JM: You were raised in a very literate household, and your parents shared a great deal of classic Persian literature with you. Was that mostly poetry?
KH: Yes. Virtually all of it was poetry. One of the works that really affected me was the grand epic of Persian literature, the Shâhnameh, which literally translates into The Book of Kings. It was written by Ferdowsi back in the 11th century, and it's the crowning jewel of Persian literature. It begins with the dawn of time and ends with the Arab invasion of Persia, but it's really the story of the great, mythical kings and warriors of old Persia. It has all the elemental themes of literature -- betrayal and guilt and greed and honor and so on. I remember being very moved by these stories, particularly by the tale of Rostam and Sohrab, a father-son story that I alluded to in The Kite Runner. The tales of the Shâhnameh are very dramatic, very intense, invariably tragic.
I think my upbringing in that kind of literary environment also influenced me. But I discovered novels on my own, in a local bookstore in Kabul that sold used old paperbacks as well as condensed young adult editions of classics, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Old Man and the Sea and Alice in Wonderland. There isn't, even now, a great tradition of novel-writing in Afghanistan. Most of the literature is in the form of poetry. But serial novels were popular -- actually, [LAUGHS] The Exorcist was being published in a women's magazine, in an Iranian women's magazine, and it was presented as a cliffhanger, two or three chapters at a time.