Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini; Riverhead Books; May 2013, 416 pp.; $28.95
Author Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written another stellar novel. Hosseini's previous novels are set mainly in Afghanistan; his new book And the Mountains Echoed begins in a village outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, but moves to Paris, San Francisco, and Greece.
The book begins in 1952 in Shadbagh, a poor village in Afghanistan, with 10-year-old Abdullah and his 3-year-old sister Pari listening to their father, a poor laborer, tell them a fable about a desolate farmer who gives his beloved child away to save the child and his village. The farmer is told that the child can come back to him and live a life with no future and no promise, or the farmer can cut all ties with his child, assured that the child will have a rich life, full of opportunity. The farmer chooses to leave the child behind. This fable turns out to be a portent of things to come. The next day Abdullah's father sells Pari to a wealthy couple in Kabul, breaking the heart of Abdullah, who has taken care of his sister since their mother's death three years ago. Hosseini does a masterful job of conveying the heartache that ensues.
After the beginning chapters, in which readers come to realize the great love Abdullah and Pari share and the sadness of their separation, And the Mountains Echoed moves to the story of the children's stepmother, Saboor, and how she came to marry the children's father. Soon after, the narrative shifts to Saboor's brother, Nabi, who was instrumental in bringing Pari to Kabul. Nabi is cook and chauffeur for the wealthy couple who "adopt" Pari. His story is told in the form of a posthumous letter, and encompasses the life of his boss, Sulieman. Two Afghan cousins who grow up as neighbors to Sulieman, a disfigured young woman whose mother abandons her, Sulieman's wife who takes Pari and moves to France when Sulieman suffers a stroke, and a young plastic surgeon who travels the world to heal victims of violence are some of the other narratives that are told. A number of the tales don't seem to have a connection to Abdullah and Pari, but Hosseini's knack for storytelling quickly captivates the reader.
As the stories expand and include more characters, the narratives are woven together, either by happenstance or through ancestry. The characters reside in several countries, including the United States, but Afghanistan is certainly the focal point. The first part of the book takes place mostly in the 1950s in Afghanistan. It then jumps back and forth to different time periods: 2003 to 1974, and then closer to the present time. This skipping around to different time periods and different characters can make for a difficult read, but Hosseini seems to have a way to make it work, partly because he makes his characters so authentic; readers can readily connect with them.
Hosseini, a native Afghan, was a practicing physician in California when he published his first novel The Kite Runner. His talent for writing rich, engaging tales, with tender empathy for his characters, has made him a widely read novelist. And the Mountains Echoed is his latest beautifully-written bestseller.