Like Khaled Hosseini’s two earlier novels, The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), which spent a combined total of 171 weeks on the bestseller list, his latest novel, And the Mountains Echoed has received wide acclaim, and has been described as “heartbreaking,” “emotionally resonant,” and the writer’s “most ambitious work yet.”The novel begins with a folk tale about a div, a giant of Afghan folklore, who steals the youngest son of an impoverished family in a village blighted by droughts. When the father sets out to find the child, the div shows him that the child is living happily in a palace, playing with other children. The father then has to decide whether to turn back and leave his son where he is or take him back to a difficult life in the village. This allegorical tale is told by a father to his children, Abdullah and Pari, the day before they take a long and difficult journey from their village to Kabul, where the father leaves one of them with a rich childless couple in the hope that it will save his family from the coming harsh winter. The separation of the two siblings is at the heart of this sprawling, sweeping tale, which reads like a series of intertwined short stories, told from various perspectives by a large cast of characters, in first person and third person, some chapters written in the form of a letter, one taking the form of a Q&A interview.
While reading, I often felt that I wanted the novel to have a smaller cast, only because some of the characters struck me as so much more interesting than others: for example, the story of the children’s stepmother Parwana and her disabled twin sister Massoma, or the Afghan-American cousins Idris and Timur who return to visit war-ravaged Kabul, where the used car salesman Timur makes deals while the doctor Idris finds it difficult to cope with the burden of guilt he feels at the sight of suffering he has been spared from. I wanted to read more about them – and less about some of the others. The chapter narrated by the Greek doctor Markos in a long flashback, which tells of his friendship with Thalia, a girl disfigured after being bitten by a dog, seems to be inserted solely to explain why Markos chose to be a plastic surgeon and make his way to Afghanistan. It’s a well-written section of the book, but seems to be included for not entirely justifiable reasons, simply adding further complexity to the already complex, multi-stranded plot. [Read more...]