Khaled Hosseini in Toronto: Author discusses Afghanistan, inspiration, and Afghan-American guilt

And the Mountains Echoed needed no introduction to the audience at Indigo’s Bay and Bloor location. Copies of the book were flying off the shelves only minutes before the author, Khaled Hosseini, arrived for a Q&A with the bookstore chain’s CEO, Heather Reisman.

The Afghan-American physician-turned-writer was articulate and had a strong stage presence. He took the hour with Reisman to talk about significant characters in his sprawling new novel. And the Mountains Echoed has been described by some as the least Afghanistan-centric of Hosseini’s books to date. When asked about this claim, Hosseini replied that he has already written much about life under the Taliban and that with this book he wanted to incorporate other, more varied locations into the narrative. On the subject of how little or how much he has written about Afghanistan, Hosseini said he feared that, “the day may come [when] I won’t have anything to say.”

When asked of authors he personally likes to read, Hosseini listed Dave Eggers as a writer he enjoys reading, and added that “Persian myths from [his] childhood” were also an inspiration. In And The Mountains Echoed, Hosseini borrows from Persian poet Forough Farrokhzad’s “The Sad Little Fairy.” Lines from the poem recur throughout the book, especially in moments of grand emotion which depict the everlasting bond between the novel’s two central characters, Abdullah and Pari. Interestingly, Hosseini’s favourite character in the novel is also a poet, the charming and enigmatic Nila Wahdati. Nila is based on the confident, poetry-reciting Afghan women Hosseini saw as a child when his diplomat father ran in Kabul’s liberal, quasi-Western circles.

At the urging of an audience member, Hosseini also spoke about the novel’s two disfigured characters, Roshi (who was based on a real-life acquaintance of Hosseini’s) and Thalia (who appears in the Greece section of the novel). Through Roshi’s interaction with Idris, an Afghan-American doctor-in-training, Hosseini explores the guilt experienced by Afghan-Americans who are confronted with the hardships of those who have stayed behind in Afghanistan.

Regarding Afghanistan, Hosseini said he is optimistic about the country’s long-term future. He explained that, based on Afghanistan’s total population, the median age of people in Afghanistan comes out to only about 17 years. “It is a young nation,” that, if provided the opportunity to make connections with the rest of the world using the Internet and other modern technologies, can begin the process of creating a positive momentum.

In the end, Reisman sneaked in a question or two of a more personal nature: Is your wife Afghani? Does she have a profession besides being a mother and a wife? Hosseini politely answered both queries. His wife, Roya Hosseini, a former attorney, is of Afghan background but was born and raised in the United States. She is also, Hosseini said, his first reader and editor.