Khaled Hosseini

There are so many interesting facts to learn about the internationally acclaimed novelist Khaled Hosseini and his booksThe Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)! For example, did you know that he wrote his first bestseller while working as a doctor? 

Khaled Hosseini Khaled Hosseini

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Table of contents

    Khaled Hosseini's Biography

    Khaled Hosseini was born in 1965 in Kabul, the capital city of Afghanistan. He is the eldest of five children and was born into a Muslim family. During Hosseini’s childhood, his father was a diplomat and his mother taught Farsi at an all-girl’s school. At the time, Kabul was a thriving cosmopolitan city known as ‘the Paris of Central Asia’. Hosseini and his family belonged to Afghanistan’s middle class and lived in one of Kabul’s wealthiest areas, the Wazir Akbar Khan district.

    When Hosseini was eleven years old, his diplomat father was given a role at the Afghan Embassy in Paris, so the family relocated. It was a temporary role, and the family was preparing to move back to Afghanistan when the Soviet Union invaded, making it unsafe for them to return.

    As a diplomat, Hosseini's father was able to apply for political asylum for his family in the USA, and Khaled was fifteen when the family moved to California. The Hosseinis went from being an affluent family with a respected place in society to having to completely restart their lives in California. It was a challenging readjustment period for the whole family. However, Khaled Hosseini quickly gained fluency in English and did well at school, despite not knowing more than a few phrases when he first arrived.

    Hosseini did not originally intend to pursue a career as a novelist. He studied biology at Santa Clara University, followed by medicine at The University of California, San Diego, and had an eight year career as an internist (a doctor who specialises in the treatment of internal diseases such as diabetes and bronchitis). He was still working in medicine when he wrote his first novel, The Kite Runner (2003), which is an international bestseller, has been adapted for the screen and made into a graphic novel.

    In addition to being a novelist, Khaled Hosseini is a family man and a philanthropist who is committed to helping the people of Afghanistan. He is married to Roya Hosseini, and the couple have two children, Haris and Farah. In 2006 he became the Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Following a trip to Afghanistan in his role as Goodwill Ambassador, he founded his own not for profit organisation, The Khaled Hosseini Foundation. His Foundation is partnered with the UNHCR and its mission is to provide the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan – which it names as women, children, and refugees with the opportunity to fulfil their own hopes and dreams.

    Timeline (1965-present)

    • Khaled Hosseini was born on 4th March 1965 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

    • Khaled Hosseini’s father, Nasser Hosseini, accepted a position at the Afghan Embassy in Paris. The family moved to Paris, France in 1976.

    • The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979.

    • The Hosseini family’s application for political asylum was successful and they moved to California, USA in 1980.

    • Khaled Hosseini studied Biology at Santa Clara University and graduated in 1988.

    • He studied medicine at the University of California, San Diego and graduated in 1993.

    • After successfully completing his residency, he practised medicine for eight years (1996-2004).

    • He published his first novel, The Kite Runner (2003), which became a bestseller.

    • In 2006 he accepted the post of Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

    • He established the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

    Notable publications

    • The Kite Runner (2003)

    • A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)

    • The Kite Runner: The Graphic Novel (2011)

    • And the Mountains Echoed (2013)

    • Sea Prayer (2018). This short story was inspired by the tragic death of Alan Kurdi, a three year old Syrian Refugee. The money made from this short story was donated to the UNHCR and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

    Khaled Hosseini's Major works

    Khaled Hosseini’s novels focus on life in Afghanistan, where he was born and spent most of his childhood, before the Soviet Union invasion forced his family to seek political asylum in the USA.

    The Kite Runner

    This best selling novel was adapted for the screen in 2007 by David Benioff and turned into a graphic novel in 2011. It featured on the New York Times bestseller list for over two years. It also won the Border’s Original Voices award and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Best Book of the Year award.

    It follows the narrative of Amir, starting with his childhood in Afghanistan. In a parallel to the novelist’s own biographical experience, the character Amir and his father seek refuge in the USA after the Soviet invasion.

    Amir grows up close to Hassan, the family servant’s son. A critical point in the novel follows a triumphant game of kite running. Hassan had collected the kite Amir cut down, when he is cornered by a group of boys and raped. Amir witnesses the incident and, paralysed by fear and shock at the act of sexual violence, is unable to protect Hassan. Haunted by guilt at his cowardice whenever he sees Hassan, he frames him for theft, which he knows that his father hates. Shortly after, Hassan and his father leave, despite Amir’s father forgiving Hassan and asking them to stay.

    Many years later Amir discovers that his father had an affair with his servant’s wife, and that Hassan was his half-brother. He is informed that Hassan and his wife were murdered by the Taliban, leaving behind their young child. He aims to atone for his inability to protect his half-brother Hassan and for later framing him for theft, by adopting his orphaned nephew Sohrab and bringing him back to America. He succeeds in rescuing him from sexual abuse by a Taliban official and starts the process of adopting him. The novel ends with the pair kite running together, just as Amir and Hassan had done as children.

    They had banned the sport of kite flying, which kind of struck a personal chord for me, because as a boy I grew up in Kabul with all my cousins and friends flying kites.” - Khaled Hosseini, 2012 interview with RFE/RL.1

    The inspiration for The Kite Runner came from the novelist’s discovery that the Taliban had banned the flying of kites. The beginning of The Kite Runner showcases the rich sporting culture that existed in Afghanistan before the Taliban took power.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns

    A Thousand Splendid Suns was Amazon’s book of the year in 2007. Like The Kite Runner, it showcases pre-Taliban society in Afghanistan, a place of music, films, and garden parties, where both girls and boys had access education. This presents the reader with a deeper understanding of how dramatically life changed during the Taliban Regime.

    The novel focuses on the experiences of Mariam and Laila, and the circumstances which lead to them becoming the wives of Rasheed. The two women end up becoming friends and allies in their abusive marriage to Rasheed.

    Mariam had grown up in the countryside as the illegitimate child of a wealthy cinema owner. Although her father provided for Mariam and her mother, she didn’t have the same opportunities as her siblings. She was seen as a source of shame by her father’s wives. After her mother commits suicide, they arrange for her to be married off to Rasheed, and move to far-off Kabul.

    Laila was Mariam and Rasheed’s neighbour. Her father was a teacher who tried his best to continue her education, even after the Taliban prevented girls from going to school. Accepting that Afghanistan had become a dangerous place where they had no future, Laila’s father decides they must seek asylum in the USA. He dreams about starting afresh and opening a restaurant to share Afghan cuisine with Americans. However, on the very morning of the move a rocket hits their house, killing her parents and injuring Laila.

    Rasheed and Mariam take Laila in as she recovers from her injuries. Rasheed suggests marriage and Laila agrees, as she is already pregnant from a tryst with her best friend, Tariq. She has also been falsely informed that Tariq is dead. Rasheed has been physically abusive towards Mariam for years, and although initially infatuated with his second wife, he eventually begins abusing her too.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns culminates in Mariam murdering Rasheed to save Laila’s life. She is sentenced to death because Laila’s witness statement saying she had acted to save her life is deemed insufficient. In legal cases under Taliban rule, only the witness testimony of one man or two women is acceptable, a woman’s word being worth literally half of a man’s.

    I had gone to Afghanistan in March of 2003 and seen firsthand the aftermath of the war there, heard so many stories about what happened to women, the tragedies that they had endured, the difficulties, the gender-based violence” Khaled Hosseini, 2012 interview with RFE/RL.

    This visit was the inspiration for A Thousand Splendid Suns, which focuses upon the female experience, in contrast to The Kite Runner which had been focusses on the experience of men and boys.

    Over 38 million copies of Khaled Hosseini’s most popular novels, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) and The Kite Runner (2003), have been sold worldwide. AuthorBytes, 2002.

    Themes in Khaled Hosseini’s work

    The Kite Runner covers themes such as infidelity, familial bonds, sexual abuse, trust and betrayal, atonement, and racism. The novel explains the different ethnic groups in Afghanistan, and the racism faced by members of the Hazara ethnic minority group.

    A Thousand Splendid Suns cover themes such as misogyny, domestic violence, infertility, sacrifice, and love. Its most prominent theme is that of parenthood. Khaled Hosseini’s exploration of this theme is multifaceted, exploring child-loss and infertility as well as parenthood. He presents his readers with an array of different types of parents: loving, neglectful, dedicated, grieving, and selfish.

    Shared themes across his novels

    All of Khaled Hosseini’s fiction is set, at least partly, in Afghanistan. In addition to a shared setting, his work has several shared themes:

    Khaled Hosseini: Quotes

    I realized that telling the story of these two women without telling, in part, the story of Afghanistan from the 1970s to the post-9/11 era simply was not possible. The intimate and personal was intertwined inextricably with the broad and historical. And so the turmoil in Afghanistan and the country’s tortured recent past slowly became more than mere backdrop.” - Khaled Hosseini, 2007 Riverhead Books Q & A.1

    He refers to his novel A Thousand Splendid Suns (2011) and how the lives of its characters were impacted by historical events and political upheavals. Khaled Hosseini’s novels are an example of Historical Fiction, a genre that blends real historical events with fictional characters and narratives.

    Writers and doctors alike need to understand the motivation behind the things people say and do, and their fears, their hopes and aspirations. In both professions, one needs to appreciate how socioeconomic background, family, culture, language, religion, and other factors shape a person, whether it is a patient in an exam room or a character in a story.”- Khaled Hosseini, 2003, Riverhead Books Interview.2

    It is arguably this attitude towards character creation that makes Khaled Hosseini such a skilled writer.

    The Taliban’s acts of cultural vandalism—the most infamous being the destruction of the giant Bamiyan Buddhas—had a devastating effect on Afghan culture and the artistic scene. The Taliban burned countless films, VCRs, music tapes, books, and paintings. They jailed filmmakers, musicians, painters, and sculptors.”-Khaled Hosseini, 2003, Riverhead Books Interview.2

    Khaled Hosseini’s novels often showcase the rich cultural life of Afghanistan before Taliban rule to help readers appreciate the dramatic changes and loss following Taliban rule. In A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) the reader is shown how ‘Titanic fever’ grips the populace, with many Afghans taking the risk of buying the film on the black market and watching in secrecy.

    What can a reader learn from a well-researched piece of Historical Fiction?

    Why is Khaled Hosseini important in English literature?

    Khaled Hosseini is important in English literature because his novels have presented life in Afghanistan to a global audience, subtly weaving insights into Afghanistan’s complex religious, social, and political history into his engaging character-driven narratives. This novelist is also important to English literature because of the calibre of his writing. His works of fiction, widely read and studied throughout the world, belong to the canon of Seminal World Literature.

    Khaled Hosseini (1965- present) - Key takeaways

    • Khaled Hosseini was born in 1965 in Kabul, Afghanistan.

    • When Khaled Hosseini was 15 he and his family sought political asylum in the USA as a result of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, on Christmas Eve in 1979.

    • This author’s works share a focus on the lives of Afghan people and Afghan culture.

    • Khaled Hosseini was a doctor before becoming a best selling novelist.

    • Khaled Hosseini is a humanitarian who aims to improve the lives of the people of Afghanistan.

    • The novelist is a Goodwill Ambassador to UNHCR and founded a charity which works in partnership with it.


    1 The following two resources consist of a reproduction of Q & A sessions and interviews with the author and his publisher, from which quotes have been taken. Khaled Hosseini, 2007, Riverhead Books. and AuthorBytes, (2022).

    2 '"Kite Runner" Author on his Childhood, His Writing, and the Plight of Afghan Refugees', RFE/RL, (2012).

    3 'Khaled Hosseini, UNHCR, (2021).

    Frequently Asked Questions about Khaled Hosseini

    What is Khaled Hosseini writing style like? 

    Khaled Hosseini's writing style is characterised by tenderness and empathy. It is deeply personal and highly descriptive. He investigates every facet of his character’s emotions and doesn’t shy away from depicting deeply intimate actions, such as rape, childbirth, grief, and suicide. In doing so he gets to the core of each character and their motives. Even the villains, such as Rasheed in A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), are shown as complex, fully-rounded characters. The reader is shown his guilt and grief at his first son’s death and his raw love for his youngest son. 

    Who is Khaled Hosseini? 

    Khaled Hosseini is an internationally acclaimed novelist, philanthropist, husband and father, a former doctor, a refugee, an American Citizen, and an Afghani.  

    What is Khaled Hosseini best known for? 

    Khaled Hosseini is known for his best selling novels and his philanthropic contributions as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR and the founder of the Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

    How many books has Khaled Hosseini written? 

    Khaled Hosseini has written five books.

    When was Khaled Hosseini born? 

    Khaled Hosseini was born 4th March 1965.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

     Why did Khaled Hosseini and his family move to the USA?

    What was Khaled Hosseini’s job when he wrote his first bestseller?

     Khaled Hosseini is the Goodwill Ambassador for which charitable organization?


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