Author: Khaled Hosseini
Original Publication: 2013
Page Count: 421
Khaled Hosseini’s last novel, “A Thousand Splendid Suns” proved to be a tour de force that reduced me to a puddle of tears several times. His debut, “The Kite Runner” quickly became one of the most widely read and and critically acclaimed works of fiction in the 21st century. How does this prodigiously talented man fare for his third novel?
Pretty darn well.
The narrative structure of this novel is less traditional than we’d expect from most novels. While it is true that Hosseini’s works often span decades and often jump around time periods, “And the Mountains Echoed” is unique in that it reads more like a collection of short stories than a grand sprawling tale. All the stories are connected, however, and this novelty kept me interested through the 400 plus pages because there are several compelling characters with equally compelling lives.
The story opens in 1952, right as brother and sister Abdullah and Pari are about to hear one last bedtime story. Without spoiling too much, these two sibling–whose love for each other is boundless and pure–will be separated for decades without ever knowing if they will see each other again.
A large part of the story concentrates on Pari and Abdullah‘s immediate family and their lives
throughout the decades, though they scattered across the world due to Afghanistan’s wars and conflicts. One of the novel’s draws is its many different characters and perspectives. We get to experience life in Afghanistan through the eyes of Pari and Abdullah’s parents, Saboor and Parwana. Parwana’s story is also beautifully touching and tragic. Wee see her as a jealous child and learn about her complicated relationship with her twin sister Masooma and her brother Nabi, whose story is perhaps my personal favorite. But apart from the immediate family, seemingly insignificant characters receive their own point of view chapters because their lives intersect in some fashion with our protagonist family. For example, two boys, Idris and Timur, who live a few houses down from Nabi, in a luxurious home where he works as a servant. Also, Adel, who in 2009 (almost 60 years from the novel’s opening) lives on the plot of land that once belonged to Saboor and Parwana. There are a few other voices that lend their experiences to the novel, but I’ll stop here!
My aim in bringing all these names to light is that the narrative benefits from the myriad different voices. I personally enjoyed jumping decades into the future and puzzling out how this or that character fit into the overall narrative surrounding Pari and Abdullah. This “novel” certainly feels more like a collection of short stories than a novel, and I must admit that I’m generally averse to reading short story collections. However, Khaled Hosseini proved to me that an expansive, insightful, and touching multi-generational story could expertly be told through a short story structure.
What prevented this novel from receiving a perfect score was that in truth some of the stories were unnecessary or came far too late in the narrative to feel like they properly belonged to the larger story of Pari, Abdullah, and their family.
But overall, “And the Mountains Echoed” is another incredible work of fiction by Khaled Hosseini. If for some peculiar reason you have not read any of his work, please begin with either “The Kite Runner” or “A Thousand Splendid Suns.” The latter is a personal favorite. And if you are already a huge Hosseini fan, as I am, do not fear! You will not be disappointed by his latest effort and can rest assured that he will continue to bless us with beautiful stories of the Afghan experience.