back and is moved by everything he sees. He even connects emotionally with a young, disfigured girl whose parents have been murdered. We see how his guilt makes him promise the moon to her, only to result in nothing when he goes back to his home in the US.

I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

3.2. And the Mountains Echoed – Characters

The realness of such characters is very striking and completely representative of all the characters Hosseini builds. They are all simple humans, led by fear, selfishness and desire for comfort, love and happiness. They are not heroes, they just do the best they can, given their background. And that is what makes them so beautiful and relatable.

The situations and choices these characters face are so normal – sickness and taking care of an invalid parent, giving up school or travel to be close to a parent in his last years of life, dealing with an alcoholic or narcissistic parent. They are unbelievably well written, you actually feel Hosseini is just talking about a neighbor.

Other than writers like Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, I haven’t seen a writer so good at exposing a character, at analyzing a character, at creating such a complex and multi-faceted personalities for so many characters in a book. At the end of the book, I actually felt I knew them all- I watched them all grow up, after all.

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Why You Should Read Hosseini’s Books?

In conclusion, you need to read all three of Hosseini’s books! They are unique and beautiful and they will open up an entire new world. Their violence will make you shudder, the relationships will make you hope, the realness of the characters will make you question and challenge yourself. We all love heroes and the fact that we have no traditional heroes in these stories is humbling in a way – nobody can save you.

Life is ugly and difficult, we can only do our best and that, sometimes, is just not enough.

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