Chapter Two of book group expo 2007 kicks off with an event presenting Khaled Hosseini - internationally acclaimed author of the awarding-winning novel The Kite Runner - in conversation with Susanne Pari, Program Director for book group expo and Iranian-American author of The Fortune Catcher.
Susanne Pari's novel, The Fortune Catcher, is a love story and a painless history lesson on the Iran-America situation. It has been translated into six languages. She was an advisor to Edgework Press and the Program Director for their Literary Salons. She has contributed to The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, National Public Radio, and Voice of America.
She sees her job as Program Director for Book Group Expo as a sly opportunity to read every book of every participating author without feeling guilty that she's having so much fun.
Welcome everyone. Last week in New York the television humorist and satirist StevenColbert who has just come out with a book of his own, complained that after making funof Khaled Hosseini's novel "The Kite Runner" his yard was filled with women's BookClubs. Well Steven Colbert should be so lucky. Yesterday I took a look at Khaled's newblog which has only one very nice entry that I am sure he wrote before he began anexhausting tour for this new book. He probably has no idea that there are already 87responses, all glowing reviews from fans. This was perhaps the most effective way tounderstand some of the reasons why both of Khaled's books are world bestsellers. Here isa blog post from a young named Tom. "Dear Mr. Hosseini I had to yet to complete a bookin all my four years in High School. This being my senior year, my teacher set up literacycircles and I had to read "The Kite Runner." It captured my attention within the first twochapters. This was honestly the best book I have ever started to read and I finished it."Another post "Hi, I am Analisa an Italian girl, who has readed this book with the Italiantitle Il cacciatore de aquiloni. It's very beautiful and it passionated me so much from thefirst lines. And then there was one written in pinglish which is the transliteration ofPersian using the English alphabet from an Iranian man who has translated "The KiteRunner" into Farsi twice in hopes of getting permission from the Ministry of Culture andGuidance in Iran to publish it. The truth is Khaled in my books would be about this slimonce the Islamic censors had their way with them.When I first met Khaled one of my first thoughts was that he would be the kind of doctorwho warmed up the working end of his stethoscope between his hands before touching itto a person's bare chest. And when he and his wife told me that they had read and lovedmy novel I was naturally certain he was a great and wonderful man. But besides beingboth the descendants of the Persian Empire I think Khaled and I share a few other thingsin common. For us I think story telling is the purpose of writing, it is not about sending apolitical message or about teaching the reader or about grabbing attention throughsensationalism. Its about creating an intricate, often dizzying society of characters andevents and ideas, that not only touch people but touch us as writers that help us makesense of the world even when a part of the world is through exile or immigrationamputated from us. It's that wonderful feeling of being able to say, listen to this. It's anold story told in a new way, a story you've forgotten. A story that will awaken you, takeyou out of yourself and maybe hopefully bring you closer to what is out there. So listen tothis "A Thousand Splendid Suns" use the plight of Afghanistan during the last halfcentury through the eyes of two women who wind up married to the same man and Iwon't say anything else.Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul Afghanistan in 1965. His father was a diplomat withthe Afghan Foreign ministry and his mother taught Farsi and history at a large high schoolin Kabul. After the Soviet invasions the Hosseinis sought and were granted politicalasylum in the United States and in September of 1980 they moved to San Jose. Before thesuccess of "The Kite Runner" Dr. Khaled Hosseini was practicing internist. In 2006 hewas named a Goodwill Envoy to UNHCR the United Nations refugee agency. "AThousand Splendid Suns" is his second novel. Ladies and gentlemen, Khaled Hosseini.I heard people laughing.What?Thank you very much, thank you so much Susanne. I was out there and I heard one out ofevery ten words, I heard a lot of laughter. So I don't know if it was at my expense or notbut, you know, this is my my second visit at the Book Expo. It's tremendous to be back,I owe the the Gentleman and mainly the ladies of Book Clubs, a great debt. Back whenI was going to book stores for readings and meeting three or four people, you guys werein your clubs and reading my novel and passing the word around and eventually kind ofwhere the first group that turned The Kite Runner into this kind of pop culturephenomenon that has become that has taken even me by by great surprise. So I thankyou very much for reading the Kite Runner and I hope that you enjoy the second novel aswell. I am going to do a short reading from this book. I am not going to read for too long,I find that the general attention span is around eight and a half minutes after which peoplebegin thinking about whether Tony Sopranos gets whacked or not. I think he is for the record.But quickly I will set up this novel. This is a story about two women in Afghanistan, twowomen who are born a whole generation apart and who are very different people. Theolder woman is named Mariam., she is the illegitimate daughter of this kind of disgracedand embittered housemaid and this wealthy theater owner, this wealthy businessman wholives in Western Afghanistan near the City of Herat. Mariam is raised in a on theoutskirts of this remote village in Western Afghanistan and grows up uneducated andtimid and with very modest hopes about her life. The other women, the younger woman isnamed Laila, in many ways she is very different from Mariam in that she is born into thiskind of middle class family. She is, you know, she goes to school, she is educated, she isambitious, strong-willed and has expectations of both personal and professional fulfillment.So two very different characters but they find each other, they - they end up together in ahousehold through circumstance and through the unforeseen tragedy and the turmoil inAfghanistan and they have to form a friendship, a bond that carries them through aviolent and very volatile time in the recent Afghan history and they end up largelythrough the through this evolving friendship seeing each other through anarchy and warand extremism and worst of all the gender apartheid that was forced on Afghan women inthe 90s. So I am going to read from the just a little bit past the midway point of thisnovel. At this point it is September of 1997, the Taliban have been in power inAfghanistan for a couple of years, in Kabul for a year, and they have banned women fromvirtually every hospital in Kabul, except for one. This is one of their most unpopular andloathsome decrees when they tried to centralize health care for women into one central facility.Laila, the younger woman is pregnant, in fact she is about to give birth to the baby andMariam has brought her to this hospital for her to deliver the baby only to find out thatthey cannot be admitted into the hospital and I think the rest of it is pretty selfexplanatory so I will read this passage and then we will, I will, take your questions,comments about Kite Runner, about this novel, whatever you guys want to talk about. SoSeptember 1997, this hospital no longer treats women the guard barked. He was standingat the top of the stairs looking down icily on the crowd gathered in front of MalalaiHospital. A loud groan rose from the crowd, but this is a women's hospital, a womanshout at behind Mariam. Cries of approval followed this. Not anymore the Talib said."But my wife is having a baby", a heavy set man yelled, "Would you have her give a birthright here on the street." Mariam had heard the announcement in January of that year, thatmen and women would be seen in different hospitals and that all female staff would bedischarged from Kabul's hospitals and sent to work in one central facility. No one hadbelieved it and the Taliban hadn't enforced the policy until now. What about Ali-AbadHospital another man cried and the guard shook his head. Wazir Akbar Khan? "Menonly", the guard said. What are we supposed to do? "Go to Rabiya Balkhi." A youngwomen pushed forward and said she had already been there, they have no clean water, shesaid. No oxygen, no medication, no electricity, there is nothing there she said. "That'swhere you go", the guard said. There were more groans and cries and insult too, and someone threw a rock. The Taliban lifted his Kalaschnikov and fired rounds into the air,another Talib behind him brandished a whip. The crowd dispersed quickly.The waiting room at Rabiya Balkhi was steaming with women in burqas and theirchildren. The air stank of sweat and unwashed bodies, of feces, urine, cigarette smokeand antiseptic. Beneath the idle ceiling fan, children chased each other harping over thestretched out legs of dosing fathers. It was dark outside and a nurse finally called them in.The delivery room had eight beds on which women mourned and twisted, tended to byfully covered nurses. Two of the women were in the act of delivering, there were nocurtains between the beds. Laila was given a bed at the far ends beneath the window thatsomeone had painted black. There was a sink nearby, cracked and dry and a string overthe sink from which hung surgical gloves.In the middle of the room Mariam saw an aluminum table. The top shelf had a sootcolored blanket on it, the bottom shelf was empty. One of the women saw Mariamlooking, they put the live ones on top, she said tiredly. The doctor in a dark blue burqawas a small harried woman with bird like movements. Everything she said came outsounding impatient and urgent. First baby, she said it like that, not as a question but as astatement. "Second" Merriam said. Laila let out a cry and rolled on her side, and herfingers closed against Mariam's. "Any problems with the first delivery?" No. "Are youthe mother?" Yes, Mariam said. At this point in the story Mariam is pretty much tellingeverybody that she is Laila's mother. Their relationship has kind of evolved in that manner.The doctor lifted lower half of her burqa and produced a metallic cone shaped instrument.She raised Laila's burqa and placed a white end of the instrument on her belly. Thenarrow end to her own ear. She listened for almost a minute, switched spots, listenedagain and switched spots again. I have to feel the baby now sister. She put on one of thegloves hung by a clothes spin over the sink. She pushed on Laila's belly with one handand slit the other inside. Laila whimpered. When the doctor was done, she gave the gloveto a nurse who rinsed it and pinned it back on the string. Your daughter needs a cesarean,doctor said, do you know what that is? We have to open her womb and take the baby outbecause it is in the breach position. "I don't understand" Mariam said.The doctor said the baby was positioned so it wouldn't come out on its own and too muchtime has passed as it is. We need to go to operating room now. Laila gave a grimacingnod and her head drooped from side to side. "There is something I have to tell you," thedoctor said. She moved closer to Mariam, leaned in and spoke in a lower moreconfidential tone. There was a hint of embarrassment in her voice now. What is shesaying Laila groaned "Is something wrong with the baby"?You think I wanted this way the doctor said. What do you want me to do? They won'tgive me what I need, I have no x-ray either. No suction, no oxygen, not even simpleantibiotics. When NGOs offer money the Taliban turn him away. Or they funnel themoney to places that cater to men. But doctor isn't there something that you can give,Mariam said. "What's going on?" Laila moaned. "Well you can buy the medicineyourself, but.." Write the name, Mariam said, "You write it down and I will get it."Beneath the burqa the doctor shook her head curtly, there is no time, she said. For onething none of the nearby pharmacies have it. So you'd have to fight through the trafficfrom one place to the next. Maybe all the way across town with little likelihood youwould ever find it. It's almost 8:30 now so you will probably get arrested for curfew.Even if you find the medicine chances are you can't afford it or you will find yourself in abidding war with someone just as desperate. There is no time, this baby needs to come out now.Tell me what's going on, Laila said she had propped herself up on her elbows. The doctortook a breath then addressed Laila and told her that the hospital had no anesthetic but ifwe delay you will lose your baby. Then cut me open, Laila said. She dropped back on thebed and drew up her knees, cut me open and give me my baby. Inside the old dingyoperating room, Laila lay on a gurney bed as the doctor scrubbed their hands on a basin.Laila was shivering. She drew in air through her teeth, every time the nurse wiped herbelly with the cloth soaked in a yellow brown liquid. Another nurse stood at the door shekept cracking it open to take a peak outside.The doctor was out of her burqa now and Mariam saw that she had a crest of silvery hair,heavy little eyes and a little pouches of fatigue in the corners of her mouth. They want usto operate in burqa, the doctor explained, motioning with their head to the nurse at thedoor, she keeps watch. She sees them coming I cover. She said this in a pragmatic almostindifferent tone and Mariam understood that this was a woman far past outrage. Here wasa women, she thought who had understood that she was lucky to even be working. Thatthere was something something else that they could take away. There were two verticalmetallic rods on either side of Laila's shoulders, with cloth spins the nurse would cleanseLaila's belly, pin the sheet to them. It formed the curtain between Laila and the doctor.Mariam positioned herself behind the crown of Laila's head and lowered her face so thattheir cheeks touched. She could feel Laila's teeth rattling, their hands locked together.Through the curtain Mariam saw the doctor's shadow move to move to Laila's left andthe nurse to the right. Laila's lips had stretched all the way back, spit bubbles formed andpopped on the surface of her clenched teeth. She made quick little hissing sounds. Thedoctor said take heart little sister. She bent over Laila. Laila's eyes snapped open and thenher mouth opened and she held like this, she held and held shivering. The chords in herneck stretched sweat dripping from her face. Her fingers crushing Mariam's and Mariamwould always admire Laila for how much time past before she screamed and that's theend of this chapter. So I will stop there and I see Susan coming back.