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Afghanistan: New Novel By 'Kite Runner' Author Focuses On Women

  • Ron Synovitz --> A burqa-clad woman and child watch national army soldiers in Kabul in May 2006 (epa) May 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Millions of readers around the world were passionately moved by Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini's first novel, "The Kite Runner."

Hosseini's follow-up -- a novel called "A Thousand Splendid Suns" whose two protagonists are women -- is being released today.

Hosseini gained international acclaim after "The Kite Runner" was published in 2003.

But the 42-year-old Afghan emigre says that story about the troubled friendship of two boys left a large part of the Afghan story untold: the women's perspective.

Hosseini says he was "on a mission" to portray the plight of Afghan women when he wrote his second novel. In it, Hosseini asks what the world really knows about Afghan women who live behind the veil of the burqa -- what their inner lives are like, their thoughts, their hopes, and their dreams.

Hosseini says he wants his readers to lose themselves in the novel's story and characters. But he also hopes they can gain some understanding of the struggles of Afghan women, who live in a male-dominated society where they are routinely denied freedom or dignity.

"There's been so much said and written about Afghanistan, [but] precious little about the inner lives of the people there living in that environment in those conditions," Hosseini says in a video to promote the book. "And maybe after reading this novel, people will have a little bit more empathy for what happened to Afghans. Particularly the Afghan women, who really, really, I think, suffered the most out of everybody in Afghanistan -- especially in the last 15 years."

As the son of an Afghan diplomat, Hosseini did not experience most of the history that pervades his latest novel.

Hosseini's family left Afghanistan to live in Paris in 1976 when he was 11. In 1980, after the Soviet invasion, the family moved to California, where he attended high school and later studied medicine.

He says the main characters of his new book are not based on any women he knows. But he says they are partly inspired by the stories he heard in Kabul in 2003, when he returned to Afghanistan for the first time.

Horrible Cruelty

The title, "A Thousand Splendid Suns," comes from a 17th-century Persian poem. But Hosseini says the image that haunted and inspired him was video footage of women being executed by the Taliban at a Kabul sports stadium in 1999.

It is an event that was recreated in his first novel, as well.

Hosseini says his concern over the plight of women has been affected more recently by a visit to Africa early this year, as a U.S. envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. There, Hosseini says in a video clip on his promotional website, he met refugee women from Sudan's western region of Darfur.

"The visit certainly changed me in a very profound way," Hosseini says. "It strengthened my resolve that to see these things and to not do anything is not an option. It's just not acceptable."

Hosseini says what bothers him most about the Darfur crisis is that the kind of tragic stories told by refugee women from Darfur three years ago are still happening today.

"How do you meet 16-year-old girls who have been raped because they went out to gather firewood for their family, or women who have had their children taken from their arms and shot -- and then go on being who you were before? It's just not possible."

Powerful Debut

Hosseini's first book -- "The Kite Runner" -- is a difficult act to follow. It chronicles the painful fallout from an incident between a Pashtun and a Hazara boy growing up in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion that led to two decades of political upheaval and civil war.

The hardcover version spent 114 weeks on "The New York Times" bestseller list, and the paperback edition remains a bestseller.

Its publisher, Riverhead Books, says it has been translated and published in more than 30 countries.

A film adaptation of "The Kite Runner," shot in western China, is set for release in November.

If the advanced reviews are anything to judge by, "A Thousand Splendid Suns" could seal Hosseini's standing as one of the most successful Afghan-born novelists of modern times.

That is quite a feat for a medical doctor who only took leave from that work two years ago to concentrate on writing -- after the success of his first novel.

Praise For Sophomore Effort

Critics from literary publications who received advance copies of the new novel have strong praise for Hosseini.

"Kirkus Reviews" calls him a "fearless writer" who has created another "artistic triumph and surefire bestseller." That publication describes "A Thousand Splendid Suns" as a "fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women."

"Publishers Weekly" calls the book "another searing epic of Afghanistan in turmoil." It says Hosseini has written a "forceful but nuanced portrait of a patriarchal depotism where women are agonizingly dependent on fathers, husbands, and especially sons -- the bearing of male children being their sole path to social status."

It says the story is a "powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters."

The "Library Journal" calls the book an "affecting new novel" by an author who "proves that one can write a successful follow-up after debuting with a phenomenal best seller."

"Hosseini deftly sketches the history of his native land in the late 20th century while also delivering a sensitive and utterly persuasive dual portrait," the "Library Journal" notes. "His writing is simple and unadorned, but his story is heartbreaking."

Another publishing industry journal, "Booklist," describes "A Thousand Splendid Suns" as "unimaginably tragic.... A sad and beautiful testament to both Afghani suffering and strength."

"Booklist" says the millions of readers who lost themselves in "The Kite Runner" will not want to miss Hosseini's "unforgettable follow-up."

(with additional agency reporting)

Saving Afghanistan's Heritage

A UNESCO team working to stabilize Herat minarets in 2003 (UNESCO)

THE MINARETS OF HERAT: In Afghanistan's leafy western city of Herat, a two-lane road slices between the city's five remaining 15th-century minarets. Every truck, car, bus, motorcycle, and horse-drawn carriage that passes by sends vibrations coursing through the delicate structures.
In particular, the Fifth Minaret -- all 55 meters of it -- seems ready to collapse into a dusty heap of bricks and colored tiles at any moment. A large crack near its base makes drivers speed up just a little as they pass by....(more)

Click on the image to view an audio slideshow of this story by RFE/RL correspondent Grant Podelco.


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