Title: And The Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Buy it: On Amazon
In 1952, Baba Saboor takes his two children, Abdullah and Pari across the vast Afghanistan desert, from their poor, poverty stricken village of Shadbagh into Kabul. On the way, he tells them a folk tale of Baba Ayub, who must sacrifice his child to save all of the village children from the dreadful Div - "Severing the finger to save the hand". The story is an allusion to the following events. Saboor breaks the sibling bond between Abdullah and his sister, by selling Pari to a rich, childless couple in order to keep his family alive through the coming winter. True to the title, this day echoes through the lives of generations to come, and across all the pages that follow.
And The Mountains Echoed is a beautiful and subtly crafted story of sacrifice and suffering. It feels more like poetry than a novel in it's structure - the chapters resemble connected but separate verses rather than continuous prose. Hosseini takes you on a journey from Afghanistan, to Paris, to Greece and across many years and generations. You meet many characters, from many lives, all in some way connected to that fateful time in 1952 when Saboor "severed the finger".
It is a gentle story, wonderfully uplifting at times (Nabi and Suleiman's story was my favourite) while others are dark and unhappy. Nothing is spelled out, and everything is insinuated. I am fearful I may have been too ignorant in parts to have picked up on everything... I'm not sure I know symptoms of illness well enough to know what characters are suffering from, for example. Now and then I would have appreciated a bit of "telling" rather than showing, but I can only hold that against myself for not being clever enough ;)
And The Mountains Echoed is a circular narrative, and while there are many diversions along the way, I loved how the two ends met at the conclusion.
And The Mountains Echoed is not like previous Khaled Hosseini novels, and this may be a disappointment for some readers expecting the format they are used to. Tied together by an over-arching theme, there are many stories that dip in and out of the novel and, at points, it made the book feel quite fractured and disrupted. I often felt a bit frustrated at not being given an "end" to the previous character's story. For instance, I wanted to know more of Nila's illness and operation. I wanted to know more of Roshi's situation after her time at the hospital, and most of all, I wanted to know what happened to Adel.
I also felt that although each story held within itself a sense of desperation and sadness, the book lacked the emotional impact we are used to from Hosseini's books. I remember while reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, reaching the end of the book with tears rolling down my face at quite a furious speed. Although I did not cry at the Kite Runner, there was a palpable lump in my throat. And The Mountains Echoed is a different kind of emotional though... it is a constant, unrelenting depiction of feeling, in all it's forms.
And The Mountains Echoed is, very simply, a beautiful portrayal of feeling. A landscape of emotions. While there are many stories in the book there is only one real beginning and end, and that is Abdullah's story. Whether or not readers will struggle with that, I don't know... but I do hope they wont. The echoes of Abdullah's story are present in each of the tangents, and it's wonderful.