Khaled Hosseini, the acclaimed Afghan-American novelist, UNHCR goodwill ambassador, and former physician, has left an indelible mark on the literary world with his powerful storytelling. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, on March 4, 1965, Hosseini's life journey, marked by resilience and a deep connection to his homeland, has led to the creation of compelling narratives that explore the human experience, the immigrant perspective, and the complex history of Afghanistan.
Khaled Hosseini's early life was steeped in the rich cultural heritage of Afghanistan. He was born to a family of diplomats, with his father, Nasser, serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and his mother, a Persian language teacher at a girls' high school. Despite the privilege of his upbringing, Hosseini's multi-ethnic background, including Pashtun and Tajik heritage, made him acutely aware of the diverse tapestry of his country.
In his youth, Hosseini enjoyed the vibrant city of Kabul, where he flew kites with his cousins and lived a cosmopolitan life. However, the political turmoil and violence that gripped Afghanistan, particularly during the communist coup of 1978, cast a dark shadow over the country. Many friends and family members faced persecution, imprisonment, or even disappearance, leaving a lasting impact on Hosseini and his family.
Hosseini's family sought asylum in the United States in 1980, escaping the upheaval brought about by the Soviet–Afghan War and the rise of the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). They settled in San Jose, California, where Hosseini faced the challenges of adapting to a new culture and learning a new language, English. The experience was a profound culture shock and left him feeling alienated.
Hosseini's educational journey began at Independence High School in San Jose, where he graduated in 1984. He pursued a bachelor's degree in biology at Santa Clara University, completing his undergraduate studies in 1988. Following this, he entered the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, earning his M.D. in 1993. Hosseini continued to expand his medical knowledge through a residency in internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, which he completed in 1997.
Khaled Hosseini's transition from medicine to literature is a remarkable testament to the power of pursuing one's passions. While practising medicine in California, he likened the experience to "an arranged marriage," signifying a sense of duty rather than personal fulfilment.
In 2003, Hosseini took a bold step and published his debut novel, "The Kite Runner." The novel, set in Afghanistan and the San Francisco Bay Area, tells the story of a young boy, Amir, struggling to connect with his father and dealing with the lingering memories of a traumatic childhood event. "The Kite Runner" became a literary sensation, earning critical acclaim and commercial success, including a spot on The New York Times Best Seller list.
Hosseini's second novel, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," published in 2007, continued to explore the issues close to his heart, but this time from a female perspective. The book delves into the lives of two women, Mariam and Laila, whose paths become intertwined when Mariam's husband takes Laila as a second wife. The novel explores the thirty-year transition of Afghanistan from Soviet occupation to Taliban rule and the challenges faced by its people.
In 2013, Hosseini released his third novel, "And the Mountains Echoed," which delves into the intricate relationships among siblings and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honour, and sacrifice for each other. His storytelling prowess and ability to weave complex family narratives into the tapestry of Afghanistan's history continued to shine.
Khaled Hosseini's novels have resonated with readers around the world, touching on universal themes of love, sacrifice, and the enduring bonds of family. His unique perspective as an Afghan-American, has added depth and authenticity to his narratives, offering insight into the immigrant experience and the complexities of his homeland.
Khaled Hosseini's impact extends beyond his literary works. He has channelled his success and influence into advocating for refugees, particularly those from Afghanistan. As a Goodwill Envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), he has worked to provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in Afghanistan and beyond.
In 2007, Hosseini established the Khaled Hosseini Foundation in partnership with the UNHCR, with a mission to support Afghan refugees returning to Afghanistan. The foundation has been instrumental in providing assistance to those who have been displaced due to conflict and instability.
In 2018, Hosseini's dedication to humanitarian causes extended to the release of an illustrated short story, "Sea Prayer." Inspired by the tragic death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, a refugee who drowned while attempting to reach Europe from Syria, the book's proceeds were dedicated to the UNHCR and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.
Khaled Hosseini's literary influences reflect his diverse cultural background. He drew inspiration from Persian poetry, including the works of poets like Rumi, Omar Khayyám, and Hafez. His multicultural upbringing and education introduced him to works like Jack London's "White Fang," Alice in Wonderland, and Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer series, all of which contributed to his storytelling style.
Hosseini's love for Afghan music is also evident, with him citing Ahmad Zahir as a significant musical influence. He affectionately referred to Zahir as "the Afghan Elvis," underscoring the importance of music in his life and the memories it evokes of his time in Afghanistan.
Khaled Hosseini is a family man, married to Roya, with whom he has two children. He is fluent in Persian and Pashto and identifies as a secular Muslim. In July 2022, he openly shared that his 21-year-old child had come out as transgender, highlighting his commitment to inclusivity and acceptance.
Khaled Hosseini's contributions to literature have earned him a place among the most celebrated authors of our time. His novels have received numerous awards and recognitions, including the California Book Award for Fiction for "A Thousand Splendid Suns" and the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction for "And the Mountains Echoed."
Through his books, advocacy for refugees, and commitment to promoting understanding and compassion, Khaled Hosseini's legacy extends far beyond the written page. He is a storyteller who has enriched our understanding of Afghanistan, its people, and the timeless themes that connect us all. Hosseini's unique ability to bridge cultures and evoke empathy in his readers ensures that his work will continue to resonate for generations to come.