As the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini already knows a thing of two about capturing our attention with emotional characters that both warm the cockles of our hearts and boil the blood in our veins. In his new novel, And The Mountains Echoed, he has once again juxtaposed memorable characters against a backdrop of history, making this creation another haunting page-turner.
The book begins with a father telling a fable to his children (Abdullah and Pari) about farmer called Baba Ayub, who is forced to give his favourite son Qais (only three years old) to the div (demon) as an offering. The innocent siblings listen to their father’s story (that actually foreshadows their own life) with interest, unaware their own lives are on the brink of being shattered, the repercussions of which will echo through generations.
When three-year old Pari is given away to a rich couple in Kabul who can’t have a child of their own, it is the beginning of a long heart-breaking journey for the reader, which is shrouded with a yearning for a conclusion that will reunite Abdullah and Pari. But the story isn’t one-dimensional and Khaled Hosseini keeps us engaged with several other characters each with their own sub-plots, all of which beautifully intertwine with the other stories. Not once in the novel do we feel that the author has glossed over a character merely giving it a mention to move the story forward. Far from it. Each character’s arc is scrupulously developed, thus giving the reader an understanding of his/her sense of motivation. Several times in the book we encounter a character that shocks us with their actions; but later on in the novel the character’s story is played out with a deeper intensity, explaining those actions a bit more clearly.
Several sub-plots emerge. Nila Wahdati (daughter of a Afghani father and French mother) clashes with the expectations of a woman in old Afghanistan, but ends up at the age of twenty, marrying a much older Afghani man. Nabi, the chauffeur/cook of the Wahdati’s, and uncle of Pari and Abdullah, just so happens to be the person who spearheaded the adoption of Pari. Surprisingly, the action he takes is one that we can sympathize with – a theme that occurs several times in the book with other characters including the children’s stepmother Parwana and even their father Saboor.
As is with several of Khaled Hosseini’s themes, he has a great affinity to highlight the cultural dystopia of Afghanistan as well as its relationship with the rest of the world. “Kabul is…A thousand tragedies per square mile.” Hosseini also delves into the complex issues of a woman’s place in society with Nila Wahdati, the rebel whose erotic poems defy tradition. Nila’s poems are described as “moving, rich with imagery, emotion, insight, and telling grace. They speak beautifully of loneliness and uncontainable sorrow.”
But the most endearing part of And The Mountains Echoed is in fact not even the novel itself. Penguin Canada has taken reading to a whole new level with a digital accompaniment – www.echoproject.ca – a page-by-page interactive companion to And The Mountains Echoed with unique digital inspirations. The Echo Project is not yet complete and as a reader you too can submit ideas. Explore this engaging companion to the novel and you’ll find a variety of surprises; if you look close enough there’s even an Afghan nan recipe. Who knew that reading could touch so many of your senses.
5/5 Sukasa Stars