Oscar Wilde famously said, “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” Khaled Hosseini’s latest And the Mountains Echoed is one book which can be enjoyed many times finds out Dhanya Nair
Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel The Kite Runner (2003) and his second one A Thousand Splendid Suns (2009) cemented his position as an evocative story-teller. In his third book And the Mountains Echoed he delivers another tale filled with emotional intensity and melancholy that creates a lump in your throat with each passing page.
The sprawling family saga begins in an Afghan village in 1952. A father is telling his children a folk tale about div—a mythical creature who knocks the door of a poor family and demands them to give away their favourite son. The son is given away so that the child does not live a life of poverty. The opening is enough to tug your heart but few pages later you realise it is a prelude to the central story of two inseparable siblings– Abdullah (10) and Pari (3). They have made a promise to each other that “they will be close by for always and always.”But Abdullah’s life is turned upside-down when Saboor their father sells Pari to a wealthy family—the Wahdati’s.
From here the ripple effect starts; as various characters and their stories are scattered sending out smatterings of emotional dust. “A story is like a moving train,” remarks one character, “no matter where you hop on board; you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.” So any notion of bland formula is immediately dismissed and before you know it you are completely gripped in the tantalising web of characters that Hosseini has created.
Each character is flawed and perhaps that’s what made them so believable to me, whether it is Parwana, the children’s first step mother, who is not merely a cue for their unhappiness but a bearer of childhood sorrow herself or Nabi the dealer who separates the children but whose story aches with unspoken feelings and regrets or Nina Wahdati who leaves her ailing husband and goes to Paris with Pari only to be consumed by despondency all her life.
The stories are told in quasi-mythic style with Afghanistan’s changing political and cultural scenario always in the backdrop. As the characters change continents, we are introduced to new places and faces but Afghanistan’s relationship with the wider world remains fleetingly alive. We are introduced to trauma of families separated and losing loved ones as Afghanistan’s human face comes strikingly alive.
By the time you get to the reunion, via a Greek aid official living in the house in Kabul where Pari was adopted, you are completely set in the intricate web Hosseini has created; each character leaving you with an urgent yearning. As the curtain draws, Hosseini once again delivers his trick—of breaking your heart yet leaving you with hope.
Don’t forget to check out Dhanya Nair’s piece in our latest issue featuring a discussion about poetry in Middle East and Asia and how women have used the medium for political purposes