I’ll Do My Crying In The Train!…….And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
When it comes to the novels of Khaled Hosseini I am a very slow learner!!!…………… I read ‘The Kite Runner’ and wept a bucket-load at the end…………………………………………………………………………………….. When I read his next novel ‘A Thousand Setting Suns’ I wept TWO bucket-loads at the end (and then some!)………………………………………………………………………… So with about thirty pages to go of his most recent book, And The Mountains Echoed, you’d think I’d have been savvy enough not to finish it while on the Central Line on the way to work.
But no……….. throwing caution to the tear-stained winds I decided to finish it on the train………….cue more bucket-loads!!!
So to my fellow-commuters who watched me weep my way into Oxford Circus, my apologies for breaking the unspoken rule that the commute to London should always be silent and solemn. And my particular apologies to the bloke who gruffly asked ‘all right mate?’ only for me to stammer ‘…………..it’s …………..it’s ……………..it’s ………………….’ and then when I couldn’t get any more words out and I pointed speechless to my book, he was forced to physically recoil in shock and horror!!!
In my defence I couldn’t help it, for if ever a writer seemed to know how to pluck at my heartstrings ( and then twist, pull, contort, bend and tear them asunder!), then it’s definitely Khaled Hosseini!
However it’s not just moving me to barely controlled sobs that And The Mountains Echoed has in common with the previous books. What it also has in common with those other books that I loved is that yet again, this is simply a marvellous storyteller at work, drawing you in as reader so that you are identifying so closely with the characters, you really do physically feel every twist and turn in their lives and relationships.
Khaled Hosseini talking to Al Jazeera TV about And The Mountains Echoed.....'You know, I think if we think back on our life, there's pain and suffering and difficult decisions - they are so central to every human experience. I think that's part of the reason we read books that deal with those decisions.'
The story begins with Abdullah and his younger sister Pari, setting out on a journey with their father, who has recently remarried after their mother’s death. They are on their way to visit Kabul from their village home in Afghanistan. Their lives are little more than a daily struggle for existence against desperate poverty and a hard unforgiving landscape. But Pari and her brother have created their own brand of happiness in their childhood, and the bond between them is as strong as it could be.
After their first day of walking to the capital their father helps them settle for the night with a story about a man forced to offer one of his children as a sacrifice to a djinn visiting their village. The man has a favourite – his youngest child, but he leaves the choice of which child to sacrifice to fate – and fate chooses that favourite. Distraught thereafter the man eventually sets out on a journey to face the djinn who killed his child – but when he finally tracks him down the djinn shows him the child alive and happy, living with other children in an Elysian paradise. And so the man faces a choice – take his child and return it to the life of abject poverty from which it came or leave it behind in the paradise in which it now lives. And of course Abdullah and Pari’s father has a motive for the story, for on reaching Kabul he will give away his daughter Pari to be looked after by a wealthy Kabul family and to be raised as their child. In doing so he will tear Abdullah away from his young sister Pari, who is by far the thing he loves most in the world. So begins their new and very different, very separate journeys through life.
But from what you might call a relatively standardised approach to introducing the story, the book very cleverly and very effectively chooses not to simply follow the separate lives of Pari and her brother as a straightforward, chronological narrative. Instead he weaves the story of their lives through that of others, who in some way are involved in the fate of the brother and sister. The story also shifts back and forward in time. So for example there’s the story of Nabi, the housekeeper to the wealthy family in Kabul who adopt Pari and who is also the step-brother of Pari and Abdullah’s father, half-French, emotionally tortured and broken Nila Wahdati who becomes Pari’s adopted mother ( and who was my favourite character in the book because perhaps she stood out for the damage being as much self-inflicted as anything) and the story of Markos, a Greek surgeon performing plastic surgery reconstructions on Afghan civilians caught up in the terror which comes in the wake of the US and British Invasion of Afghanistan, who comes to live in the Kabul house once occupied by Pari, Nila and Nabi. As you’d expect with a storyteller as good as Khaled Hosseini, each of these individual stories are great in their own right, but the sum of their parts is something much more wonderful!
Hosseini has the ability to write a story that pulls you in from the first page and makes you feel for the characters, become emotionally attached to them and reminds you that there are good and evil in people…..
You could I guess make a case that the three books having a lot in common runs the risk that his books have become a bit formulaic. There are certainly common themes here such as the effect of change, politics and religion on the people of Afghanistan, the tragic and difficult lives of some people, the awful impact of the wars, the way old Afghanistan almost seems to reach out and pull back at attempts to create a newer Afghanistan, or the influence of outside Western culture and politics. But he’s such a wonderful storyteller that his books never feel formulaic in the least to me. Instead they are populated by characters who are engaging, powerful and utterly believable. One of the strengths in this book is that there are so many rich and varied characters, and unusually for a book of such variety, I found myself liking and believing in every single one of them.
The effects of war, the British-US invasion and ongoing war of terror between the Taliban and the West cast a shadow over this book as they do the others. Khaled Hosseini makes his points though in a subtle, almost understated way – it’s more that the politics and his view of it is nuanced into the story rather than tackled head-on.
Helen Brown in The Telegraph May 2013
‘It’s an opening that leaves a boulder in the reader’s throat. And the stories that scatter from it are like little pebbles, breaking off in the harsh weathering of Afghanistan’s climate and history…..’
New York Times Review May 2013
‘Khaled Hosseini’s new novel, “And the Mountains Echoed,” may have the most awkward title in his body of work, but it’s his most assured and emotionally gripping story yet…..’
Washington Post May 2013
‘I’m not an easy touch when it comes to novels, but Hosseini’s new book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” had tears dropping from my eyes by Page 45…….!’
Perhaps ultimately it was a good thing that I got to have a good cry on the Central Line las I finished this, for that’s a testimony to just how good this book is. When his characters are in despair, you feel it, when they have moments of optimism and hope you feel it, and of course you feel it when they search and long for reunion between the brother and sister who’ve been scattered far apart by fates. I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough…..at the beginning of the book the father says to Abdullah and Pari ‘So you want me to tell you a story?……..then I’ll tell you one!”
So to borrow that phrase, if you want someone to tell you a story………………….. go buy a big box of tissues and let Khaled Hosseini tell you the story of ‘And The Mountains Echoed’!
Book Rating - 10My copy of Khaled Hosseini's 'And The Mountains Echoed' was published by Bloomsbury
………….and bought with my own hard earned cash!
Having sold 38 million with his first two books, Mr Hosseini’s work is popular! So as you’d expect there’s a vast array of blog posts about it out there but if you wanted to as a bit more about what others had to say about it I’d recommend The Book Musings because…..I liked it!
If you want to hear what Khaled Hosseini has to say about his books, Afghanistan and America among other things then he recently did this interview with Al Jazeera America.
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