Khaled Hosseini’s claim to fame are two bestsellers – The Kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns – that quenched the curiosity of readers across the world about life in Afghanistan. He continues this walking down that same path in his latest, And the Mountains Echoed.
Hosseini begins his four hundred page novel with a haunting fable about a div (giant monster or ogre in Persian) who takes away a little child from his family. It is actually a sneak peek into the themes of family and separation that underline And the Mountains Echoed. The fable is told to the main protagonists of the story, sister and brother Pari and Abdullah, by their father, Saboor. Pari and Abdullah are inseparable but are eventually estranged by fate.
Pari is adopted by Nila Wahadati, a rich, rebellious childless poetess. Pari’s step-uncle Nabi works for Nila’s husband Suleiman Wahadati. Though the child is distraught by the thought of being away from her brother Abdullah, she slowly forgets her past after she is introduced to a life of affluence and independence. A life that would have been unimaginable had she grown up in her native village of Shadbagh. Still, Pari feels a sense of being incomplete and she cannot figure out why.
And the Mountains Echoed is a compilation of nine short stories. They account the lives of different characters of the book – Nabi’s relationship with Suleiman and Nila, Nila’s tumultuous life of promiscuity and depression, and also Abdullah’s daughter’s account about her father. These accounts are largely interconnected and ultimately lead to the reunion of Pari and Abdullah.
The stories portray a deep sense of despair, longing, guilt and loss that becomes rather laboured. It’s as though Hosseini pulled out every possible sentimental stop to make the novel a tearjerker. Consequently, Pari is overshadowed by Nila’s dramatic and narcissistic nature. Pari, because of her plain-Jane looks, is left feeling insignificant in comparison to the gorgeous Nila, who is often condescending to her. The parent-child relationship between the Greek doctor Markos Varvaris and his ailing mother is all about guilt because it takes years for him to come back home. Abdullah’s daughter, also named Pari, has to snuff out her dreams of becoming an artist because of, first, a mother who has cancer, and then a sick father.
Fans of Hosseini’s writing will, however, appreciate the easy fluidity of the author’s prose. He carefully builds up the descriptions of his characters, making them feel vivid to the reader. Despite the slow pace of the novel, which spans 55 years and many countries, Hosseini holds the reader’s attention. By the end of the story, the sense of despair, loss and hope felt by Hosseini’s characters will leave an imprint upon the readers too.