Arts

‘And the Mountain Echoed’ by Khaled Hosseini – Book Review

“A complex and vibrant kaleidoscope of interwoven short stories…dealing with the universal human themes of love and sacrifice, family duty, nature v nurture, and the truths we hide from ourselves and those closest to us.”

The opening of “And the Mountain Echoed” is traditional Hosseini, familiar territory to any who have read “The Kite Runner” or “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. A motherless, inseparable brother and sister are torn apart when their impoverished villager father agrees to sell the girl to a rich childless couple in Kabul. Heartstrings are pulled shamelessly; the father tells myths as bedtime stories when not too exhausted, the name Pari means fairy and so Abdulluh sings the lullaby “I know a sad little fairy Who was blown away by the wind one night”, and he trades his only pair of shoes for a peacock feather for Pari’s collection, indicating the depth of his love. It seems clear that Hosseini is paving the way for a linear narrative of heartbreak, suffering, and man’s inhumanity in battered Afghanistan.

A complex and vibrant kaleidoscope of interwoven short stories

However, the ensuing novel is a complex and vibrant kaleidoscope of interwoven short stories, spanning 60 years and swooping through Greece, France, and the USA in addition to the home turf of Afghanistan. For me, it was a more immediately relevant book than the earlier two, dealing with the universal human themes of love and sacrifice, family duty, nature v nurture, and the truths we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Whilst the eventual fates of Pari and Abdulluh remain an intriguing presence throughout, the rich and engaging narratives of other characters repeatedly claim centre stage.

The characters are invigorated by both Hosseini’s deft descriptors, and their actions

The reader is drawn into the world of the humanitarian plastic surgeon who cannot win his mother’s approval, the teenage son of a warlord slowly realising the terrifying truth about his brutal father, or the horribly disfigured Greek girl who finds freedom within a tight knit island community. The characters are invigorated by both Hosseini’s deft descriptors, and their actions-the mini stories- which unfold around them.

The way in which we are made to care after often the briefest of introductions, is testimony to the strength of Hosseini’s writing, and the recurring human themes which do indeed echo across the pages.  No doubt some readers will empathise with some of the “leads” more than others, and therefore become more engrossed in some parts of the book than others. The changes of pace, setting and structure may frustrate. Personally, I found this geography and character range part of the broader appeal of “And the Mountains Echoed”.

An elegiac hymn to the dichotomy of human frailty and endurance.

Whilst the coincidences which bind the disparate group together are occasionally over-worked and can stretch reader credulity to breaking, overall they do mean that the novel ultimately works pretty well as an integrated collage, rather than being an unsatisfactory patchwork quilt of random events.

This book packs a series of powerful emotional punches, delivering highs and lows throughout.  I found it an engrossing read, with natural punctuation points. Not an addictive page turner, but more of an elegiac hymn to the dichotomy of human frailty and endurance.

Liz Walker

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One Comment
  • Pat James
    12 September 2013 at 18:16
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    Found all the story and characters confusing and the transitions into each of these tales a bit contrived – an
    interview – a letter, etc. Some wonderful stories but the
    devices used seemed like something an amateur writer
    would use – I have used these devices myself and I am
    an amateur!

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