Author Khaled Housseini came to the Christopher Cohan Center on Thursday to discuss his best-selling novel “The Kite Runner.” The hall reached capacity and many students and members of the community were turned away from the doors and sent to classrooms where the speaker was shown on screens.
Housseini was born in 1965 in Kabul, Afghanistan. He drew from his own life to write about a boy growing up in an Afghanistan much different than the one many westerners imagine today. During much of the discussion he explained how his own life matched that of the novel’s protagonist.
Housseini’s father, an Afghan diplomat, moved his family to Paris after he requested to be transferred from the country in 1976. Several years later the family returned to Afghanistan only to experience the Soviet invasion.
Housseini’s father then requested political asylum and the family moved to San Jose. There the family experienced poverty for the first time. The formerly wealthy family was then forced to collect food stamps to survive.
“My father’s greatest fear was that an Afgan would see him in the supermarket using food stamps to pay for our food,” Housseini said.
Housseini then attended Santa Clara University and pursued a medical degree at UC San Diego. Though he enjoyed writing in his youth, medical school and an internship at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles kept him too busy to follow his passion. Housseini did not write again until after marriage and his subsequent move to the Bay Area.
Housseini explained many of the book’s lead characters, like Hassan, who was modeled after a family servant that a young Housseini taught to read. He then explained how his own wedding was like Amir’s in the novel.
The audience seemed particularly interested in how Housseini met his wife at his parents’ party and then proposed the next week.
“When I asked her she said she needed more time. I said ‘How about a half hour?’ She said OK. So I called her back and she said yes,” Housseini said.
The last question particularly interested the audience: “What actor would you like to play Amir (the protagonist) if a movie was made?”
Housseini said, “There is no western actor that I would want to play Amir. However, we are casting for the movie right now and the director and I are in agreement that the part should be played by an unknown Afghan actor.” The audience responded with applause.
Incoming freshmen and transfer students were assigned to read “The Kite Runner” the summer before attending Cal Poly. They then participated in group discussions about the novel during WOW week. Cal Poly’s Patricia Ponce coordinated the program and then asked Housseini to speak at the school.
Eric Fong, an industrial technology freshman, could only get in to hear the question and answer portion because the hall was filled to capacity.
“Hearing him speak and how eloquent he was, it was a real mind job. I liked the book so much,” he said.
Many community members also came to hear Housseini speak.
“We read this at a woman’s book group and came together,” Jennifer Dupont, a writer of San Luis Obispo and Los Osos said. “I liked the questions and answers portion, he seemed so humble and very real. I’m a writer too so when he talked about wanting to change his writing it really resonated with me. The hardest thing is to let go of your work. Married after 30 minutes, what a good man.”