It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I swear have a good reason. I promise! The last two books I’ve read have both been very long. First, I struggled through ‘Love in the Time of Cholera.’ I disliked it almost as much as Zelda, who rather viciously tore apart for us already. Then I read ‘A Game of Thrones‘ by George R. R. Martin. It was an easy read, but have you looked at the size of that book recently? Really, though, enough has been said by many other people about the book and tv series, so I think it’s safe if we move on.
This week, I finished up Khaled Hosseini’s newly-published third book ‘And the Mountains Echoed.’ I’ll start by saying that the official blurb for the book is very unsatisfying and has to be one of the least informative descriptions I’ve come across. See for yourself what I mean:
“Khaled Hosseini has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.
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…the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page” (find the full blurb on GoodReads).
These few paragraphs could apply to many, many books. What is this book even about?! It’s like the editor reached into a grab bag of guaranteed book blurb sentences and put them all together. However, since I remembered loving Hosseini’s other books when I read them 3 or 4 years ago, I decided to give ‘And the Mountain Echoed’ a read despite it’s generic description.
Big surprise–the book is about families, love, generations, and choices. But lucky reader, I’ll give you a bit more to go on. If you want to read this book without any spoilers whatsoever, skip ahead to the ***.
A different character narrates each chapter of ‘And the Mountains Echoed’. Some of them are intimately tied to the main story while others are only loosely connected. Hosseini also uses letters, bedtime stories, and a magazine interview to share the stories of these characters. The main story, or the most important story, is that of Abdullah and Pari, a brother and sister growing up in Afghanistan in the 1950s. Abdullah, who is 9 or 10, shares a deep bond with his younger sister, Pari (somewhere around age 3 or 4), who he is also essentially raising after their mother died in giving birth to Pari. Their world revolves around each other, until their father makes a very difficult decision. Unable to provide for his entire family, Pari is sold to a wealthy family and raised as the daughter of an eccentric French-Afghan poet, unaware of her true parentage. This is the story I cared most about, waiting the entire book to find out if the siblings ever find each other again.
As promised, the stories and relationships of many other characters are woven into this book, making it very different from ‘The Kite Runner’ or ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns.’ The plot and characters in Hosseini’s first two books were much more self-contained. Both books only used a few points-of-view and the stories were much more tied to Afghan history. In comparison, ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ is also a lighter, less violent book, and more global book.
In one chapter, a self-described “Westernized Afghan” is explaining his discomfort at being back in Afghanistan, and the way his brother interacts with the people they meet. “I just think these people, everything they’ve been through, we should respect them…The stories these people have to tell, we’re not entitled to them…” The aid worker he’s talking with completes his thought. “No, I understand…You say their stories, it is a gift they give you.” (147-148*). This quotation frames what I think Hosseini was trying to do with ‘And the Mountains Echoed.” The telling or sharing of one’s story defines this novel, and in many cases when these characters tell their stories, it is an act of bravery, affection, reconciliation, or healing—a gift for the person their sharing with (I’m veering dangerously close to sounding like the back of the book now).
I liked ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ better than ‘The Kite Runner,’ but I can’t decide where my opinion of the third book falls. It certainly isn’t as emotionally powerful or draining as ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ which had me sobbing a few times, if I remember correctly. But, it was a good book, and I spent the whole time trying to think up ways to bring Pari and Abdullah back together. Overall, I’d give the book 4.5 stars.
*Page numbers refer to an advance reading copy