Hosseini continued, "The rest of it terribly neglected. Amputees walking around the city, widows, orphans, beggars everywhere." The experience for him was very bittersweet. "As an Afghan it was heartbreaking to see the city destroyed. To see people destitute. But despite that, I came away with a sense of optimism because it's part of the Afghan spirit to be very resilient. People still have hope."
Hosseini recognizes that the problems facing Afghanistan are enormous. "The Taliban have come back and they've changed the tactics of the war. Now you have suicide bombings which you never heard about in Afghanistan," he said. "You have this flourishing opium industry. Fifty percent increase in production last year. Tremendous humanitarian issues. In some parts of Afghanistan a woman dies in child birth every 30 minutes."
For many American readers of his books, Hosseini is their only window into a culture and world that is very distant. "It's really such an insider's view of a country that we don't get to see inside of very often," said Elizabeth Santoro, who attended a book signing and discussion at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. "You see the violence on the news, but you don't see the richness of the culture and its history."
To those back in Afghanistan who would perhaps criticize his focus on negative aspects of Afghan culture, Hosseini said, "I think the novelist's job is to write precisely those things that make people nervous. Things that people don't necessarily want to talk about. Isn't that what novels have always done?"
In "A Thousand Splendid Suns" the author uncovers the lives of women hidden for so long behind walls and the iconic burqa robes.
"I want to convey what has happened to Afghan women," Hosseini said. "Especially in the last 15 years and the devastating effect that war and anarchy have had on Afghan women. So I feel very proud of this novel because I feel that to some extent it is a tribute to the struggles of women in Afghanistan."