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And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

August 3, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed

If I had to describe this book in two words they would probably be these: tragically beautiful.  And the Mountains Echoed is the newest work from the Afghan-American author Khaled Hosseini of Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns fame. Similar to his previous works, this novel tells the story about family, love, loss, and life in Afghanistan. More deeply, the novel deals with the relationships between parents and children, especially as families come to grips with the effects of old age. It starts as the story of a brother and sister living in a small village and evolves into a nearly 70-year epic weaving through their very different paths, and the lives of those who come and go through Afghanistan in the 20th century.

When Hosseini writes about Afghanistan he shows the reader a place that is exceptionally beautiful, and full of vivid and interesting people, but also a place that is flawed, and has been scarred and damaged by its difficult recent history. I like the way he, and his characters, accept and acknowledge the violence and hardship that bring Afghanistan into world news, but the focus is really on the lives of the people and feelings that have nothing to do with war or politics. Family is something that people, regardless of culture, understand and participate in and by centering his stories on family, readers from around the world are easily transported into the many times and places in this novel – from Kabul, to Paris, to Greece, to California.

Each chapter in this book is quite long but they almost work as stand alone stories that, when brought together, show a much bigger picture. The narrator in each chapter is different and the voice often changes between 3rd person and a more intimate 1st person. I found some chapters to be so intensely beautiful and tender that I would read them again on their own. The things that bring together all the unique chapters of this novel are both the underlying thread of a brother and sister looking for each other over the years, and that each chapter is told from the perspective of a person, young or old, interacting with their parent. The complexity of parent-child relationships courses through every page of this novel. I really enjoyed that dimension, especially.

The novel begins with two siblings, Abdullah and Pari, living in a small Afghan village. The two young children are inseparable until a visit to Kabul with their father forces them apart. Through all the chapters and narratives that follow their sense of longing and loneliness really stayed with me and set the tone for the difficult topics ahead. With every page I was left wondering if the two loving siblings would ever see each other again. Every single story was touching and beautiful, and I think the most important thing is that they all felt real. Each person and situation felt plausible and visceral. Like A Thousand Splendid Suns this book definitely made me cry.

But it also made me think. I think this novel really speaks to the generation around the world now entering middle age. The stories of parents living into old age and grappling with failing minds and failing bodies, especially told from the perspective of their now-grown children, was touching and emotional. This book forces you to think about your own family and makes for a very touching counterpart to the realities of many families across the modern world. It makes me wonder if the author is dealing with similar harsh realities in his own life; even if not, he does an incredible job conveying the feelings of such difficult times.

For me, this book ended too soon. I felt like I could have kept reading his prose for hundreds more pages and still been captivated. But in keeping with the narrative of aging, it seems only right that you should reach the end before you are ready.

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From → Fiction

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