Annotating one’s first novel is not for the faint of heart. Yes, you do marvel at those things you somehow got right, and you feel due pride and pat yourself on the back for those. But for the most part, at least for me, it was one long cringing session. More often than I cared for, annotating my book felt like a letter of apology.
First edition, signed on the title page (“Khaled Hosseini”). Published as war raged between U.S. forces and the Taliban, Hosseini’s tale brings us back to old regime of the late 1970s, and the disaster of the Soviet Invasion of 1979, and its impact on the intertwined lives of the privileged Amir and the outcast Hassan. “I wrote several versions of this first chapter,” he explains at the outset, “some as long as 30 pages. In the end, this shorter, more evocative, and less plot-intensive opening worked best.” Many comments address the false connections that many readers made between the characters and his own life. Amir’s escape to Fremont led many readers to assume “I live in Fremont,” he writes in one note. “I actually live in San Jose. But I did get married in Fremont! I am told there are more Afghanis in the East Bay (which includes Fremont) than anywhere in the world, outside of Afghanistan/Iran/Pakistan.”
The scene of Amir’s escape prompts Hosseini to say, “I think I might have teared up a bit myself writing this scene” (p.95). But he is often harsh and critical of his work. In the scene where Assef present a Hitler biography as a gift, Hosseini writes in the lower margin: “Again, heavy-handed. He did not need to be a Nazi. He was already bad enough. At times it is tough to read your own work.” “Could have done better here,” he frequently writes. “I would never write that line today!” At another point he asks himself whether he is being “too polemical?” Some of the crucial coincidences seem a bit strained to him now. “The urge to self-edit is very powerful!” But he justly takes proud in the scene near the end where a sobbing Sohrab breaks down and describes his victimization: “I must admit, after all the self-criticizing, that this is a very well constructed scene. It rings true.”
HOSSEINI, Khaled. The Kite Runner. New York: Riverhead Books, 2003. 8°. Original cloth-backed boards; dust jacket.