In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
“They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.”
‘And the Mountains Echoed’ begins with a story a father tells his children and this is a premonition to them of things to come. How a brother and sister are separated in childhood. It turns out to be a tale of “the finger cut, to save the hand.” The rest of the story tells us how the hand reacts, and what happens to the finger. For me this book is more than the story of Abdullah and Pari . It is the story of how a twin has to live with the moral burden of hurting her prettier twin, it is the story of two cousins returning to their homeland now as adults, it is the story of a boy coming to an understanding of his father’s real reputation, it is the story of brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, lovers and even the bond of master and servant. It is, in simple words, the story of love and loyalty transcending borders and time.
For a book that reached the top 10 even before its release based on pre publication reviews alone, and a book that sold approximately 3 million copies in its first 5 months after publication, And the Mountains Echoed, lived up to all the complexity and magic it was expected to hold. It is the third book by acclaimed Afghan – American author, Khaled Hosseini and it without a doubt cements his name as being one of the most prolific storytellers in this century.
The fact that such simple language, be it the prose or the poetry, can bring to mind such vivid emotions and thoughts is wondrous. I must confess, I read through the last quarter of the book in a puddle of my own tears. No shame here. I was left contemplating thoroughly moved.
His poetry, as well as the stories within this story are compelling in their own right, his philosophy and thinking which we see and feel through his characters show us despite our differences in faith, culture and geography, the dynamics of relationships are universal and basic humanness and human emotion are the same. Our basic instincts and needs are one, regardless of whether we chose to enclose ourselves from the public eye or not. There were many moments when I had read a paragraph, a line or a string of words, when I just sat back and thought of how it affected me in my own story and those around me today.
“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.”
The book consists of nine chapters, or in another light, nine sub-stories, each from the perspective of different characters who span many generations and from across the globe. The book’s fragmented narrations gives us an indepth look into the characters and we find them all to be surprisingly interconnected, only an arm’s length from each other. These narratives span the past, present and future, and we see the characters encounter each other in surprising and tragic ways.
The familial themes which Hosseini brings into even his third book, is further explored. Sibling relationships and sibling like relationships are put to the test. I was impressed at his way of talking and showing us the complexity of sibling love, the purity of it, as well as the good, bad and ugly aspects often left unventured. We are left heartbroken on some and deeply conflicted on others. Siblings are reconnected, but not in how our hearts expect them to. In fact none of the endings are satisfactory, and Hosseini is clearly trying to tell us something. Is it that, in his words,
“Nothing good came free. Even love. You paid for all things. And if you were poor, suffering was your currency.”
Afghanistan’s political situation plays a huge role in the story as a backdrop for events taking place. Hosseini has tread this path well, and I didn’t for once feel stifled by my lack of knowledge on the political aspects of the story. If not for the war, many of our characters wouldn’t have met the way they did, nor have moved across the globe as we see them do. What’s surprising is that though the presence of war is there, it is never about it. The human struggle is always above this and Hosseini shows us. Afghanistan to us is not presented as a war ridden country but as a country like any other. There is no ‘Other’ here, just one and all.
With the ending of war we see warlords, we see corruption, we see them taking advantage of the poor and we see how cleverly money and power can stifle even the loudest of yearnings. The troubling experience of having to flee one’s home and adopt to other cultures is portrayed, how living with the echoes of your roots is a trying experience.
We are constantly asking ourselves if memory is a curse or a blessing. Pari cannot remember her beloved brother, but she feels an emptiness. Abdullah lives his life with her memory on his sleeve. She never leaves him. Its heartbreaking to see the consequences of their separation. The need for answers is a continual theme throughout the book, and the latter narratives tie up the strings as to how the journey ends for our characters.
What I like about this book, is the balance of male and female characters, in their colourful diversity. We have the humble Afghani man Saboor and the modest Afghani woman Parwana living by what they are duly required to do, haunted by their moral burden; the strong faithed Abdullah admirable in his life long memory of his baby sister; the determined Amra, Collette and Odie trying to live up to their standards of justice; Masooma and Thalia showing us two ends of the spectrum with regards to living with deformity in societies and how can one forget the likes of the dramatic and narcisstic set of Madeline, Timur and Nila; of different cultures yet fighting the same battle. The one true loves of Mr. Wahdati, Nabi and Abdullah are telling, each of a different nature yet complex and sadly ones that never see the light of day.
Be it the sheer will power of a woman, or the life long memory a boy held on to into his old age of a sister he was heartbreakingly separated away from, be it the unconditional love of a son, daughter, brother or sister, or the never ceasing loyalty of a friend and/or servant I loved the balance of how man and woman, and what each has to offer is seen as essential in the equation of love, stability and life in general.
I loved that Hosseini explored how sometimes we just have to give in, not because they we forced to but because there is no other way. We see the likes of Nila and Pari binti Abdullah, just give in to what is expected of them, leaving aside their need to work on their dreams and aspirations.
“The world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked behind skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel, as that.”
As we close up on this story and lives of these people, we realize that the title of the book stands true and fitting, for in the end the mountains did echo, of the voices that struggled to be heard, accepted and reconnected throughout multiple generations.
Clearly I loved the book and I recommend it to anyone. You are never too old or young to read this story. Just go ahead! Pick it up, be transported and inspired.