Book Reviews

Multi-generational Saga

of Myriad Relationships

Hosseini’s ‘And The Mountains Echoed’

Khaled Hosseini is a master storyteller of our modern times. The Mountains Echoed is a definite departure from Hosseini’s previous two books - his 2003 debut novel, The Kite Runner, and the 2007 novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns.

His first novel, The Kite Runner, the story of a young boy, Amir, struggling to establish a closer rapport with his father and coping with memories of a haunting childhood event. The novel is set in Afghanistan, from the fall of the monarchy until the collapse of the Taliban regime, and in the San Francisco Bay Area, specifically in Fremont, California. Its many themes include ethnic Hosseini’s second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was published in 2007, and is also set in Afghanistan. The story addresses many of the same issues as Hosseini’s first, but takes a more feminine perspective. It follows the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, whose lives become entwined. The story is set during Afghanistan's tumultuous thirty-year transition from Soviet occupation to Taliban control and post-Taliban rebuilding tensions between the Hazara and the Pashtun in Afghanistan, and the immigrant experiences of Amir and his father in the United States..

The storylines of the third best seller The Mountains Echoed span across families, history, and continents. The book focuses, once again, on the myriad of relationships within families. The novel is made up of a series of linked and interlinked stories about members of this one family, their descendants and people whose lives they touch. Hosseini takes us back and forwards in time but each episode tells a whole story of one of the characters. This made the book feel in some ways like a collection of short stories rather than a novel, but Hosseini brings us round in a perfect circle and the last few chapters bring all these disparate episodes into one immensely moving whole. In a village in rural Afghanistan, mid 1940s, a father tells a folk tale to his two young children. On the next day, they will travel to Kabul and start a chain of events that will take the reader on a journey across the world and through the decades. The narrative is split between many more points of view, and second, the story is told in semi-non-linear fashion.

The storytelling oeuvre of Hosseini contains all the beauty of writing. In the first few pages we become certain of the narrative sway. ‘A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.’ This very line makes the readers feel that they are in the hands of a master storyteller. The story is touching, emotional and speaks of life's hardships and the difficult choices one must make. He captures the emotions of the readers from the very first page.

Although much of the book takes place in Europe and America, Afghanistan remains at the heart of it because it remains in the hearts of the characters, even though they may have become part of the war- and poverty-driven diaspora. The readers are transported to 1950’s Afghanistan where they can smile, cry, and feel pity right alongside the unfortunate characters in this book. Regarding the writing style, the book spanned over several generations and then spoke in the first person from the point of view of different characters from the next generation which got confusing at first, especially as he jumps between past and present and even geographical locations. It is a brilliant novel about family, its importance, its closeness even though one is continents away, and its ability to love through the years and separation.

There is a demonic giant of the Afghan folklore who is shown not like the Selfish Giant of Wilde’s stories, but as a friend to the children playing in the village. Nevertheless, the beauty of the writing is only matched by the humanity of the characters. Hosseini takes us inside their minds and their hearts and we see them laid bare, essentially good people but with their flaws and weaknesses exposed, to us and to themselves.

A beautiful and very moving book, that brings tears on several occasions. Politics or war may be a theme, but a secondary theme. Fundamentally, it is about the unforgettable people who populate its pages – about humanity. The book’s central tragedy: a young boy’s loss of his beloved sister, who is given up to a far wealthier family. That loss is conveyed so subtly. And though there is sadness and sorrow here, there is also love and joy and a deep sense of hope. Like his two other books, in this novel also Hosseini is great with words and produces images that flow like poetry. The novel ranges over decades and accommodates beyond Afghanistan to France, America and other places, including an imaginary one — the book deals with a range of sensitive topics, from homosexuality in pre-Taliban Afghanistan to the guilt and apathy felt by successful Afghan exiles about their homeland.

The novel incorporated a slew of different characters as opposed to just two, like he did in his last two books. There are foreign aid workers, the naive son of an Afghan warlord and a fish-out-of-water poetess, Each chapter focuses primarily on one character, but all are somehow linked, even if tenuously, by— even with what in retrospect turns out to be a huge clue — that it is bewildering and devastating once fully understood. Some people could have been mentioned in passing, or not even at all, as opposed to dedicating whole chapters to them, such as Markos and Thalia’s story. Also the Bashiri cousins seemed unnecessary. Even though these characters were unique in their own way and provided food for thought regarding their plights. The author could have dedicated more pages developing and telling the story of the characters we already got to know and love in the beginning, rather than introducing new, unnecessary ones halfway through the book. The narrative is split between many more points of view, and second, the story is told in semi-non-linear fashion. This format Hosseini used left a lot of open ends and a kind of longing, leaving the reader to some extent unsatisfied.

The stories are about love in all its manifestations, even a manifestation that at first seems like hate. Hosseini beautifully revealed the plight of a family which is separated because of poverty, uprooted because of conflict. This family is beset by many tragedies but it still pushes forward. The members of the family reconnect and reunite in a future that looks to be bright and loving. The author has definitely a kindred mind with the human spirit. He speaks so well of people, making the reader get to know his characters on so many levels. He is a gifted storyteller and one who makes the pages fly as the thoughts of things held dear become a focus of one's life. He is able to see and portray so well that one's past can and often does have repercussions long after the incidents of life have intruded. The way it places emphasis on relations between siblings or sibling-likes is refreshing and delightful. Hosseini delves into the bonds between siblings. The characters are well sketched out and the imagery. Therefore, the novel is on the whole soaked in sadness and despair, with the requisite occasional ray of hope. One focus is obviously on sustainability versus survival. The positives outweigh the negatives.

The earlier two novels did not have a happy ending; as such, they ended with at best with a note of finality. The contemporaneity of the stories in the novel which are about an Afghan family located at the end of the 40s is really surprising. They are true when we hear the heart-rending tales of many split families. Hosseini looks into the very essence of the family. Without the members being bound to each other a family still exists. This is the central message of the book with some similar questions in the novels of Amitav Ghosh. The great thing about this multigenerational saga is that the novelist tries to show through the picture of an Afghan family what happens to family in today’s globalized world. He has woven global family ties when today family bonds are nearly on the verge of collapse.


More by :  Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee

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