The phone call came on a Saturday night. The nurse was calling from a hospital in Ohio; I'm not even sure how she got my cell number. A young Afghan girl under her care was awaiting serious surgery, and the girl was a huge fan of Khaled Hosseini. If she drove this sick child all the way to Detroit the next day, to Khaled's lunchtime signing at a BJ's Club warehouse, would he be willing to say a special hello?
As the Director of Publicity at Riverhead, I had the privilege of accompanying Khaled Hosseini for part of his And the Mountains Echoed book tour and witnessed firsthand what an extraordinary impact he's made on the lives of tens of thousands of people. He took two months away from his own life and family to travel to 40 cities across America to meet and sign books for well over 30,000 readers. Whether in Connecticut or Seattle or Portland or even New York City, I was struck by the incredible range of people who attended his events: the hipster who got a kite tattooed on her shoulder, inspired by The Kite Runner; an elderly Afghan-American woman wearing a hijab, thanking Khaled for so compassionately articulating her plight in A Thousand Splendid Suns; businessmen, teachers, retirees, teenagers, entire classes of high school students"”wearing everything from American Apparel to Phat Farm to head scarves"”all waiting many hours in line to thank Khaled and get his signature.
A book tour this large can be grueling: the author must sign books late into the night only to wake at the crack of dawn to rush to the airport and fly to yet another city. But Khaled was bolstered by the incredible warmth and generosity he encountered at each stop. In Seattle, the owner of Kabul Afghan Cuisine insisted on treating our group to a feast at his restaurant, producing endless platters of steaming bolani turnovers, bademjan, and sabzi until the wee hours and toasting all Khaled has done to help further understanding of Afghan culture. In Washington, D.C., the United Nations Refugee Agency threw a benefit concert to highlight all the work he has done as a Goodwill Envoy to raise awareness and funds for displaced women and children. Afghanistan remains the world's top producer of refugees: on average, 1 out of 4 worldwide is Afghan, and, as Khaled poignantly expressed to crowds at his bookstore readings, "The only difference between me and an Afghan who right now is barely surviving in a refugee camp, struggling for food and shelter, was pure luck."
And the Mountains Echoed chronicles the lives of individuals worldwide who were banished by war, an issue close to Khaled's heart. When his family left Afghanistan in 1976, he did not know he would never live in his homeland again. Throughout the tour, readers expressed similar stories of coming to America with their families and experiencing the longing and anxiety, the struggles and fears, that come with such displacement. What sets Khaled apart as a fiction writer is his incredible empathy and ability to articulate so poetically this loneliness of not belonging, and it was with this deep empathy that he asked BJ's in Detroit to find a private back room where he could sit with the sick Afghan child, hear her story, make her laugh, and spend quiet, private time with her in the middle of an otherwise chaotic book tour. "”Jynne Dilling Martin
This piece comes from our free Best Books of 2013: Reader's Guide, which you can download now for your Kindle. It features interviews, essays, excerpts, and other fun extras about the year's top 20 titles: Donna Tartt talks about her eating habits while writing The Goldfinch; David Finkel discusses the emotional impact following the 2-16 infantry battalion in Thank You for Your Service; and much more.