The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns by Aghanistan born author Khaled Hosseini. His books revolve around telling the story of Afghanistan from the 1950's to today through the viewpoints of different people of different backgrounds.
Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan in 1965, and came to the US with his family when he was 15 years old, today he is a US citizen, a doctor, and an author who has sold over 38 million books.
It's striking just how vividly he can portray events and daily life in Afghanistan, and I was surprised at how much I didn't know about the country. As it turns out, Afghanistan was quite peaceful in the days of it's monarchy, before a coup, and then the Soviet invasion brought chaos and war.
The author gives a very balanced view, he doesn't try to hide from the negative aspects of Afghanistan's recent history, like forced marriages, war, massacres, the Taliban's iron fisted (and barbaric) time in power, but he also shows the positives, and the good within people. One such incident is when the main character and narrator in The Kite Runner, Amir is facing the death of his father, and the entire Afghan Pahstun community in his new hometown in Southern California (Amir and his father had fled shortly after the Soviet invasion in 1979), came together to support him, and help him in any way that they could.
What really stood out to me (and is a hard concept for me to understand as a Westerner), is the extremes that the people there go in their hospitality towards guests. In The Kite Runner, Amir returns back to his old neighborhood in Kabul during the time of the harsh rule of the Taliban, and the local guide, who is helping to smuggle him into Afghanistan from Pakistan, invites him into his home to eat.
Amir unintentionally overhears an argument between the man and his brother, and finds out that the food they gave him was some of the last food that the family had, leaving the children without food for a while. The brother of the man asks him why he did this, and the guide said "we are poor, not savages". The cultural code of hospitality, passed down through the generations was so strong, that the man felt that he would be dishonoring himself and his family, if he didn't offer the food to Amir. This was very baffling to me, and was hard to understand.
Amir is shocked by this fact, and after his local guide went above and beyond to help him in his journey through Afghanistan, he gave his guide the equivalent of $2,000 in local currency, because he felt so moved by the man's dedication and selflessness.
The books are an incredible read, and they are some of the best books I have read in a long time. They have been a great insight into the history and culture of that region of the world, and have helped to give me a better understanding.