And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed Having read both of Khaled Hosseini’s previous novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was excited when I discovered that he had written a new book. It’s been a long time since A Thousand Splendid Suns but his third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, was worth waiting for. It’s a gentler book than the previous two and much less harrowing. I didn’t learn as much about life in Afghanistan as I did from the other two books and this one doesn’t go into much depth on the Soviet invasion or the horrifying events of the Taliban years, but it’s still a very powerful and emotional novel. It’s a story about families, about the relationships between brothers and sisters, parents and children, and husbands and wives.

In 1952, Saboor and his young children, Abdullah and Pari, set out on a journey from their small village in rural Afghanistan to the capital city of Kabul. The two children have a very close and loving relationship; Abdullah has taken on the role of a parent to his little sister since their mother died when Pari was a baby. They are happy to have the chance to spend some time together on the journey, but what they don’t know is that when they reach Kabul something is going to happen that will change both of their lives forever.

As the story moves through the generations and across continents, we also get to know a variety of other characters, all of whom are connected in one way or another to the family we met at the beginning of the book. These include Uncle Nabi, who leaves home to work for a rich family in Kabul, and his employer’s wife, Nila Wahdati, a poet. Then there’s Markos, a plastic surgeon from Greece who is working for a charity in Kabul, and Adel, son of a famous Afghan warlord who slowly discovers that his father may not be as heroic as he seems. A whole chapter is devoted to each character’s story, which made the novel feel almost like a collection of short stories. Some of them are more interesting than others, but they all share the same themes: the effects of years of conflict on a country and its people, and the suffering of families torn apart by war or poverty.

I found this book to be much wider in scope than either The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns; it begins with one family in Afghanistan but over the course of the novel we are taken to America, Paris and the Greek Islands and meet a huge number of characters. This was not necessarily a good thing, though; sometimes I felt that the focus had moved too far away from the storylines I was most interested in and the novel started to lose some of its magic and become less compelling. One of my favourite chapters was actually the first one, in which Saboor tells Abdullah and Pari a fairytale about Baba Ayub, whose son is stolen away by a div (a type of monster). Ideas and metaphors introduced in this opening chapter run through the entire novel, which I thought was very clever.

Early in the book someone mentions that a story can be like a train – you can jump onboard anywhere but will get to the same destination eventually. That’s a good description of And the Mountains Echoed, as the story is not told in strict chronological order – as well as moving from one character to another, we also jumps backwards and forwards in time within each chapter – but when we do finally reach the end, everything comes together to bring the novel to a beautiful and moving conclusion.

Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is the story of two boys growing up together in Afghanistan. Amir is the son of a rich businessman, whereas Hassan is the son of their Hazara servant (an ethnic minority and considered to be lower on the social scale). Amir has always felt that his father is disappointed in him and he desperately wants to please him by winning the local kite fighting tournament (a sport where competitors fly kites with strings coated in cut glass and attempt to cut down their rivals’ kites in order to have the last kite still flying). Hassan is the ‘kite runner’ of the book’s title. When Amir wins the tournament, Hassan chases the fallen kite so Amir can present it to his father. When Hassan is ambushed by a gang of bullies he refuses to give them the kite, knowing how much it means to his friend, and as a consequence is assaulted by the gang leader. Amir witnesses this but is too afraid to intervene.

Several years later during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Amir and his father flee to America to start a new life – but Amir is unable to escape from the shame and guilt that have haunted him ever since the day of the kite fighting tournament when he stood by and watched Hassan being raped.

There were times when I almost forgot this was fiction, as the book had the feel of an autobiography, particularly in the early chapters which were quite vivid and realistic. Amir, as the narrator of the book, is not a very likeable character. As a child he is weak and cowardly and betrays a loyal friend who would do anything for him. As an adult I still found him difficult to like, though I could sympathise with him and wanted to see him redeem himself.

One of the things I liked about this book was learning more about Afghanistan from the point of view of a child growing up in a wealthy district of Kabul. Amir and his father had a comfortable, privileged lifestyle and the Kabul described in the early chapters of the book is certainly not the way we picture Kabul today. The Kite Runner shows how everything changed with the Soviet invasion and then the Taliban regime – and changed so much that Amir, returning to Afghanistan later in the book, remarked that he felt like a tourist in his own country. One horrifying scene describes the Taliban stoning two people to death in front of a crowded stadium during a soccer match.

The writing style used throughout this book is very simplistic with lots of short or incomplete sentences. Although it didn’t spoil the story for me, I did find it distracting. Another problem I had was that halfway through the book the plot became too predictable and I could guess how the story was going to end. Despite those few negative points, The Kite Runner is an emotional, thought-provoking story with some heartbreaking scenes and some horrific ones. Although I have read some very mixed reviews of this book (people seem to either love it or hate it) in my opinion it’s definitely well worth reading.

Recommended

Genre: General Fiction/Pages: 324/Publisher: Bloomsbury/Year: 2004/Source: Library book