I doubt there are many people that have read and not fallen in love with Khaled Hosseini’s first two novels – The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both share similar characteristics – Hosseini explores innocence and violence in his controversial land of Afghanistan. In this country of extremes love and betrayal coexist in somewhat natural harmony. The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns are about suffering and retribution, novels that evoke rivers of tears but at the end offer a sort of hope for the protagonists – a notion that whatever happened to you there is always a way to be good again.
Khaled Hosseini’s third novel And the Mountains Echoed was impatiently expected – and I was among the first to get hold of it. Having pre-ordered it on my Kindle, exactly on the 21st of May I started reading what appears to be a slightly different Hosseini. The author shifts his storytelling. While still focused on Afghanistan, and Afghans coping around the world, And the Mountains Echoed is not so violent. It seems the war is pushed in the background, while the focus of the author is on the development of human relationships in a small group of interconnected characters.
In structure And the Mountains Echoed reminds of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. Each chapter is focused on a different character and told through a different point-of-view. Hosseini easily jumps from the 1950s, when most of Afghanistan was still an undeveloped desert, to present times, when the war has dramatically changed the landscape of the country. His characters reside all over the world but are all connected by a simple act nearly 50 years ago.
The novel starts off with a folk tale – a man tells his two children, Abdullah and Pari, a legend of sacrifice that sets in motion events that will change several people’s lives and will echoe for more than 50 years across the world. This poor man decides to cut a finger to save the hand – in other words he sells his young daughter Pari to the wealthy and childless Wahdati family. The child is strapped from its roots and history with the promise of a better life. From there on Hosseini easily jumps to portray how this simple act affected multiple people. Young Pari is taken by her beautiful but unstable stepmother to Paris to a life of opportunity but she always feels some part of her has been missing. The brother Abdullah ends up in the States with a family of his own, longing for his lost sister. The children’s step uncle Nabi, who facilitated the sale, spends his life taking care of Pari’s sick stepfather, who has been abandoned by his wife and has carried a carefully concealed secret all of his life. Nabi only admits to the story and his role in it years later to a Greek doctor, who comes to Afghanistan on a voluntary mission. Meanwhile, the doctor’s life also has its own chapter and its own part in the story.
Hosseini follows a simple but established formula – interconnected people travelling through life towards some form of retribution, seeking to validate their choices and to find some form of peace and contentment. As always the author is enchanting and engaging – one speeds through pages, destinies and continents lightly and the end comes quicker than expected. Hosseini takes a risk – changing a bit from his first two novels – but the success is evident. A beautifully written tale that makes sense. A tale about the choices we make and how far they are taking us. A tale about strength and perseverance and about the importance of one’s roots.
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