And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini, who wrote The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, both of which I loved (and gave five stars to). While The Kite Runner was a wonderful, heart-breaking story of boys' friendship, I found A Thousand Splendid Suns to be even more poignant and beautiful because it was about two women who were thrown together in marriage to the same men, but eventually forged a strong bond and sisterhood.
Hosseini's new novel steps away from the classic form and ambitiously takes on multiple perspectives and stories about family, both biological and chosen, and how one choice can change several people's lives.
It starts out in the 1950s as a story about a 10-year-old boy, Abdullah, and his 3-year-old sister, Pari, who are closely intertwined to each other. Their mother died giving birth to Pari, so Abdullah had the primary responsibility of raising his sister. Their father remarried a woman, Parwana, who didn't have much love for the children, as she was nursing a dark secret of her own. Living in a small Afghani village, their father struggled to put food on the table and the previous winter one of their younger children died from the cold. When given a chance to change this situation, he sold Pari to a wealthy family in Kabul, his brother-in-law's employers. Abdullah and Pari were torn apart tragically.
Hosseni is a brilliant writer--he paints a vivid landscape on the page and his characters are complex, multilayered, and interesting. I wanted to know more about Abdullah and Pari, but when Pari grows into an older child, her mother takes her off to Paris and we don't hear anything about her until she is older. Her mother is a narcissistic woman, and Pari doesn't learn the real truth about her origins or her adopted father until many years after her mother dies. Pari's adopted father is a cold, aloof man, who has his own secret reason for his unhappiness, but found joy in Pari as a young child.
And this is my only fault with this book...it's like a series of loosely interwoven stories, each chapter starting with a different perspective and setting. I am not a fan of short stories for this reason...I want to sink my teeth into a story, and short stories are just not long enough for me to get immersed. The plot jumped around from the Afghani village to Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to Greece, and some of the characters I preferred to others. Many I just wanted more of...especially Pari and Abdullah.
Each character lacked love or experienced pain in relationships, much of them with their family members. But love is also found in unusual and subtle ways.
This novel is not nearly as tragic as Hosseini's first two, and some of the characters find redemption and reconciliation in the end. Beyond the colorful storytelling and wonderful stories of families and friendship, And the Mountains Echoed opens the world to Afghanistan, not just as a war-torn country of tragedy, but one of real relationships, heartbreak, and love.