“You want a story? I will tell you one.”
Khaled Hosseini’s third novel ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ starts off with a gripping mythic folk tale about a div (demon) who usurps children from their parents, the story proceeds to account for parental love and sacrifice setting the theme for the rest of the novel. ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ deviates from Hosseini’s classic style espoused in his first two works: ‘The Kite Runner’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. The main deviation is Hosseini’s choice of engaging with multiple narratives instead of focusing on one primal character and their journey. Hosseini instead has written ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ like a collection of short stories, where each of the nine chapters of the book represent the viewpoint and experiences of a different character. It is through this construction that the story seems to be branching out, leaving the reader glued to the book so see where the story will progress or what insight they will gain.
The root upon which the story branches out is an event: the decision and action for Saboor (a modest villager) to sell their daughter to a wealthy childless couple in Kabul, straying the loving siblings Abdullah (10 years) and Pari (3 years) apart. From the moment that the realization dons that Saboor is going to give Pari away, the reader begins to anticipate the moment of their reunion. This event is the linchpin that links the various narratives discussed in the book together in a sort of butterfly effect where unlikely connections are made. Hosseini conceived this idea when he went on a trip to Afghanistan in 2007 with a UN Refugee Camp, here he witnessed that children were being sold in order to escape death in lieu of impoverishment.
The characters in Hosseini’s most recent work are more complex and morally ambiguous compared to those in his previous works; but the overt familial theme resonant through out the book akin to Hosseini’s previous novels. Although this book explores the magnitude of different types of relationships, the most widely discussed relationship is the sibling relationship. The different dynamics have explored throughout the book through the interactions of different characters. Hosseini explores the sanctity of a caring sibling relationship and the loss and grief involved in losing a loving sibling through Abdullah and Pari’s dynamic. The aspect of sibling rivalry/ jealously and the resulting guilt is explored through Masooma and Parwana’s relationship. Idris and Timur’s relationship also explores the underlying tensions that remain in a sibling relationship. Lastly, Hosseini also explores the companionship of Markos and Thalia, where we see one caring for an aging parent while the other pursues a thriving career.
Another major theme which I believe was visited in several places in the book was the aspect of aging and care-taking. As the book accounts for different generations we see a variety of people in different stages of their life. Thus a major question of care-taking has been explored through out the book, be it the platonic companionship of Suleiman Wahdati (a wealthy elderly man) and his loyal servant, Nabi; Parwana who is driven to care for her sister, Masooma, out of guilt or Pari who is sick and tired of rescuing her histrionic and impulsive mother from her drinking accidents. The aspect of aging and care-taking which is characteristic in cultures like Pakistan and Afghanistan seems to have a lot of pertinence to our experiences.
Through out the story, there is a sense of nostalgia as there is a sense of reminiscence of a culture and values that seem to be slowly dissipating. Seeking to provide a holistic picture of Afghanistan, Hosseini also chooses to include the story of Adel, who is the son of a war-hero turned politician who seeks to earn influence through terror and patronage. The stories and moral dilemma’s discussed in the book bring to life many of the complex feelings and encounters that resonate with many Pakistanis who are on the same trajectory. All in all, the sense of realism in the book, which doesn’t pose the quintessential happy ending seems to be cognizant of real life experiences making it relatable. Alongside an excellent plot and story, Hosseini’s skilled crafting of the narrative make this book a must read!