(Photo: Screengrab from an Al-Jazeera interview)
Khaled Hosseini is an odd writer to feature on this blog, a blog about strange, supernatural, unexpected stories. There is nothing fantastical about Hosseini’s fiction. And that is a great tragedy and shame for humanity everywhere. We live not in a world where magic and man coexist, but in a world where women and children pay the ultimate price for the political regimes of madmen.
I lack sufficient political insight to understand world affairs in any great depth. When Hosseini writes about groups like the Taliban, he mostly presents them as individual characters, and their affiliation with the group is a shadowy context just out of sight. And from these individuals, we learn about brutality that is so foreign to so many of us. As our eyes scan the page, we can feel our bile boil and bubble in righteous rage and indignation. It isn’t fair that we cannot help the poor souls in these books.
But that’s not the point, is it? Of course we can’t help them. Their destinies were decided long before we began reading about them. Their stories are there to teach us. They teach us that there exist violent men who exert their power over others simply because they can. They teach us that the guilt over not intervening in such a situation will outlast any physical pain that might be inflicted upon us. They teach us that for every act of injustice, there is an opportunity for defiant hope to surface.
When Hosseini presents us with his homeland, it is done through the eyes of people who have no real political agenda, people who simply want to live. From the other side of the world, nurtured with only the most disturbing news stories, it is difficult to think of such a wartorn land as having these kinds of people. Which is of course, a ridiculous thought, and yet it bears true. Hosseini gives a voice to the overwhelming majority of people who, unfortunately, we rarely see in the reports we get. Perhaps it is actually in fiction where we see the truest face of the world.
” ‘It hurts to say that,’ he said, shrugging. ‘But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.’ ”
– Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
When we experience a story so deeply upsetting that it shakes us, changes us, and brings us to tears, then it is our responsibility to take everything we can from it. It is incredibly easy to fall in love with Amir, Hassan, Sohrab, Mariam, and Laila, to experience their pain and grief and loss to such an extent that we weep for them. What is difficult is to take the stories of Hosseini’s characters, and see them in the stories we hear about in the news, the stories happening in real time in the real world. It may well be crippling to think about tragedy on such a large scale, but sometimes stories are not an escape. Sometimes they are an entrance to a place where we learn just how painful the truth can be.