Khaled Hosseini: The Kite Runner's Graphic Adaptation

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Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner presents an eye-opening story of class struggles in Afghanistan, portrayed over the course of a few decades. After winning awards and being adapted into film, The Kite Runner, Hosseini's first novel, is has made the transition to the graphic novel format, available from Riverhead.

We shared a few moments with Hosseini to discuss this new form for his novel as well as some of the elements of his very moving story.

This is probably the first time I've seen a non-genre literary work adapted into the graphic novel format. How did the idea to use that medium come about?

Actually, there are a number of novels that have been adapted to the graphic novel format, among them Crime and Punishment, Farenheit 451, and others. I was approached to do it by my Italian publisher, Piemme. It was their idea, but it really caught my fancy as I have been a fan of comic books since childhood. I gave my go ahead and the search began for a set of artists to bring the story to visual life.

What portions, if any, of The Kite Runner were pulled from personal experience?

The story line of The Kite Runner is largely fictional. However, there certainly are, as is always the case with fiction, autobiographical elements woven through the narrative. The descriptions of Kabul circa 1970’s, the social set up, the political milieu, are based on my own recollection and observations. The kite fighting and the games Amir and Hassan play mirror the way my brother and I passed our time, as does Amir and Hassan’s love for films, in particular westerns.

Probably the passages most resembling my own life are the ones in the US, with Amir and Baba trying to build a new life for themselves. I too came to the U.S. as an immigrant and I recall vividly those first few years in California, the brief time we spent on welfare, and the difficult task of assimilating into a new culture. My father and I did work for a while at the flea market and there really are rows of Afghans working there, some of whom I am related to. The latter part of the book is entirely fictional.

Cutting kites competitively is something I hadn't heard of before this. Is this something that is still common, and is it something you've competed in?

It was and still is quite common in Afghanistan, as well as other parts of Asia, like India, Pakistan, and Japan. As a child growing up in Afghanistan, it is almost impossible not to have spent quite a bit of your childhood flying kites and trying to cut strings with your glass string. It was almost like a rite of passage. Even now, if you go to Kabul, you are certain to spot kids standing on rooftops, guiding their kites.

Did you receive any criticism for your representation of the Taliban in The Kite Runner (presumably from the Taliban and its supporters)?

I certainly never heard from them. The criticism I did receive from the Afghan community, though it was not on large scale, centered around the taboo subjects discussed in the book. Specifically, the notion of ethnic inequality, friction, and discrimination. These are issues that are sensitive in Afghanistan and ones that are not as yet discussed openly and freely.

However, I think one of the goals of fiction is to write about subjects that stir, that cause unease, that trigger dialogue and discourse. No one reads fiction about happy people living harmonious lives. Fiction should discuss topics that people are not comfortable discussing. For instance, in Afghanistan we have not had a civil rights movement, so the issue of discrimination and inequity based on ethnicity, while certainly true and historical, nevertheless rankles people. I think open dialogue about such matters is healthy and if a novel can help generate that, then so be it.


With the graphic novel version of The Kite Runner, the medium allowed -- in my opinion -- for some well-timed shocks. For instance, having the suicide attempt revealed at the turn of a page, or showing the sale of the automobile through the use of juxtaposed panels rather than stated explicitly. Were there other advantages that the graphic novel form allowed, and do you plan to use it again?



I agree with you. There are advantages to pictures, and film for that matter, over the written word. The classic example for me is the final shot of the Charlie Chaplin film "City Lights," the camera fading on Chaplin’s face, that unspeakably moving smile. It is nearly impossible to capture such an image with words. Conversely, novels can convey inner thought and conflict and complexity, which often are lacking in graphic novels, and film in particular. Graphic novels cannot match the traditional novel in nuance, subtlety, complexity –- though occasionally something as brilliant as Watchmen does. But they can convey information and emotion with the economy of a single panel; there is wonderful shorthand to that, which I find greatly appealing.

At the present time, I have no concrete plans for another graphic novel adaptation.

Can you tell us more about the work your foundation does, and how readers can contribute?

Thank you. The aim of my foundation has been to help the most vulnerable groups in Afghanistan. So the focus has been on women, children, and homeless refugees, most of whom are in fact women and children. So far, the bulk of our efforts has focused on helping build permanent shelters for returning refugees who are homeless, living out in the open or in makeshift homes.

This is an area of urgent need as Afghanistan’s natural elements are quite harsh, with very hot summers, and freezing winters. We also support and fund projects that bring jobs, healthcare, and education to women and children. In addition, we award scholarships to women pursuing higher education in Afghanistan. Readers can learn more by visiting