A first novel by Afghan author Khaled Hosseini, set in his homeland both before and during the rule of the Taliban, was preempted in a major deal by Riverhead's co-editorial director Cindy Spiegel. The book is called The Kite Runner and tells a dark story of fathers and sons, loyalty and betrayal in that unhappy land. Spiegel bought U.S. rights from agent Elaine Koster and plans to publish early in 2004. Hosseini fled the country some years ago and is now a practicing physician in California; he is the author of a number of published stories and is a nominee for the Pushcart Prize.