It’s a strange concept to think of a country as a character in a book, but with the question asked, it does seem that Iraq and Afghanistan play a specific role in each of these stories. Iraq provides Bartle with the foundation on which he is able to rebuild his shattered memories and his time at war, so it serves in the role of a supporting character. After the trauma he’s been through and through all the guilt he’s suffered as a result of his actions and his experience, Iraq provides him with the skeleton he needs to help reconstruct himself. At the same time, Iraq provides a foreign setting, symbolizing how Bartle feels within his own mind later in his life as he is lost in attempting to find himself. While he is there, it is brutally hot, dangerous, and hostile – Bartle is in a war, so the people are actually trying to kill him – so Iraq also plays the role of an antagonist, a force working against the main character. However, even when Iraq is at war and people are trying to kill him, Iraq is just an example of the other, something foreign and unfamiliar yet Bartle is able to see that the people there just want to live as he and Murph just want to live.
Afghanistan also plays a role in And the Mountains Echoed in a different way. Rather than being something of an antagonist and something of a supporting character as Iraq is in Yellow Birds, Afghanistan becomes a friend that grows on you as the book progresses. The way that Hosseini continues to describe the scenery and how it affects the people within the country. It is both a mysterious land that entices the reader to want to know more and a familiar place that welcomes the reader in and invites him or her to become friends. It lets you in on some of its secrets while retaining others to itself by contrasting Mrs. Wahdati’s character and behavior with the traditional attitudes and beliefs of the people around them. While it could be argued that how the characters act is not really a part of Afghanistan the country as a character, it feels like this is part of Afghanistan’s character, much like another character might have anger issues or be more conservative in their beliefs and behaviors.
I do think Americans are the major audience each of these authors had in mind when writing these books. Yellow Birds is written from the American perspective and published first in English through an American company so it is difficult to argue otherwise in this case. Hosseini also seems to have Americans in mind in writing his story as he attempts to show greater details of his world. He shows it as much more varied and diverse than Americans tend to understand, illustrating that people live vastly different kinds of lives depending on what part of the country they inhabit. I think one of the things each of these authors want Americans to understand about these countries that they might not have understood before is that they are each unique and different countries. They each have their own issues, political structures, and internal and external problems. Most Americans tend to hear the news about the “Middle East” and that’s how we think of it – as one big area of war and fighting. We hear city names like Kuwait or Bagdad and think they are in roughly the same place, much like we might think of Mississippi and Oklahoma, different states within the same nation with populations that are mostly the same. By providing detailed settings within their books, each of the authors gives the reader a clearer sense of each country, enabling the American reader to get a greater sense of how they’re different.