When my Book Club selected And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini for our June meeting, I was hesitant. I had read his two previous novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, and remember how moving and sad (and good!) they were. Was I up for another epic story?
The answer was yes. I read And The Mountains Echoed in just a few days, staying up one night into the wee hours, hiding under the cover with my Kindle. I was hooked into the story from the opening chapter, and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
And The Mountains Echoed is a series of stories, all interconnected, about Afghanistan, Hosseini’s birthplace, and the people who call it home, both physically and emotionally. The novel begins with Pari and Adbullah, the children of Saboor, a poor farmer in a small village. Saboor makes a heartbreaking choice to ensure his family’s future, and that decision impacts his family for generations. The novel subsequently moves from Afghanistan to France to the United States to Greece, with each stop unearthing insight into the sacrifices people make for the ones they love and how people fail one another. Hosseini also examines the concept of home, and how it can be a source of comfort and strength or the very last place you want to be.
Hosseini uses And The Mountains Echoed to examine Afghanistan’s refugee crisis. Millions of Afghans were displaced during the many years the country was at war and then occupied by the Soviet Union, and more recently, due to the instability in the region by terrorist organizations. Hosseini’s characters reflect the uncertainty refugees face. Some, like Abdullah, find a safe place in the US; others, like Abdullah’s half-brother lives for years in a refugee camp in Pakistan, only to be returned to Afghanistan without support and without recourse to claim back lands that had belonged to the family before the war. Hosseini also offers a piercing commentary on do-gooders who come from abroad, promising aid, only to disappear when their visit is over. These unfulfilled promises eat away at hope and trust, and wariness fills in the gaps. I found this to be a very effective part of the novel.
My favorite part of the novel was the way Hosseini wove together the individual tales into one cohesive story. The reader learns what happens to Pari and Adbullah—they are, in some ways, the heart of the book—and meets their uncle; their stepmother; the warlord who takes over the land belonging to their family; the Greek surgeon who moves to Kabul to offer his medical services to those in need; a young girl who is badly injured in a horrific attack and the nurse who cares for her; and an Afghan-American doctor who grew up in Kabul and returns after the occupation to understand his roots.
When the reader meets these characters, they are often facing choices, which they make with love, with greed, or without thinking. There are consequences to those decisions—there always are—and the way they react is a compelling part of And The Mountains Echoed.
Recommendation: And The Mountains Echoed is a great choice for fans of Hosseini’s previous novels, and those looking to understand Afghanistan. It is, as I suspected, sad in parts, as Hosseini doesn’t shy away from drawing attention to the deep poverty in the country. Such poverty results in desperate outcomes, a reminder of humanity’s cruelty. I found the book moving and well written, and recommend you add it to your summer reading list.
Rating: 4/5 stars