Khaled Hosseini's new masterpiece has a story for each one of us
He highlights controversial topics that are not just taboo in Afghan society but also in many others, including ours.
Khaled Hosseini has won many fans with both “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” as he enraptured readers all over the world by humanising the tragic recent history of the Afghan people.
While similar to his previous work, Hosseini’s new book “And the Mountains Echoed” is a masterpiece that will capture readers instantly, with a richly woven web of interweaving and gripping stories tracking the fates of multiple generations from their origin in a rural Afghan village to their dispersion across the world - from Kabul to Pakistan to Paris to California and beyond.
Hosseini has a gift for evoking strong emotion and empathy from the reader for his characters, despite their lives being set in harsh environments whose pains are incomprehensible for most of us.
His characters symbolise the everyday emotions, strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and disappointments that we all face in an increasingly globalised yet fragile world that we ourselves seek to make sense of.
While “The Kite Runner” focused on a father and son relationship, and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” focused on a mother daughter relationship, in “As the Mountains Echoed” it is the story of two young siblings, Abdullah and Pari that provides the framework from which the rest of the characters and the tale is woven.
Born in a poor family in a rural Afghan village, Abdullah is only seven when his mother dies during childbirth with his sister Pari. A deep bond develops between Abdullah and his sister, as he becomes her defacto caregiver.
The two are inseparable as their father remarries.
Tragedy strikes when the siblings are cruelly separated. Struggling for cash, their poor father gives up three-year-old Pari to a rich childless couple in Kabul when encouraged to do so by his new brother-in-law Nabi, who works as a driver for the couple and harbours strong feelings for his master's young, amorous wife whose affection he hopes to win.
Their separation is justified by the potentially better life for Pari and for Abdullah’s remaining family. Still, however, Abdullah and Pari continue to yearn for each other as they embark on rapidly different lives.
Though their lives take on fantastic and surprising turns, they are framed against similar major changes in Afghanistan and unexpected turns in the lives of their contemporaries as they too are subject to the forces of poverty, war and change.
“And the Mountains Echoed” may appear to be a novel about pain and suffering, it is also one of hope and human resilience. In a frank portrayal of pre and post war Afghanistan, Hosseini’s tale also highlights many controversial topics that are not just taboo in Afghan society but also in many others including ours.
The stories Hosseini tells are not heroic, but rich and vivid in their portrayal of the human spirit, its dilemmas, challenges, strengths, weaknesses and joys. Some of them are shocking for the society in which they occur - for instance, one is that of a sexually liberal women whose scandalous actions are her way of rebelling against the limits a conservative society tries to place on her, or that of a reclusive rich man, who tempers his desires and lives the life of a repressed homosexual in an increasingly conservative society.
Other stories highlight the fallibility of the human spirit: that of a woman who ruins her own sister's life out of jealousy and then looks after her with guilt only to contemplate abandoning her or that of a would-be saviour who has good intentions but little resilience.
However, there are some stories of hope like that of those who left their families and comfortable lives to go and contribute in a war torn country, that of neighbours and acquaintances who come together in foreign lands and of those who may be morally ambiguous but still give hope to others.
While some of the narratives are of those who go astray, that of the lucky ones who were able to escape war but came back for ulterior reasons or that of those who plundered a war torn nation yet presented themselves as saviours.
While Afghanistan has suffered immensely and most of us cannot contemplate the lives of those who endured its struggles, we can connect with the humanity of Hosseini’s characters as they strive to carve out their identities, deal with moral dilemmas as they try and break free from the lives of their families as they too deal with the theme of separation just as their parents had – separation justified by economic reasons, by society’s morals, by war, by familial duty, by guilt, by luck and by love.
In essence “And the Mountains Echoed” is a story of reinventing oneself, of dealing with the cards dealt out to oneself. It is not just a story about Afghanistan, or about the author, but will resound with each one of us as we try to make sense of our own microcosm of the world.