Afghan writer Hosseini condemns western 'fortress mentality'

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Writer Khaled Hosseini called for more tolerance for the plight of refugees, as the author of the bestselling "The Kite Runner" spoke to AFP about his latest book "And The Mountains Echoed".

"There is a kind of fortress mentality in the West," said the Afghan-born American novelist, whose new novel has a complex plot spanning from Kabul to Paris, a Greek island to California.

"I think it's important for us to remember the humanity of these people," he said during a visit to Milan after twin shipwreck tragedies off Italy in which over 500 asylum seekers are feared dead.

"Nobody says you have to open your door and the whole world can come and settle in your country. Refugees have not chosen their fate, their fate has been forced upon them," Hosseini said.

The author regularly travels to his war-torn homeland as an ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) but said he wanted his new book to be "less Afghan-centric".

The book begins with a disturbing folk take about a devil kidnapping children in Afghan villages.

The first setting is an Afghan village in the 1950s and the conclusion is in California where Hosseini, a trained physician, now lives.

It revolves around the story of two children from a poor family who are forced into a heart-rending separation that will forever mark their lives.

The writer said the book had a "non-linear, un-traditional" plot with lots of characters.

"The war in Afghanistan is not such a looming presence in the book. The impact on a lot of characters is less pressing, less urgent.

"It's more a personal story having more to do with human struggles," he said, adding that the characters he wanted to create were "morally ambiguous" and "not quite so black and white".

The award-winning novelist is a literary phenomenon whose star shows no sign of fading. His first two books, "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns", sold 38 million copies worldwide.

His latest book has already sold three million copies since first coming out in the United States in May and is due to be translated into 40 languages including Malaysian and Icelandic.

While the writer said the book had less of a focus on Afghanistan and its future, he is certainly not forgetting his homeland and chief inspiration.

"I feel I have a debt to Afghanistan because of my success. I think it obligates me to be socially conscious but the books are written for very personal reasons," Hosseini said.

"Books are always about some kind of human enigma, some truth I'm trying to get out," said the writer, who pointed out that he has not lived in Afghanistan for 33 years although he travels there.

"It's neither my intention nor my ambition to alter thought in Afghanistan. I want to be very respectful of the fact that if any significant change comes in Afghanistan it will not be spurred by an Afghan in exile," he said.