And I loved how the language changed, chapter to chapter, but was so specific for each new voice. Was that difficult to pin down for each person?
That was the most difficult part about this book is that, with each chapter, literally I have to take on and inhabit a whole new perspective, somebody with a different set of beliefs, biases, level of education, level of sophistication — a whole set of values and beliefs that were different from the pervious one, so it’s a whole new take. Not only that, I fully intended on each of the chapters to be more or less, more or less, self-sustained. It’s a whole, in and of itself, although a whole that would be far better appreciated if you had read what happened before. But never the less, I did want each chapter to be kind of free-standing which meant that each chapter then had to come to an end that was satisfying in some fashion and that’s difficult to do
Was there a perspective you were challenged or excited to take on? Was anything more difficult than you expected?
They’re all difficult: The women are difficult, the men are difficult, the boys are difficult. Ironically, one was a little bit easier than the others because some of the experiences that he had reflect my own, to some extent, and that was the chapter with the physician who goes back to Kabul with his cousin after some two decades of living in the U.S. One was I did meet a young girl who was injured in that precise injury which was perpetrated on her precisely the way I laid it out in the book. I had that experience the very first time I returned to Afghanistan after 27 years, which was in 2003. The second is that during that trip after 27 years of being away, I felt very much the way this character did in that I felt both at home and also hopelessly lost, in that I did not share so many of the experiences that people on the street had. I felt unsure of my place in the grand scheme of things. And in some ways also felt badly about my own good fortunes. It’s not an earth-shattering insight and I’m sure many, many people who lived in exile and have returned to their homeland have felt the same thing that I have.
It’s funny that you said that when you were writing them that you were conscious of wanting them to be very self-contained, because the reading order, the way they’re linked, is very powerful, I thought, and really tricky to pull off. How was that process? A nightmare, I imagine.
Yeah, it was really tough because I had to find the connecting fibers for these very divergent stories and figure out how each fits into this one big collective story that I was trying to tell, so it was a lot of plates spinning at the same time and a lot of timelines and the novel moves back and forth chronologically. I guess the one way to describe it is it just starts very small in this village and then keeps expanding outward, getting bigger and bigger. The key was to try to figure out how to sequence them, because I thought that would be a crucial decision. I actually had two additional chapters, one of which I was really fond of, but I could find no room for and so they ended up on the cutting-room floor, somewhat to my chagrin.
I can’t imagine it was a super easy novel to explain to people.
That was my dread, looking forward to this whole publication process, was, How do I describe it to people? And it’s not like I can say, with my second book, “Well it’s really a story about the struggle of women in Afghanistan.” This book encompasses so much more. It touches on family, it touches on duty, on sacrifice, on the loss of beauty, on aging, on memory. But if you said, “Well, Mr. Hosseini you have to give me something,” I would probably describe it as I have described my previous two books which is: They’re both family and they’re both love stories. It happens again and again in this book, where characters find a sense of redemption in love; or they search for it and they search for human connection and they long for it and sometime in that process commit acts of great altruism and self-sacrifice, which speak to me in a very deep level and also represent what is best in mankind. And also they’re family stories because I’m Afghan, at least I was raised for the first 11 years of my life there, and family is such a central part of your identity. Your family is so important to how you make sense of your world, those around you, that to have that ruptured, to have something dramatic happen to that unit, to have conflicts within it, to me, is so rich with possibility of drama and tension and all the things that make for great fiction, that I find it endlessly appealing and I’ve returned to it over and over.
Each new perspective is so emotionally vivid. Are there characters that you’ve heard that readers are connecting with most strongly so far? For me, the beginning in the village was surprisingly emotional.
Yeah, and I’m glad to hear that the one that they’re responding to emotionally the most is what I intended to be sort of the trunk of this tree that this novel is shaped like, which is the story between Abdullah and his little sister and their separation early in life and the question hanging forever over the pages, over the pages, of whether they’ll be reunited or not and if so, how, and how will that reunion go? I think that’s one that people have connected to the most, reading responses thus far.
To switch gears a bit: Your two previous novels have ended up with really visual components — the Kite Runner graphic novel and the illustrated Thousand Splendid Suns. Are you already thinking of something like that for this?
Right now, I’m just happy enough to survive this book tour that’s coming and I will see what happens. But my Canadian publishers have started something pretty cool. It’s called “The Echo Project,” and basically they’ve asked different people to pass along one image based a page of the book. So it’ll be a companion piece to the book, where a person has some kind of image or an idea that comes from something they’ve read on the page. So each person is responsible for one page and submits one image or graphic or something, and so you will end up with as many images as you have pages.