The 60-year-old Bernal Heights resident grew up in Afghanistan but moved to America at 16. His memoir “West of Kabul, East of New York” is this year’s pick for The City’s “One City, One Book” citywide reading program.
Is this the first time one of your books has been chosen for a citywide reading program? This book was chosen also by Waco, Texas, a few years ago and another small town, Orland, in Illinois, but this is the first time a major city has picked it.
Do you think San Francisco will be a different audience? It’s more the natural audience. The book is my experience of fragmented and jagged identity. People in San Francisco are very familiar with that kind of issue. And, of course, the largest Afghan community outside Afghanistan is in the Bay Area.
What prompted you to write this book? I started writing the book a year or two before 9/11 and I wasn’t writing it with a sense of crisis. I was writing it as an exploration of identity. The more I delved into it, the more … I realized, I’m actually two guys, and I’ve never stopped being that other guy.
When is the last time you returned to Kabul, and how was it different from when you were a child? It was back in 2002. The physical destruction was just shocking. And yet, I feel like there were certain aspects of Afghan culture I remembered really well, and were still there — [such as] a certain kind of serenity that’s very sociable.