As recently promised, I am posting on Khaled Hosseini's most recent novel, And the Mountains Echoed. Earlier this year I tackled both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns in anticipation of Hosseini's third novel. Once again, this book promised to deal with life in Afghanistan, past and present, and the choices people can make when it comes down to survival.
The Situation: Abdullah and Pari are brother and sister living in a small town in Afghanistan with their father, stepmother, and younger half-brother, Iqbal. Anyone who knows them would describe their relationship as close, almost unnaturally so. When Pari was a baby, it was Abdullah who got up and went to her in the middle of the night, as their mother had died during Pari's birth, and their father was seemingly too burdened to care. Over the span of more than 60 years, their story, and the stories of those around them, will be told by uncles, caretakers, adoptive parents, neighbors, doctors, and distant relatives. And they are stories about family, and what it takes to be one, and how fragile that relationship can be.
The Problem: Sometimes even those closely related to you can be the ones to hurt you the most. Sometimes it is out jealousy and anger, sometimes it is out of pure selfishness, and other times it can be due to someone being oblivious as to how their actions affect those around them. Other times the hurt and betrayal are only perceived, but the wound is still there. The real tragedy in this book seems to be that the healing for most of these people seems to come much too late, or not at all. And it doesn't help that Afghanistan is almost always under the oppressive rule of one regime or another, so people are constantly moving in and out, and the cities are always being rebuilt after being torn down.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a contemporary fiction novel that, much like Hosseini's previous books, has been categorized as historical fiction. The biggest theme throughout the entire novel seems to be that of family and the things that can keep people together, or tear them apart. Many times in this book, it seems the choice comes down to either sacrificing for the ones you love and being resentful and bitter about it for the rest of your life, or living your life the way you want to and feeling guilty for leaving everyone else behind to suffer. It is almost as if every major character in the book has some sort of savior complex and the survival of at least one other person is up to them. Other characters don't see it as a sacrifice at all, but more of a punishment or a penance for past behavior. I'm not sure if maybe it is a cultural thing, but it shows up a lot across the different stories, which range from 1949 to 2010.
My Verdict: This is probably my favorite of Hosseini's three books. I love any novel that takes several different stories from different characters, from different points in time and across generations, and weaves it into one larger story, if it is done well. And Hosseini does it all extremely well. And while there are parts of the book that are incredibly painful to read and imagine (there is one part involving a dog bite that I am sure will make anyone wince), I didn't feel the same apprehension and pain as I did with both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of heartbreak and tough circumstances, but Hosseini handles it all so well. And despite the many different story lines, the book never becomes too confusing or hard to follow. If anything, they cause me to be incredibly eager to continue the story, as each chapter revealed a little more of the puzzle and gave a little more insight into this complicated history.
Favorite Moment: One of the characters takes a short road trip with her dying mother to San Francisco and the way she describes the scenery and the places they visited makes me want to visit that city again and see what they saw, even though I've already seen it.
Favorite Character: While she has her flaws, my favorite character was Markos' mother, Odie. She is the one who has the courage to march her disfigured adoptive daughter into the school and challenge any of the students to make fun of her.
Recommended Reading: If you can stomach And the Mountains Echoed, then I suggest starting at the beginning with Hosseini's first book, The Kite Runner. It is the book that first caused Hosseini to be a household name, and after reading it, you will understand why.