No one was more surprised than Khaled Hosseini when his first novel, set in Afghanistan, became a bestseller in America. The Kite Runner told the story of two boys growing up in Kabul, inseparable until a betrayal — followed by war and flight from war — tore them apart.
His new novel is A Thousand Splendid Suns, a title that comes from a 17th-century poem — an ode to the city of Kabul. In it, Hosseini tells the story of two girls who grow close as women — unlikely friends who are brought together in the chaos of war.
Hosseini was born in Kabul, the son of a diplomat and high-school teacher. At the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, when Hosseini was 11, his father was working in the Afghan embassy in Paris. The family requested and received political asylum in the United States, where Hosseini later went to medical school and became a physician.
For Hosseini, Afghanistan "became this distant place suddenly for me," he tells Renee Montagne. "I emotionally kind of lost touch with what was going on. The writing of that first novel, The Kite Runner just kind of brought it all back to me."
Hosseini returned to Kabul in 2003.
"I think that when I went there and I saw the enormity of the suffering that people had gone through.... In some ways, you wonder why you were spared all of that and whether you have made good use of the good fortune that for sheer luck you've been granted," he says.