War, Exile and Return: Diasporic Sensibility in Khaled Hosseini
The position of Hosseini as a writer from Afghanistan living outside the country of origin situates him under the category of diaspora writers. Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and his family received political asylum in the USA in 1980. A careful reading of his writings gives a methodology of using memory as a thread to approach sociological, cultural and political past of personal and political.
Hosseini deserves a psychological reading and an emotional attitude to reach up to his internal experiences of the nation. He sketches his country with the colours of its good old days and present scenario and reflects much concern about the nation. An important derivation helps us to differentiate between country and a nation. The country is a self-governing political entity with a geographical characteristic of a state whereas a nation talks about the people. It refers to the tightly knitted group of people who often show a common culture and history. Thus the discussion on Hosseini’s novels and the writers himself becomes crucial because Afghanistan is a large country but a poor nation. Hosseini’s works give a complete in and out description to develop an understanding about Afghanistan, its rich past and distorted present and recovery of the tradition. He is a writer who is sensible towards his nation so well that he organises a foundation trust to serve the refugee and victims from Afghanistan. The hard luck of Hosseini is that nation does not recognise him, does not realise him. He does not get approval in his own nation and had to fight for the rights and freedom as fundamental rights.
The story of The Kite Runner (2003) in this way is not a plain narrative. It is metaphorically a journey of a migrated writer who attempts to come back for his nation and wishes for its development. In a way, he performed the duty of a responsible citizen in true sense. The notions of the sky, kites, thread are to be read objectively as a metaphor of human life. One can take sky as a space without territory as compare to land with strict boundaries which resist free flow of people. Kite, in the same way is a human figure wish for freedom and non resisted flow and movement. This is like “kites were the one paper thin slice of intersection between those spheres” (43). The space a kite finds in the sky is not available on the land. And that is why kites belong to the fluidity. The thread can be taken as a connective link with the past, with the land or the country of origin which holds a person back in terms of diaspora. Thread is that somebody is holding as if it is the memory or nostalgia. The entire novel has a sequence of metaphors which could relate the theme with the concept of migration and transmission of the people. No matter, these issues are lightly mentioned in the main storyline but as a subtext they do not lose their significance and uphold the issue of transnationalism.
The story of A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007) is a direct narrative of a family and individual’s relationship at a glance. But it is deeply entwined and affected by the macrocosmic level of nation and microcosmic disturbance of the individual. While reading, somewhere a reader realises that individual is a part for the whole and thus whatever is public and personal, they can be interpreted and accompanied together. Either it is Mariam’s quest to visit her birth place, or Tariq’s decision to move away from Kabul due to atrocities of Taliban or Laila’s determination to be back to home; it gives a snapshot of people and lives under the threat of war. Thus it can be taken as correlative because Hosseini deliberately launches political events with dates and facts to acknowledge us with the contemporary Afghanistan along with its valuable past.
The issue of Hazara community is intertwined in both of the novels. The Kite Runner figures out one of the protagonists as Hazara caste bearer which later on suffers a lot and ultimately has to lose his life due to his caste identity. On the other hand A Thousand Splendid Suns also discusses upon it as a passing reference to Afghanistan’s politics. To quote:
“It was dizzying how quickly everything unravelled... hekmatyar, who had been executed, was incensed. The Hazaras with their long history of being oppressed and neglected seethed.”
A note by Khaled Hosseini at the end of the novel on Afghanistan is very significant to take the war-ridden migration as a central theme of the novel. It seems that the story of Laila or Mariam or any other character is mere a way to describe the migration crisis and consequences of war. Khaled Hosseini explicitly writes in the Afterwards, his intentions to write this novel as a document of war and political upheaval in the Afghanistan and its impact on the general population. Had is been the prologue of the novel, it would have taken differently. And then there won’t be any suspicion to consider it as a theme of displacement and rehabilitation.
The year of 2000 was the year of ‘Titanic’ and it has been an important metaphor. People superstitiously watched the video in their homes with quilts tacked over windows for secrecy. Vendors sold all things “Titanic”: cloths, deodorant, toothpaste, perfume even burkas “everyone wants Jack” Laila said to Mariam. Everyone wants Jack to rescue them from disaster. But Jack is not there. Jack is not coming back. Jack is dead. Such is a metaphor for life under the Taliban.
Hosseini’s novels give a glimpse of daily life in Afghanistan; a country known to most of the world only through news accounts of war and terrorism. And so Hosseini attempts to return to Afghanistan and once more offers his readers love stories; all of this set in the midst of war and famine over three decades in both the cities and countryside of Afghanistan. Through the details of his plots and the interactions of his characters, the novelist here presents problems of racism and ethnocentrism as well as exile and immigration. Certainly, the wars in Afghanistan are all encompassing in both novels. With The Kite Runner, Hosseini provides to western readers historical background to the thirty years of war and instability in that country and an intimate look at Afghanistan’s culture and people. Through A Thousand Splendid Suns readers learn even more about day to day life in Afghanistan, the urban and rural tensions that exist and that have some responsibility for the era of violence and upheaval there and the displacement caused by war.
The city is for many a chosen metaphor for the experience of the world. In its everyday details, its mixed histories and cultures it provides a readymade map for reading, interpretation and comparison. To quote:
“Here we find ourselves in ...the city of ethnicities, the territories of different social groups, shifting centres and peripheries. A city that is a fixed object of design (architecture, commerce, urban painting, state administration) and yet it is simultaneously plastic and mutable.”
(Chamber, 1994, 93)
The Kite Runner holds a similar kind of case. The novelist not only writes back to his nation but also tries to let the rest of the world know about Afghanistan. He portrays his city Kabul in its colour, tone, mood and texture as if it is a painting or a musical composition. He presents a verbal illustration of the city that it appears a reconstruction of culture, custom and cuisine. Of course, there is one direct way of storytelling and it appears a simple plot but there are many aspects beneath which make is multidimensional. One can be curious about it that isn’t it a story narrating about the nation? Doesn’t it report about the past? As a writer, being miles away from his motherland, Hosseini’s memory of his nation and writing back to visualise his past is certainly what we seek in diaspora. The trend set by established writers is not violated here even if it is not followed exactly. He renders in the beginning of chapter one in The Kite Runner:
“I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past. I’ve learned about how you can bury it because the past claws its way out.”
Here the mental and psychological state of the writer as first person narrator is clearly noticed that he longs for his past. This past is partly his personal but not detached with the country’s past. The beginning of the novel sets the atmosphere. At one point, the narrator tells about his geographical location and utters that he is in San Francisco, “the city I now call home” (1). The sentence has multiple interpretations. Likewise with the use of word ‘now’ the meaning is more suggestive. It indicates something is left behind and now there is an acceptance to the present. ‘Home’ is actually not here but still accepted for the time being. To quote:
“Diaspora people, with a sense of identity borne from living in a diaspora community. This sense is influenced by the past migratory history of their parents or grandparents. This is a community of people living together in one country who acknowledge that old country... a notion often buried deeply in language, custom, religion and folklore...”
(Cohen, 1997, ix)
Living in an Afghan community in America, its members attempt to reconstitute their Afghan identity through practicing tradition as shown in The Kite Runner. The purpose of Hosseini as a migrant writer is to bring back recognition to his land. He articulates in The Kite Runner:
“Iran was a rising power in Asia and most people around the world couldn’t even find Afghanistan on a world map.”
Or as he experienced in his second novel that Afghanistan is more over in the news because of terror and Taliban. In such circumstances it becomes a necessity of a responsible writer to lift the veil of assumptions and hypothesis through his meaningful writing. Hosseini has revealed in the preface of The Kite Runner that many people across the world have come forward to help Afghans and to join their hands in rehabilitation and rescue camps after reading this novel. The novel appears more authentic while dealing history with mentioning of specific dates. The protagonist Amir’s journey to Afghanistan after a long time is again a symbol of revisiting past which his driver commented “You’ve always been a tourist here, you just didn’t know it”
It underlines a significant observation on that being a tourist one visits only the things to be well presented or showcased but a true citizen of a nation critically observes and gives a transparent picture of his state with all odds and ends. The dialogues between the characters pass the information that Afghanistan has been converted into a dangerous place after Taliban occupied it. The protagonist in the novel is a writer by profession and people expect him to write about Afghanistan. Perhaps Hossieni has shown his own condition and expectations with him. In a situation, the protagonist is being asked that:
“Do you write about Afghanistan? May be you should write about Afghanistan again... tell the rest of the world what Taliban are doing to our country “.
As a sensible writer of diaspora, he pen down the devastating history of his country over last thirty years. He returned to his homeland to recognise old neighbourhood, to see his old school, street, and old house where he had played. His stories of family, friendship, love, betrayal, social norms and discrepancies are set against a backdrop of intrusion, violence, war, destruction and migration presents Russian occupied Afghanistan’s political turmoil and later on Taliban’s destruction to art and culture, turning the country to a land of nightmare and nobody’s desire. His books raise issues; namely illegal migration, racism, discrimination and ethnic inequality. It reflects the ethnic tension in Afghanistan and many more issues. Things in Afghanistan have changed to some extent, certainly in the last years. It is a more dangerous place than it was. It has a slide back and there is a new element of criminality and violence there. Moreover, these books generate a sort of dialogue among Afghans in exile.
Hosseini admits that his novels intertwines the ‘intimate and personal’ with the ‘broad and historical’. The Kite Runner introduces readers around the world to the people of Afghanistan and A Thousand Splendid Suns helps his audience see the faces of the women under burquas.
His complex portrayal of human nature, however, transcends geographic boundaries.
Chamber, Iain. Migrancy, Culture, Identity, London and New York: Routledge, 1994.
Cohen, Robin. Global Diaspora: An Introduction, London: UCL Press, 1997.
Hosseini, Khaled. The Kite Runner, London: Bloomsbury, 2006.
... A Thousand Splendid Suns, London: Bloomsbury, 2007.
Netto, Vincent. “Imagining the Past: Personal and Political Anchorings in Khaled Hosseini’s
The Kite Runner”, Littcrit, Vol 35 No 1&2 (June & December, 2009) pp. 62-68.