In the summers of those years, I worked as a security guard, so I would have long days of just sitting behind a desk. You really weren't supposed to read, but I would sneak in a paperback novel with me. I read a lot of genre fiction. I read mysteries and I read horror novels. And around this same time I began writing short stories in English. Suddenly I felt that there was a rhythmic cadence of English in my head, and I began to recognize a voice. That was probably around the end of high school, beginning of college.
JM: Were there any books that spoke to you with particular power at that time?
KH: Yes. was the first book that I read in English that spoke to me in a personal way. Part of my reaction, maybe, was a response to the fact that I had managed to get through this big book that had some stature in the history of American literature. I was proud of myself for that alone. But it spoke to me in other ways as well. Some of it had to do with what was going on in Afghanistan. By then, the Soviet war was in its fourth year, and the Afghan refugee situation was really becoming a major crisis. Millions of people were leaving home, and they were ending up homeless -- uprooted and disenfranchised and disenchanted. They also found themselves unwelcome in places where they were trying to settle and build a new life. Something about the plight of Steinbeck's Okies spoke to me in that sense.
JM: One of my favorite sentences in your two books appears near the beginning of It's about Mariam -- you're describing when she's a girl. You write: "Mariam longed to place a ruler on a page and draw important-looking lines."
KH: [LAUGHS] Yes.