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...and the Mountains Echoed

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And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hossein;  New York:  Riverhead Books, 2012.  404 pp.  $28.95

 

You have probably read The Kite Runner.  Maybe you read A Thousand Splendid Suns. Like me, maybe you found these two novels several notches above just good reads.  In my opinion, and that of my friends, Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, surpasses both of his previous books.   The book is a series of inter-related stories that delve deeply into the pain of loss and betrayal, the evil of greed and ruthless ambition, and the uncomfortable terrain of ethical and moral ambiguity.  We read also of the tender love of brother and sister, the means by which desperate youth survive or choose not to survive, and other experiences of life in the midst of internal and external conflict. 

                Each of the nine chapters is connected with the other chapters through the appearance of, or reference to, characters from the other stories.  The doctor who appears at the door of the Whadati house in Kabul becomes the central figure in a later chapter.   Saboor, a primary character in the first chapter, is merely mentioned as an ancestor of a character in another chapter.  Abdullah and Pari, however, are present in each story by their absence.  Whether in Kabul or San Francisco, whether in 1949, 1952, 1974, or 2010, the reader holds in suspense their unfinished story.

                Hosseini brings the reader directly into the locale of a story:  “. . .familiar sights—the carcasses hanging from hooks in the butcher shops; the blacksmiths working their wooden wheels, hand-pumping their bellows; the fruit merchants fanning flies off their grapes and cherries; the sidewalk barber on the wicker chair stropping his razor.”   He has an uncanny skill to fold an entire story into a single image.  Iqbal, disposed of his land by a brutal mujahedeen, attempts to regain the land.  He surrenders the legal documents to a local judge.  When he returns a few days later to receive them with the judge’s certification, he learns that the documents had been destroyed in “a small fire.”  Iqbal’s son is telling the story to Adel, the son of the mujahedeen.  “And as he’s telling us that there’s nothing he can do now without the papers, do you know what he has on his wrist?  A brand-new gold watch he wasn’t wearing the last time my father saw him.”

                The connections among the stories are not random.  In an interview with Lois Alter Mark, in HuffPost’s blog, Hosseini responds to a question about the title of the book.  He first credits William Blake with the inspiration, then refers to the prevalence of mountains in the novel.  He makes the comparison:  “Just as a mountain would echo back a shout, the fateful acts committed before the mountains too emit an echo. They have a rippling effect, expanding outward, touching lives further and further away. I liked the idea of a decision or an act echoing through both place and time, altering the fates of characters both living and not yet born.”

 

Pat Chaffee, OP

Racine, Wisconsin


Book Review Archive

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(The latest submissions are listed first.)

 

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