Everyone is an Ocean inside | Daily News

Everyone is an Ocean inside

Today, on Women’s Day as government organizations celebrate the movement of women’s rights, while social media overflows with good wishes for women, if you found yourself wondering and doubting if men can be feminists you need to get introduced to my father, Daya Dissanayake, or Khaled Hosseini, the author of the ‘Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns.’ Both have written advanced feminist literature focusing on the plight of women — and both regularly speak out against the oppression women suffer.

Fueled by the belief a society has no chance of success if its women are uneducated and realizing his debut work, The Kite Runner, had turned out to be a novel about men, even as he edited the manuscript of his first book, Hosseini had decided that in his second novel he would address the issues pertaining to women.

The result was ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns.’ In this incredible chronicle of Afghan history, Hosseini gives readers an amazing look at what happens when women in Afghanistan are left to fend for themselves. The seeds for the story were planted in his mind he says in the spring of 2003 when he had gone to Afghanistan and met women who were working for various organizations. “I basically just listened to their stories. The purpose of the visit was to educate myself. I really wasn’t thinking at all about researching a book. But I came home with this amazing repertoire of eyewitness accounts and stories that were vivid and heartbreaking, and that sat in my head for about another year. When I began writing this novel, all those voices came back and I think the two main female characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns were kind of inspired by my collective sense of what women in Afghanistan went through, particularly since the withdrawal of the Soviets and the breakout of anarchy and extremism and criminality.”

Writing from a female perceptive had not come easy. Hosseini remembers calling his agent and telling her what he was going to write, and listening to her say, “It sounds pretty daunting.” He admits he had not thought it would be hard – until he got into the thick of writing. Looking at the world through a woman’s eyes had not been easy. “I thought I had really kind of cornered myself into a difficult spot, especially since I had set my heart on writing from two women’s perspectives, two very different women. So it became very difficult, almost to the point where it kind of crippled the writing process,” Hosseini confesses. “I was agonizing over whether I was doing it right and obsessed with this notion that women live in a different emotional arena. At some point I just let go and I began to view these two women, not as Afghan women, but rather just people and focused on their humanity rather than their femininity. Suddenly a really transformative thing happened. These women began to speak for themselves, and I kind of became a mouthpiece for them rather than me speaking through them. The novel almost wrote itself after that.”

In the same way Herman Melville scribbled changes onto the final proofs of Moby-Dick until the printer’s deadlines could wait no longer; and Virginia Woolf announced at least four separate times that she had finally completed The Waves, Hosseini too says he keeps writing and refining and finds it hard to stop working on a novel, even when everyone around him is screaming for him to stop.

The reason for this, he explains is that it’s terribly hard for a book to recreate the scope and grandeur of an author’s ideas before they hit the page. “Everyone is an ocean inside,” he said in an interview with the Atlantic a few years ago. “Every individual walking the street. Everyone is a universe of thoughts, and insights, and feelings. But every person is crippled in his or her own way by our inability to truly present ourselves to the world.”

Explaining further he adds, we fear we’ll be misunderstood—and, at times, we surely will be. The most powerful human emotions are terribly difficult to explain in a way that doesn’t diminish them, or that doesn’t make you look slightly ridiculous in the telling. How easy to safeguard them then, and keep things close, rather than risk looking foolish or being misheard.

“But that’s what art is for—for both reader and writer to overcome their respective limitations and encounter something true. It seems miraculous, doesn’t it? That somebody can articulate something clearly and beautifully that exists inside you, something shrouded in impenetrable fog. Great art reaches through the fog, towards this secret heart—and it shows it to you, holds it before you. It’s a revelatory, incredibly moving experience when this happens. You feel understood. You feel heard. That’s why we come to art—we feel less alone. We are less alone. You see, through art, that others have felt the way you have—and you feel better.”

Born in Afghanistan on 4th March 1965 Hosseini and his family sought asylum in the US when he was 15 years old, with only a limited grasp of English. He went on to attend medical school and began practicing as a doctor in California. While still working as a physician, he began writing The Kite Runner,hoping to share what life in his homeland had been like. “I expected the book to resonate with people who were interested in the region, who maybe were interested in Afghanistan specifically,” he remembers.

“But the degree to which it caught on … it did take me by surprise quite a bit.”

But even after The Kite Runner, became an international publishing phenomenon in 2003 (6 million copies in print in the U.S. and 18 million worldwide), he still found it hard to imagine that his writing career would last. “For a year and a half after its publication, I refused to believe that it was possible that I could do this for a living,” says Hosseini. “I was reluctant to let go of the security of a very stable life.” But, he says, “when I started seeing people at airports reading my book, and when my patients would come in to visit me, more out of a sense of getting a book signed than getting their diabetes treated, I started to see the writing on the wall.” That’s when he gave up his profession and became a full -time writer. There’s no doubt he was wise to hang up his stethoscope.

As a self-taught writer, Hosseini believes writing runs in his blood. Both his parents are from Herat, where, he explains, ‘The old joke is you can’t stretch a leg without poking a poet in the rear.’ On his father’s side there were a number of accomplished poets known within the town, but never published. His younger brother Daoud is also a poet.

These days his wife, Roya, a Silicon Valley investment lawyer, is his most trusted editor. ‘I will give her 10 to 15 pages to read and it will come back and there will be a red line circling a paragraph and it says, “lol [laugh out loud] you can’t be serious!” I have people in my family who love me too much to ever say anything negative, they feel like they hurt my feelings.’ But evidently not Roya.

Some authors, among them John Irving, are notorious for not beginning a new work until its entire story has been carefully plotted. “I envy the ability to do that,” laughs Hosseini. “But I can’t do that. I never know where the book is going.” As new characters emerge, they become, he says, “like pebbles in a shoe, and I have to see what they are all about.”

With an amused twinkle in his eyes, he also issues a warning. ‘If you are going to be a character in my novel, get a lot of life insurance,’ he jokes. ‘It is not going to be good for your health.’

 


 

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