And the Mountains Echoed
If you are a fan of Hosseini’s writing, you will like how this story starts, with ten-year-old Abdullah, who is young and motherless and from a poor family and village in Afghanistan. How he watches his stoic but desperate father sell Abdullah’s baby sister Pari to a wealthy Afghan from Kabul. “A finger had to be cut, to save the hand,” just as in the book’s opening tale of Baba Ayub and the div. This is the central event that shapes the lives of Abdullah, Pari and their families for nearly sixty years. Hosseini chronicles these lives as the characters struggle with loss and emptiness and the feeling of being helplessly trapped in lives and situations that evolve over time.
A great deal of Hosseini’s early narrative takes place in Abdullah’s village of Shadbagh, then in Kabul and later in Paris. The storyline eventually expands to include characters from Tinos, Greece and California. It’s interesting to see how Hosseini develops this large cast of characters and storylines and then ultimately ties many of them together.
Its epic proportions, however, become its weakness, as characters are introduced through different formats and narratives, which are not necessarily confusing, but somewhat distracting. In addition, some characters draw attention and sympathy and are later lost in the story, never to be fully explained. For example, the story of Parwana’s twin sister Masooma seems to be important, but I’m left wondering why. Maybe it’s about the conflict between duty and breaking free. Likewise, I think the side story of Idris and Timur, their return to Kabul and of the injured Roshi is excellent, but its conclusion is not satisfying.
I think the author does a great job with Pari’s life and of Nila, Mr. Wahdati and Nabi. To me, these are the most interesting and tragic relationships in the whole book and there is a lot to think about here.
I also think the story of Iqbal and his son Gholam and their disgust as they return to Shadbagh is moving and raw. I wanted to know more about Adel and his friendship with Gholam. I wanted to see how Adel handled his new understanding of his father the Commander. But Hosseini drops that story. Maybe he does it to show how some things are never fixed and therefore remain raw.
I also enjoyed Markos Vavaris’ character and think his drive to help the severely injured and disfigured citizens in Kabul shows how people from other parts of the world do feel strongly about the injustices that people in Afghanistan have suffered. I also liked reading about his relationship to his mother. I’m not sure why the author develops this storyline so much, particularly the relationship between Markos and Thalia and Thalia’s mother Madaline, except for the obvious reference to Thalia’s disfigurement, but I liked getting to know them. I wonder if Hosseini is showing us the challenges of family ties from other cultures to broaden the emotions of his story.
There is plenty of symbolism in this book and I like that kind of tie-in. The feathers, the oak tree, the color yellow, Mr. Wahdati’s rusted-out car and Pari’s sense of longing when she sees a red wagon. References like this make the story seem whole and to me that is quality writing.
Maybe some will find the ending dissatisfying. I did not. Without spoiling things, I will say that the reunions, new connections and hopeful beginnings end the story with a nice feeling of optimism.
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