by Khaled Hosseini
I feel the need to preface this post by saying that Khaled Hosseini is probably my favorite author. I was introduced to him, as I expect many have been, through 12th grade English class. We were required to read his debut novel, The Kite Runner. I loved it so much that I read his more female-centric A Thousand Splendid Suns (possibly my favorite fiction novel ever) for a choice book project later that year. He is simply an amazing and creative storyteller, and he writes about a part of the world that I find fascinating. I just couldn’t resist buying and devouring his newest novel.
And the Mountains Echoed begins in a small, fictional village in Afghanistan with a man telling folk tales to his ten-year-old son, Abdullah, and three-year-old daughter, Pari. The story he tells is about a monster, the div that comes to kidnap a child from a poor, starving village. When the father in the story loses his favorite child to the div, he hopelessly decides to track it down. When he arrives at the home of the div, he finds that his child (along with countless others) is alive, happy, and healthy. The div, he finds out, kidnaps children from poor villages to keep them safe and uncorrupted. While the father misses his child he recognizes that life will be better with the div than in their humble village. He walks away with a gift from the div, a potion that will help him forget the child, though it still leaves an inexplicable void in his heart.
This tale perfectly sets up the rest of the book. Abdullah and Pari, the closest of siblings, are torn apart from each other when Pari is sold for adoption to a young, rich woman. While both children become successful (their lives are returned to throughout the story), they feel an emptiness that is only explained by their separation. The relationship between Abdullah and Pari drives the story, and their separation catalyzes a myriad of events that affect the lives of surrounding generations. Hosseini takes the reader from Afghanistan to France, northern California to a small Greek island, while he explores the differences between nature and nurture as relationships are made and broken. Some characters form deep bonds through shared experience with complete strangers, others sacrifice everything for family members, and some cut familial ties altogether. It is these diverse relationships that bring the stories together, as themes of love and loss ripple through the web of connected lives.
Perhaps the most interesting commentary in Mountains is on what makes a place home. Most of the characters are Afghans and many of them fled during the Soviet occupation. A few of these characters returned to Kabul after the fall of the Taliban to deal with property matters or track down lost family members, but they feel isolated from their homeland, detached because they escaped and left their country in turmoil. After returning home, one comments, “the real culture shock has been in coming back” to the US. The same man, who makes a very deep connection with a little girl in a hospital, finds his connection with Kabul and the little girl diminishing after being back home for a while. Another character, a Greek doctor, makes his way to Kabul during the war to perform plastic surgeries to victims of war. He makes a home in Kabul and returns to Greece to find that his house no longer feels like home. Pari never feels quite at home because she does not remember where she came from, but she knows her Maman is not her family and Paris is not her home. These themes of home, love and family are reflected and repeated through the different stories in the book.
And the Mountains Echoed is a complex novel covering several generations and a variety of locations. It can be a little confusing, even disjointed, at points, so if your memory is not so great (like mine) I would recommend keeping a notepad near you while reading so you can draw a map of relationships between characters, as well as location and time frame. The diversity of experience, education, and ethnicity between characters, however, makes this book very relatable. The characters make rash decisions and quick judgments, but they love deeply and make great sacrifices. Their stories are powerful, moving, and universal, and will make you think hard about how to define love and morality. If you’ve read and enjoyed Hosseini’s other books, then this is a must-read. If you haven’t read anything by Khaled Hosseini, stop what you’re doing right now. Go to the nearest library/bookstore/Kindle. Pick up a copy of any of his books. You won’t regret it.
I’ll leave you with a Miriam Adeney quote that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. I think it ties in nicely with some of the themes in this book. “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of living and loving people in more than one place.”