In June this year, Khaled Hosseini spoke at the Aspen Institute’s, 35th annual Aspen Summer Words Literary Festival. The festival’s main theme for 2011 was focused on literature of the modern Middle East. Mr. Hosseini participated in a discussion with Firoozeh Dumas an Iranian author where they talked about their artistic and personal lives. In one point, Hosseini responded to an audience question about the reception of his books by Afghans, which I found very interesting:
The reception is a little bit complicated. For the most part I think it has been very positive. Afghans see the mainstream success of these books as a point of pride in their community. And also they recognize their stories in the pages of these books, they say “that happened to my cousin” and “this is exactly what we went through, thanks God somebody is telling the story”. For the most part that’s been the reaction and I get a lot of really encouraging letters from my fellow Afghans.
For others it’s been more complicated because especially the first novel, and to some extents the second novels as well, talk about issues that are difficult to talk about in Afghanistan: the idea of ethnic rivalry. Everybody knows it’s true; it’s not that they deny that there aren’t ethnic issues in Afghanistan. It’s that family business. Don’t air out dirty laundry. Let’s keep it in house. Why are you telling the world about this? That’s more the criticism that I’ve come across. But you know I’ve always believed that the job of a writer is to write precisely about those things that make people uncomfortable, that make people have a dialogue, that challenge people’s perceptions. But if I were to sit and write about Afghanistan the way some of these folks would have me write: as a proud, happy nation, full of proud, happy people, living proud, happy lives; I mean that’s like propaganda, that’s not fiction. It’s not worth my time, so I wouldn’t do that. (from 57:50 onward, emphasis is mine)
The ethnic conflict is what forms the backbone of The Kite Runner, a novel which is about a Pashtun boy’s friendship with the son of his Hazara servant. Many Afghans disliked it (the Afghan government even banned the movie) for an obvious reason: it challenged the official narrative of the Afghan history, which depicts all Afghan ethnic groups, as Hosseini says, “as a proud, happy nation, full of proud, happy people, living proud, happy lives.”
I praise Hosseini (who is even connected to Afghan royalty through his mother) for having the guts to speak out about the dark and dirty sides of Afghanistan and its hypocrite people.
I also experienced several similar reactions from my fellow (non-Hazara) Afghans at uOttawa when I talked about Afghanistan for Canadian students. This Afghan attitude of covering up their guilts just makes me sick. One of the reasons I love the westerners is their ability of self-criticism, the ability to laugh at themselves and most importantly the ability to confess their shameful history. If the Afghan students and immigrants in the west learn just this one thing from their host countries, Afghanistan will become a rose garden – watan gul wa gulzaar misha.