Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1965. He lived in Paris for a few years as an adult before permanently relocating with his family in California. Hosseini went to medical school, but while he became a full-fledged doctor, he wrote on the side. He published The Kite Runner in 2003, a novel that is widely regarded as a masterpiece, and was The New York Times bestseller for two years in 2004 and 2005. Due to the violent scenes early in the novel, it was considered controversial, even banned in some schools, but despite this it was hugely successful. Perhaps Hosseini’s greatest achievement is that he has made the history of Afghanistan accessible to the common reader. Read on to learn more about his beloved work.
Amir is the privileged son of a wealthy merchant and best friends with Hassan, the son of the man who cleans for Amir’s father. The boys spend their days kite running and enter into a contest for the sport. The events that take place after the contest irrevocably alter the course of both Amir and Hassan’s lives and lay bare the things that make them different. Many years later, Amir moves to California with his father, but the fateful day of the kite running race never leaves him. Hosseini’s first novel is a masterpiece and incredibly heart-breaking. Amir is an imperfect character who repeatedly trips over his own mistakes, which makes the story thought-provoking and at times disturbing. The redemption Amir craves jumps from the pages and plagues the reader as they flick through each chapter in the hopes that he can somehow atone for his sins. Hassan is loveable and loyal and though it is difficult at times to watch how Amir tests his friendship, this only strengthens Hassan’s character. The Kite Runner is a must read, especially if you have enjoyed other Hosseini novels.
A Thousand Splendid Suns was widely talked about after its release in 2007. The story begins with Mariam as a child, considered a harami (a derogatory term for someone with unmarried parents) and a burden to both her mother and estranged father. When she turns 15, she is married off to Rasheed, a man more than twice her age. She is expected to provide all wifely duties, no questions asked, and more importantly with no tears. The novel then focuses on Laila, a girl who also ends up in Rasheed’s household through a series of tragedies. Despite a rocky beginning, Laila and Mariam form a close relationship and give each other a small bit of light in the darkness of their lives in Kabul. With a 4.4/5 rating on Good Reads, A Thousand Splendid Suns is Hosseini’s best work, despite the pressures to live up to the success of The Kite Runner. The novel depicts a series of sympathetic characters and provides insight into Afghanistan in the second half of the 20th Century to readers who may have previously been ignorant to the atrocities that have taken place there.
Hosseini’s third novel was published in 2013 and, though he is no stranger to changing narrators in his novels, And The Mountains Echoed is structured differently than his other works. The story follows Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister separated when they are children. Their story is told through their uncle, their stepmother, their neighbours, and eventually, from their own memories. Abdullah remains with his father while Pari is whisked away by a wealthy couple and adopted as their own. Although this novel certainly has its merits, it is not as captivating as the previous two. While the changing perspectives can be admired, the choices of narrators don’t always make sense; Hosseini could have saved these characters for another book or a collection of short fiction. That said, the novel comes into its stride in the latter half when Pari speaks to us as an adult, reminiscing on her life and the part of herself she always believed missing. And The Mountains Echoed is worth a read, but expectations should be lowered as it doesn’t live up to the hype of Hosseini’s first two novels.
4. Sea Prayer
Sea Prayer, Hosseini’s latest work published in 2018, is a novella. It focuses on a father and son, a theme that Hosseini is no stranger to, as they flee Syria. Though some may be disappointed to not receive a full-fledged novel, Sea Prayer has a very high rating on Good Reads and fans of Hosseini’s writing will appreciate it nonetheless. The novella is written in the epistolary form – a letter from father to son on the eve of fleeing Syria. Hosseini is known for his informative depictions of Afghanistan in the late 20th Century, and he brings that same level of coherence to his illustration of the Syrian conflict. Although it’s less detailed, Hosseini successfully brings to light a sensitive and little-known topic. The narrative is expressive, provoking an emotional response in the reader that will leave them hungry for more.