IT is one of the most-talked-about books of the new century, a harrowing tale of childhood friends, raised in Afghanistan, whose innocence is destined to be torn apart when their divided country begins to move inexorably towards war. Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner became an international bestseller, a hit film and also a stage success, the latest production of which opens a UK tour at Nottingham Playhouse tonight. Hosseini, who now lives in California, where the play was first performed on the stage at his local theatre in San Jose, was born in Kabul and grew up in a middle-class family. By the time he was 11, with war looming, the family fled Afghanistan for Paris, then sought political asylum in the US, where they settled in 1980.Hosseini studied medicine, which he practised for ten years. The Kite Runner, published in 2003, was his first novel.
Were you surprised at the success of The Kite Runner?
The success of the book continues to be an enormous surprise to me. I really worried that it wouldn’t find a readership. Partly because it was so intense and so sad, with a central character that was frankly unlikable for much of the narrative. And all the characters that you love meet their demise in horrible ways. The fact that it continues to be read widely more than ten years after it was published continues to be a surprise to me – it’s the antithesis of what a bestseller should look like.
Have you seen the stage production?
Yes, in my home town of San Jose. I went over the script with Matthew Spangler, a script he’d already written. He asked me to look at it and we tweaked it. And I attended one rehearsal session but that was it for my involvement.
How did you feel it translates to the stage?
I think it translates incredibly well.What I really love about the play is that so much of the book is preserved in it. You have freedoms with stage adaptations that you don’t have with film. One large chunk of the book is the main character’s Amir’s internal monologue, where he judges his own actions and has insights and comments about the people in his life. In the play the lead actor can break from the action, turn to the audience and share his thoughts. In film that can’t be done. That’s not to put down the film at all.
Did you like the film?
I’ve seen it a number of times because I went to different screenings with the actors and the director to introduce it. I like the film quite a lot. It’s sort of a break from the usual way that Hollywood treats that region of the world; political violence and terrorism. This was a simple family story – yes, with a political backdrop but the focus was on the intense human dramas and the themes are universal.
You left Afghanistan aged 11. How vivid are your memories of your life there?
Surprisingly vivid and rich. I didn’t realise how vivid and rich until I set out to write The Kite Runner and I was suddenly able to mentally teleport myself back to that time and place, in those final few years before war broke out. I was surprised how vividly I remembered Kabul, the geography of it and the sights and sounds of it. And what it was like to be part of an upper-middle-class, somewhat Westernised, family living in Kabul. So the first third of the book I had no difficulty in writing.
How Westernised were your family?
Kabul is very different from the rest of the country. It has always been more modern and progressive and liberal. In the 1970s we had an influx of cultural influence from the West and the Soviet Union. So we had a huge influx of films, theatres opening, jazz clubs, cabaret clubs, books... and my family weren’t were devoutly religious. They enjoyed a cocktail and they liked The Beatles and Elvis.
So your move to Paris wasn’t such a culture shock?
It would have been a much bigger culture shock if I’d have grown up in a village just outside Kandahar, you might say. But it was still a culture shock. One can’t compare Kabul and Paris. The technology, how convenient life was... all these things I’d only seen in movies. Those first few months I was in perpetual wonder.
When did you first return to Afghanistan?
I left in 1976 and returned 27 years later, the only member of my family to do so. That was in March 2003 and I went with my brother-in-law. We stayed in Kabul for two weeks. We’d been dying to go back and visit the place where we were born and raised. Man, that was a culture shock. I had an image in my head the way I remembered it and then to see how it was after various cycles of conflict... entire neighbourhoods I’d known as a boy completely razed to the ground, every building had bullet holes. It was really overcrowded, so many widows and orphans, a huge presence of guns and weaponry – it took us a few days to adjust to what we were seeing.
Do you still have family and friends there?
Most of my family and friends got out by the mid-1980s. We were one of the earlier ones – we left before any of the wars began. We lost family members and friends, some were injured. Very few stayed behind. I have a cousin who still lives there but she’s the only surviving family member who does.
How long would it take for Kabul to be the sort of place you’d want to live again?
There are so many hurdles in the path of that happening. The country has enormous challenges to get back to the way it was in the 70s.
The problems aren’t just security but institutional corruption, warlordism, the presence of militias, the constant intervention of neighbouring countries... it’s hard to put a timescale on it.
“I guess the biggest question is what will happen when the foreign troops do leave? Whether the country will devolve back into the kind of internal conflict that really tore it apart in the 1990s?
“That’s one scenario we are all hoping and praying doesn’t happen."
The Kite Runner runs at Nottingham Playhouse until September 6 2014. Tickets are priced from £9.50 to £28.50 from the box office, 0115 941 9419 or nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk.
Due to adult themes and occasional use of strong language there is a 14 plus age restriction.
KITE “fighting” is a popular regional pastime in which boys cover their kite strings with broken glass and try to sever the strings of opposing kites. When kites are severed from their strings, boys chase and retrieve them – these are the kite runners.
Amir and Hassan are close friends, even though the former comes from the dominant Pashtun group and the latter, son of the family servant, from the Hazara minority.
The Kite Runner of the title is Hassan, who recovers the kites of his well-to-do young friend Amir.
While chasing a kite, Hassan becomes the victim of a gross assault – innocently witnessed by Amir – with consequences for both boys.
After the Soviet invasion Amir and his father emigrate to California. Following his father’s death Amir, now married to Soraya, returns to Afghanistan, where the Taliban has had a brutal impact on Hassan and his family. Can Amir atone for a secret guilt by finding Hassan’s missing child Sohrab?
THE 2014 UK tour features two new actors Bhavin Bhatt (Wali) and Andrei Costin (Hassan/ Sohrab). The returning cast are: Ben Turner (Amir), David Ahmad (Kamal), Antony Bunsee (General Taheri), Emilio Doorgansingh (Baba), Nicholas Karimi (Assef), Ezra Khan (Ali), Nicholas Khan ( Rahim Khan), Lisa Zahra Jouzakini (Soroya), Hanif Khan (Mohammad Hanif Dewaka).
“I AM delighted that following its success in Nottingham and Liverpool that the production will have a longer life.
“The power and relevance of The Kite Runner doesn’t diminish and I have no doubt that this will prove to be a timeless story. It seems to me that it has another profound connection to Britain; as we move towards a complete troop withdrawal from Afghanistan it is good, and important, to be reminded of the Afghans’ own stories and histories.
“It is easy to forget that the Afghans are a people with a complex and rich culture, with their own story to tell, and that story won’t stop, or cease to be relevant, when our troops come home.”
Giles Croft, artistic director, Nottingham Playhouse
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
“A hit 5/5”