13 Jun 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini published by Bloomsbury. Thinking of the other two novels by Hosseini at first I didn't want to read it. The first book, The Kite Runner  pulled at my heartstrings - it was beautifully written and haunting. Like the first, the second book - A Thousand Splendid Suns grabbed my imagination and made me cry. This one however, And The Mountains Echoed is slightly different. Like the other two, it also tells of love and betrayal but here Hosseini has a different approach. It is not about this or that character but about many different people, loosely connected in some way. 

It starts off very well - with a fable of a djinn who steals children from a village and takes them away. One child who was taken away from his father was so much loved by the father that he went in search of the djinn and at last after many days of near starvation and physical torture, he found the djinn's lair. But what
he saw there surprised him because the children there were all happy and healthy. When challenged, the djinn told him he could take away his child but would he take the child away from a place that was beautiful and clean with plentiful food back to his own pitiable existence? This seems to be the central theme of the story - Abdullah, the main character in the story too loses his little sister, Pari who was sold to a rich family in Kabul. As his father later told him, sometimes you have to make choices that are difficult,  just to save the others.

This loss affects not only Abdullah but  also the main instrument in the deal - Nabi, his uncle by marriage. For Abdullah, the loss is not just of his sister, but his friend, his only real family. The two had been inseparable since Pari's birth and their mother's death. It was Abdullah who cared for the child, who woke up at night when she cried and fed her and the one who changed her soiled linens. He was both mother, father and brother to the little girl, and her loss was to him as if a limb of his had been cut off. He never recovered from it and never forgot his sister.

But this novel is not only about Abdullah and his sister , it is about the whole of Afghanistan - its people,  its aid workers, its government servants,its culture. It is a story of a servant's devotion and love for his employer and who looked after the employer through illness and political upheaval. It is about the employer's unacknowledged love for his employee - a love that is secret and forbidden and it is also about the love between two cousins who grew up together and loved each other like brothers and yet drifted apart.

However it is not as gripping as the other two books by Hosseini.The passion is there but it is almost as if it was a forced passion, with none of the honesty and brutal frankness found in The Kite Runner or even A Thousand Splendid Suns. It does make good reading but for once I did not cry at the end of the book. We find out about Pari, the little girl who was stolen from her brother but by the time we reach her story, the earlier effect  and its traumatic action on our feelings have diminished. We are introduced to numerous other characters who all play a part in the new Afghanistan - Timur and Idris and the stories of their lives in America, how  they see Afghanistan later and meet with Amira the aid worker from Bosnia and her charge - all these change our attachment to the first main characters.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it but after The Kite Runner, I feel just a little let down. a little disappointed. I'd give it a 3 star rating though, a good read but there were better.

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