KH: Yes. The Grapes of Wrath 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 A Thousand Splendid Suns. 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.
JM: That's such a striking encapsulation of the aspirations of a child. In both of your novels, you identify with young children quite closely, and the narrative follows them from very early youth into adulthood -- their lives shape the stories you tell. Did you frame each novel with a child's perspective by conscious decision, or was it an intuitive preference?
KH: On some level, it feels natural to me; again, part of it is my upbringing, for the stories we were told basically started with a childhood and ended with death. There's an old-fashioned quality to both of my books -- each is basically the story of a life. So it feels natural to me to start at the beginning. But I also feel a kinship with children, and I am very much intrigued by the relationship between child and parent. In Afghan society, parents play a central role in the lives of their children; the parent-child relationship is fundamental to who you are and what you become and how you perceive yourself, and it is laden with contradictions, with tension, with anger, with love, with loathing, with angst. I find it endlessly fascinating, the way children and their parents push and pull each other, and the way in which they both tear each other down and build each other up -- the way in which they hurt and soothe each other.