Sunday, October 11, 2009

TSS: An Evening with Khaled Hosseini

(Photo courtesy of Syracuse Post-Standard, Mike Greenlar)

The Rosamond Gifford Lecture Series kicked of its 15th season last Tuesday evening. Eight members of my book club were among the 2000 gathered to hear what Khaled Hosseini would say as he sat with his friend, Iranian author Firoozeh Dumas (Funny in Farsi), for the 90 minute conversation. Topics included his previous books, the writing process, his recent trip to Afghanistan, his next novel, and even how he met his wife! There was also time set aside for audience questions.

Dumas started the conversation by making reference to the early days of their friendship. When Hosseini recalled how they spent evenings trying to figure out ways to get book clubs to read their books, the audience erupted in laughter. How times have changed! While writing The Kite Runner, Hosseini, a medical doctor, was working full time as an internist. He would rise before 5 AM and write for a few hours before seeing patients. The early hours were never a problem. Hosseini was excited about his writing. He couldn't wait to get back to his characters and see what would happen next.

Writing is now a full-time occupation. When asked about the pressure of two previous bestsellers, Hosseini talked about getting into a "mental bunker" and "walking the streets with his character". What happens with the book then becomes irrelevant. He sits at the computer in a "questionable state of hygiene" and, on the best days, finds there is no filter between his thoughts and the computer.

Hosseini spoke of writing many drafts for each novel, and likened it to moving into a house. The moving van drops off all your stuff, but it takes a long time to rearrange the furniture and hang the pictures before you're finished and ready to receive guests.

A good deal of time was spent on political, rather than literary, topics. Hosseini was very animated, almost always talking with his hands. This wasn't surprising considering he had recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan (where he could not use his name). Hosseini works as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador and has established a charitable foundation to benefit organizations working with women and children.

Hosseini was reluctant to say much about his third novel. Two stories have been discarded (both around 80 pages), but he has hit upon a third and feels this idea will stick. He would give no hint about the plot, but did mention the inspiration came from this photograph that appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine many years ago. No publication date was mentioned.

Our group was energized, to say the least, at the end of the evening. We hated to get into two separate cars for the drive back to our town. We wanted to continue talking together! The November lecturer will be Geraldine Brooks, and I'm sure we'll be going out for coffee afterwards.


  1. Wow--that is awesome that you got to see Khaled Hosseini. I bet Geraldine Brooks will be good as well.

  2. Sounds like a fascinating night. I think it would be a lot of fun to see two writer friends do a talk...probably a great dynamic. His comparison of writing a book to moving into a new home is very good.

  3. Sounds like a great literary night! I love hearing writers animatedly talk about everything from their craft to politics; it is fascinating to obtain that insight. I am intrigued by the idea for the new novel - can't wait to find out! The Kite Runner is one of the most popular choices for book groups worldwide so I'm delighted that he fulfilled that ambition.
    Geraldine Brooks should also be interesting.
    I am hearing Audrey Niffenegger speak on Tuesday and looking forward to it.

  4. You are so lucky to have access to such a wonderful lecture series. It was very fun to read your report on Hosseini's presenation. Thanks for posting it!

  5. Such a lucky woman! So agree about the kind of energy that a great literary event can generate. Can't wait to hear about Geraldine Brooks. Happy reading!

  6. Sounds like a fantastic event with a great author. I wish I could come out with you after the next one!

  7. What a great opportunity! It sounds like it was a wonderful evening and I love the quote about "walking the street with his character."

    What a fabulous list of authors for this series. I am filled with envy.
    Have a great week.

  8. What a fantastic evening - I'm sure he was a fantastic speaker! Interesting that the work-in-progress is shrouded in such mystery ... I've enjoyed his first two.

  9. How exciting! I am really glad you got to attend the lecture and share it with us.

  10. I am so JEALOUS!! Not only do I love Hosseini's books, but I just finished teaching Dumas's Funny in Farsi to my high school English class. What a fantastic memoir. I can't even imagine the thrill of seeing them both together! And Geraldine Brooks next month? Good grief!

  11. Reviewsbylola - We all had a great time and are already looking forward to next month!

    Book Psmith - The other authors I've seen at this series have just stood at the podium and talked/answered questions. Hosseini must have been more comfortable with this type of format. Dumas spoke very little, but did guide him from topic to topic. I loved the revision/rearranging furniture analogy, too!

    Paperback Reader - This was such an exciting evening. I loved that Hosseini was so animated when he spoke! That cover was so striking, I can't wait to see where it will lead him. Enjoy your evening with Audrey Niffenegger. I hope you'll be posting about it, too!

    Rhapsodyinbooks - I'm so glad you enjoyed reading this! I've been wanting to get season tickets to the series for nearly 10 years, and am thrilled that we've finally done it.

    Frances - The energy in the auditorium was just electrifying! Can't wait for next month...

  12. Marie - This entire series is very well done. The library also has other programs and discussions leading up to the 'main event'. If you happen to be in Central New York, we'd love to have you join us next time!

    Gavin - I loved the expression on Hosseini's face when he spoke about his characters! When he talked about 'walking the street' with them, you could tell how much a part of him they become. It was magical.

    Dawn - I got the feeling that although he has a good start, the direction of the plot is still unclear. More 'walking the streets' with the character to be done, I guess. It was a fascinating evening!

    Literary Feline - It was an outstanding evening! We're practically counting the days until Geraldine Brooks visits.

    SmallWorld at Home - After seeing Dumas with Hosseini, I've decided to read her book. I got the feeling she was there mostly for moral support and to keep the 'conversation' on track. But even though she spoke very little, I enjoyed her personality/humor and would like learn more of her story.

  13. National Geographic actually went back to Afghanistan shortly after the post-9/11 invasion and found that woman. It was some 10-15 years after that photo was taken and she looked quite different. Apparently, she wasn't aware of the photograph's fame and was rather ambivalent when told about it.

    I also remember she was in favor of the burqa - she felt it was a beautiful thing that reserved a woman for her husband.

  14. That sounds like a wonderful way to spend an evening. I've had his books for so long and have yet to read them...(hangs head in shame). Maybe I'll get them read before book #3 comes out!!

  15. I have always loved that photo from National Geo, so now I'm intrigued about his next book!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  16. Great opportunity Joanne. I LOVED both of his books. (That woman's eyes are so scary

  17. What a wonderful evening! I like the way he described the moments when there was no filter between himself and the computer. Would that it were always so!

    Interesting that that particular photo should inspire his current project. I loved the Kite Runner (have not read #2), am curious to see where he will take it...

  18. What a wonderful event - you are so lucky! I can't wait to see what his new idea will turn out to be. I liked Thousand splendid suns even more than Kite-runner.

    I'm hoping to go to a literary event if I have energy after work this space...

  19. There definitely would have been loads of things to discuss and mull over after an evening like that! Such a wonderful opportunity.

    My husband stayed up all night and read The Kite Runner in one sitting a couple of years ago.

  20. I'm always fascinated with how author's "write". How they can say they had no idea how the book would end? And how the characters just take over sometimes. Amazing.

    I had mixed feelings about Kite Runner. Just when you think it can't get any worse -- it does. I loved his seamless writing--carried me along. The movie didn't provoke any feelings of any kind for me. ???

  21. E.L. Fay - Now that you mention it, I do remember that they found the girl in the picture! I'll have to google that story to refresh my memory. Thanks!

    Staci - His books are wonderful! I really hope you can read them before his third is out.

    Softdrink - That is one of the most striking photos - ever!

    Diane - I loved his books, too. Can't wait to see what he'll do with that photo.

    DS - He said days like that, when there is no filter between his thought and the computer, are few and far between....even for him.

    Verity - I like A Thousand Splendid Suns better, too.

    Kim - I was quite surprised when he said that, too. The Kite Runner movie didn't do much for me, either.

  22. What an incredible night!

  23. Stacybuckeye - It was amazing..and even more fun to go with so many friends!

  24. Oh that Nat Geo pic is a classic. I remember it even being featured in something like Oprah some years back during the Afghan war. Apparently, they had the original photographer track the woman again. I think what they found out was that she's now married and has children, something like that. But anyway, that pic is a classic and many Nat Geo readers remember it well (not that I am one, I just watch the channel, LOL!)

  25. Mark David - You're right! That picture has certainly become a classic, and I think it captured many imaginations. I remember reading that the girl had been found again...maybe not even aware that the picture had become famous? Will be interesting to see what Hosseini does with it.


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