Khaled Hosseini is a former physician and the author of three best-selling novels: The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed. Born in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini and his family were living in Paris while his father was on a diplomatic mission at the time of burgeoning conflict in their home country. Realizing their original plan to return home was not a viable option any longer, they sought political asylum in Northern California when Hosseini was a teenager.
After attending Santa Clara University, he received his medical degree and began practicing medicine before he made the decision to turn an existing short story into a full-length novel – which would ultimately become the international best-selling The Kite Runner. The novel sold millions of copies, went on to become an Academy Award-nominated movie, and his follow-up novels spent a combined total of more than 130 weeks on the bestseller list.
As a teenager, Khaled Hosseini was subjected to an entirely new reality when his family moved to the United States. While he was excited about the prospect of moving to the West, he and his parents had to deal with being refugees from their home country and the trials of starting life at the bottom. The challenges facing the family were a unique contrast to the new environment and experiences facing them in the US.
“It was eye-opening to see how diverse it was in our Northern California community alone,” said Hosseini. “We were surrounded by people from a variety of countries, all escaping their own dangers and unhappiness. It was as if we were all on the same journey together.”
When Hosseini was preparing for college, he was looking for an option that would keep him near to home and his close-knit family. He also did not want to make the leap into an ocean of other students and just disappear. Hosseini chose Santa Clara University; he felt at home on the campus and the intimate class size ensured he could have an identity. He was also attracted to the Jesuit Catholic university’s renowned teaching tradition.
“Growing up, I had been taught by Jesuits and understood their long history of education and its importance in their community,” noted Hosseini. “I didn’t want to compromise my education by going to just any school and the package Santa Clara offered me made the best sense.”
Hosseini held a job throughout college, and was able to secure some loans and benefit from both the Pell Grant and Cal Grant – something he feels was vital to his education and future success. He credits the grant programs as the reason he was able to go to Santa Clara University and believes they are vital to making higher education accessible to students throughout California.
“It is important to give people the best education they deserve, and you hate to think of the possibility that talented young people are deprived of a higher education based on finances,” said Hosseini. “I don’t know if my life would have turned out the same if I hadn’t received those grants and had access to quality education at a good school.”
He also believes these grants have a tremendous impact on first-generation students, specifically, who tend to come from very motivated families and are typically ambitious people who go on to become real assets to society.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in biology, Hosseini went on to get a medical degree from the University of California, San Diego and completed his residency at Cedars-Sinai before becoming a practicing physician. His choice to work in the medical field was driven by a desire to be successful as the son of immigrant parents. His first love had always been writing – telling a story and losing himself in a different place.
It was this passion that spurred him to re-visit a short story he wrote in 1999 and turn it into a novel. The story was inspired by a news report that the Taliban had banned kite flying in Afghanistan, a sport he had grown up with in his native land. His first inclination was merely to be able to say he successfully turned the 25-page short story into a long-form piece, but the events of 9/11 would prove to be a catalyst for more. Many of the news stories and the mainstream thinking about Afghanistan were clouded by war and violence happening in the region. While he didn’t want to capitalize on the tragedy, his wife convinced him that his story could give people a real glimpse of the Afghan life beyond the stereotypes and what was shown on news reports.
The Kite Runner proved to be a success beyond his imagination, going on to spend more than 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and selling more than 7 million copies in the United States alone.
“I have received letters from people telling me how they understand the country so much better now because of my book and the human story that I told,” said Hosseini. “I’m most pleased about the fact that my story has connected with things others recognize in their own life and allowed them to go into that world and have a sense of empathy.”
Hosseini has been named a Goodwill Envoy to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and established The Khaled Hosseini Foundation, a nonprofit providing humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
And while Hosseini continued to practice medicine for more than a year after publication of The Kite Runner, he has since resigned and is focusing on his craft full-time. He is currently working on another book and, in his words, “we will see what happens.”
To learn more about Khaled Hosseini, visit his website: www.khaledhosseini.com