In brief: The story of siblings Abdullah and Pari and those who surround them as their bond is ripped apart.
The good: Has that magical Hosseini feel to it.
The not-so-good: Sometimes each chapter feels like a separate story with a common thread.
Why I chose it: Loved his other books. (Thank you Bloomsbury Sydney for the paperback; I also bought my own copy of the eBook).
Setting: Afghanistan, America, France, Greece
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
And the Mountains Echoed must be one of the most popular books for 2013 – who can resist Khaled Hosseini’s beautiful prose? I’m not sure why I dithered so much in reading this novel – in the first sitting, I read so much that I feared I was increasing my DVT risk! The beautiful cover opens up to a moving first chapter about Abdullah and his sister Pari. The pair share a bond that is special, even between siblings. Abdullah even swapped his only pair of shoes for a peacock feather for Pari to enjoy. In 1950s Afghanistan life is difficult, and the children’s father must make a choice that is going to be very difficult. He tells the children a story after Abdullah runs after him and Pari on the journey to Kabul. The moral? Sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Unfortunately this means life will turn out very differently for the two children…
Each chapter of the book focuses on another character related to Pari and Abdullah, although sometimes the link to them becomes more tenuous. Each character reveals more of the children’s stories and what happened to them both over the course of their lives. We read about the lives of their step uncle Nabi and stepmother Parwana – how did they get to where they are? The narrative then jumps closer to present day and we read about Abdullah’s doctor and his brother, a friend of Nabi’s and a former high ranking officer in the military. As the link gets further from Pari and Abdullah, my mind started to wander somewhat. It was interesting to read about the childhood of the doctor in Greece who now lives in the house Pari grew up in, but some points seemed extraneous. I didn’t feel the connection and love of the country for Greece as I do when he writes about Afghanistan. I wasn’t really expecting a narrative that jumped around from between people and time periods, but Hosseini does it really well. Who am I to judge how he writes?
I found that the last chapter tied things together beautifully as past met with present. It was incredibly emotional, but what I liked best was that Hosseini wasn’t afraid to create an ending that wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t a happy sunset ending; it was much more lifelike and realistic. Perhaps because of that, the ending becomes even more heart-wrenching. It’s not just sadness he writes well, there’s a part where one of the modern characters agrees to help a young girl in need in Afghanistan and then just…doesn’t. The scene where he meets her again is excruciatingly awkward and this is conveyed brilliantly – to the point where I found his embarrassment squirm worthy. Overall, the themes of love – no matter what- still reign supreme, particularly between Pari and Abdullah.
Hosseini has a way with words that makes the reader feel everything acutely…while I don’t rank this book as highly as A Thousand Splendid Suns personally; it’s a technically clever novel that is deeply affecting for the reader. He’s a true storyteller and I’ll continue to read everything he writes.