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American voices: Khaled Hosseini

This week’s American Voices is from Khaled Hosseini, Afghan-American author of “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”

Born in Kabul, Hosseini’s novels portray daily life in the Afghan capital, reflecting the dramatic changes that started with the 1979 Soviet invasion— transitioning a thriving Afghanistan into a dark period of war, poverty and social sanctions.

Hosseini as a young boy with the family cook. Kabul. 1965.

But his novels are not biographical. Hosseini left Afghanistan in 1976 during a time of peace. His father, a diplomat with the Afghan Foreign Ministry, moved the family on assignment to Paris, France. The family intended to return to Kabul a few years later but was granted political asylum to relocate to San Jose, California when war broke out in their home country.

Hosseini did not return to Afghanistan until 2003. “It’s really one thing to watch something on CNN and read about in the paper,” said Hosseini. “It’s another thing entirely to walk down the street and see for yourself the aftermath of… 23 years of upheaval and warfare.”

His second trip back was in 2007 with the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR. His trip inspired him to start The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, an organization that provides humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.

Hosseini met with displaced Afghans around Kabul in 2009. Courtesy of UNHCR.

In general, Hosseini believes conditions in Afghanistan have improved over the last decade: the city of Kabul is being rebuilt, there’s commerce, enterprise and energy, especially among the young people— and, the Taliban is no longer in power. But there are still problems with security.

Hosseini’s says his latest visits in 2010 with refugees reentering the country illustrated the difficult conditions which result from a lack of infrastructure. “Many of them didn’t have homes, didn’t have land, had difficulty accessing food, water, schools, a health clinic,” said Hosseini. “And, you know, these are the realities of the millions of people who’ve come back to Afghanistan who are trying to restart their lives in what is, you know, the poorest non-African nation in the world.”

“I think there is a sense of anxiety in Afghanistan about the essential pull-back from Afghanistan by U.S. and its N.A.T.O. Allies,” he said. Hosseini believes that Afghans, despite some grievances, have generally favorable views of the American presence and many fear that Afghanistan may not be ready to protect itself when security matters are handed over to the Afghan army in 2014.