Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer

The new book by Khaled Hosseini ’88 is spare and haunting and beautiful.

Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer
The captivating brushstroke cover of Sea Prayer

The first moment of dialogue in the new book by writer Khaled Hosseini ’88 comes near the end of the tale. It is a mother’s voice, remembered by father and shared to son:

“Oh, but if they saw, my darling
Even half of what you have.
If they only saw.
They would say kinder things, surely.”

The child is 3 years old, sleeping. The mother is dead. Her husband—the boy’s father—fled with their son from the Syrian city of Homs, and now the father waits with the boy on the edge of the sea for a boat that will carry them and other refugees from a war-torn home to safety across the water.

This is the story of Sea Prayer. It is a slim volume that is a monologue of father to son: of a home lost—and of memories the boy is too young to carry with him as he grows:

We woke in the mornings
the stirring of olive trees in the breeze,
to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat,
the clanking of her cooking pots
the air and the cool sun
a pale rim of persimmon to the east.

Hosseini’s first three novels—The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed—have been read the world over. More than 50 million copies are in print. He established the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. And for years he has served as a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and worked with refugees around the world.

Watercolor illustration by Dan Williams

Hosseini himself was a refugee; his family fled Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet invasion. At Santa Clara he studied biology and then trained to become a doctor. And he found himself drawn to trying to heal the world not through medicine but with words and stories that might provide salve for the soul. Empathy might be a way to diminish suffering on the planet.

Sea Prayer is a book that speaks to children as well as adults.

The father’s monologue is woven around beautiful and haunting watercolor illustrations by artist Dan Williams.

This is also a book inspired by a tale that is tragically true. Alan Kurdi was a 3-year-old boy from Syria who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe. The photograph of his tiny body washed up on the beach crystallized for many the depth of tragedy that continues to unfold. Indeed, as a short epilogue notes, in the year after Alan’s death, more than 4,000 others died or went missing attempting that same journey.

Hosseini Reads on Campus Nov. 8

Khaled Hosseini returns to the Santa Clara campus  Nov. 8 for a reading and conversation at the de Saisset Museum. The event is 12–1 p.m. and doors open at 11:30. Tickets are free—but as of Nov. 1, reservations have already reached capacity. If you have a ticket, be sure to be in your seat by 11:55, at which time unclaimed seats will be given to those without tickets. More details are available here.

The event is part of the Reading Forward series, hosted by SCU’s creative writing program the Santa Clara Review literary journal, with support from the University Library, the Department of Ethnic Studies, and Santa Clara Magazine.

UPDATED Nov. 13, 2018—READ, WATCH: Read “Even Heaven Is Not Home”—excerpts of our conversation with Khaled Hosseini at the de Saisset Museum on November 8. And watch the video.

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