It’s been a busy week. I spent the last six days traveling in San Francisco, Napa and Livermore for work and fun. In addition to my husband, Sean, I had another great companion for traveling, Khaled Hosseini’s new novel “And the Mountains Echoed.” This is an essential read. I finished the book on the plane ride home and I have not stopped thinking about it.
I remember being devastated after finishing “The Kite Runner,” and this novel left me feeling the same way. Hosseini is a master at capturing complicated family dynamics and feelings of guilt that can last a lifetime. In this new story he uses different narrators with unique voices for each of the nine chapters. Each of the chapters is linked to the others, but it could also be read alone. My heart broke a little more with each consecutive chapter.
The story begins “So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one.” Hosseini then tells a story that spans three generations, three continents, and multiple tragedies. Over and over again we are reminded of the many ways a family can fall apart or come together.
Like his other stories, the main protagonists are from Afghanistan; in this one, he focuses on the love between Abdullah and his sister, Pari. These young siblings have an uncommon, unbreakable love for one another. Within the first thirty pages they are separated and the reverberation of this is explored throughout the book. Some of the narrators are intricately connected with the main story, and others are related by small associations. The connections are sometimes revealed slowly, which made me want to keep reading to see how it fit together.
My favorite chapter/story in “And the Mountains Echoed” focuses on two men who are Afghan Americans. After living their entire existence in California, they visit Afghanistan to reestablish ownership of their family home. The two men interact with medical relief workers and visit a young girl who has been horribly disfigured. The meeting with the girl demonstrates the true nature of each of the men, and it reveals that good intentions and actual actions are completely different.
Setting and where “home” is are important elements of the novel. It moves from isolated villages in Afghanistan, to large homes in Kabul, to feelings of displacement in California, to sophisticated Paris, and to a remote island in Greece. Over and over Hosseini shows how our environment contributes to the people that we become. It is an inescapable part of our character.
This novel will stay with me for a long time. The imperfect characters, well-drawn environments, and beautiful imagery created a space that I did not want to leave. I was rooting for all of the characters to have satisfying outcomes, but of course, life is complicated and there is no such thing as a happy ending.
Right before “And the Mountains Echoed” I read “Survival Lessons,” Alice Hoffman’s teeny tiny new booklet that was recently published. Hoffman is one of my favorite authors so I read everything that she writes. She wrote this after battling breast cancer and it is a gentle reminder to appreciate all the beautiful, wonderful things around you even during the darkest times of your life. She reminds the reader over and over again that “There is always a before and an after.” It’s a nice book to read when life feels unbearable.
More to come on my trip to Northern California soon!