After 9-11, wife prodded Hosseini finish 'Kite'

“The Kite Runner,” the novel that put a human face on Afghanistan for millions of Americans, almost didn't get finished, author Khaled Hosseini told a Charlotte audience Wednesday night.

Hosseini, a physician, had been writing in his spare time in 2001, but when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, “I lost all will to continue.”

He worried that trying to publish a book about Afghanistan under the circumstances would appear opportunistic. It was his wife, an attorney, who convinced him to finish. His work, she told him, could show Americans a different side of Afghanistan.

“The Kite Runner,” a story of two boys who lived in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion, was published in 2003 and became an international bestseller. He followed in 2007 with another bestseller, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” about two Afghani women during Taliban rule.

Hosseini spoke at Ovens Auditorium to an audience of 2,300 – the largest in the 18-year history of the public library's Novello Festival of Reading. WFAE's “Charlotte Talks” host Mike Collins interviewed the author. Audience members also asked questions.

What do you remember about the Soviet invasion? one boy asked.

Hosseini, whose father was a diplomat, left Afghanistan at age 11. They were living in Paris, he said, when he and his family saw a TV news break about the invasion. He noticed the look that passed between his parents. And he realized what it meant. “For me, it meant the end of, really, my life in Afghanistan.”

Hosseini spoke humbly about his talent, saying he often writes himself into blind alleys and fumbles his way out. Responding to a question, he recalled reading condensed American novels, translated into Farsi, as a child. At 10, he read his first full American novel, “The Exorcist,” which a women's magazine had serialized.

Hosseini speaks Farsi, his native language, at home. (He also multiplies in Farsi.) But when he writes a novel, he said, he thinks in English.

As the event ended and applauding audience members began standing to leave, Hosseini spoke again. When “The Kite Runner” was first published, he said, his book signings drew only a few people.

“I'm very grateful for everyone coming,” he said. “I don't take it for granted. I'm very touched.”