And the Mountains Echoed – Review

Book: And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Year: 2013

Book Cover
Book Cover

For most parts, humans require closure. It’s comforting to have answers. It’s satisfying to see the jigsaw complete. It’s healing to see everything’s okay in the end. But what about the frayed ends that jut out of the narration and tie in nowhere? What about those nuggets that make guest appearances and never come back? Khaled Hosseini’s third book, And the Mountains Echoed, is full of such nuggets. Lots of small stories weaving in and out of the main plot. So much so that sometimes the main plot takes a back seat.

And the Mountains Echoed opens with the narration of a fable by a father, Saboor, to his children Pari and Abdullah in the year 1952. Saboor is telling them a story about a div who takes away a father’s dearest son as a test of his sacrifice and a punishment for the village. Next morning, Saboor and Pari are slated for a long journey by themselves. Abdullah, the loving brother, can’t bear to see Pari being taken away and insists on joining them. After much perseverance, he convinces his father to take him along. While on the journey, the author sketches the characters of Pari and Abdullah. Pari, the innocent, beautiful young girl is a replica of their deceased mother while Abdullah is more than a father to Pari. He shelters her and keeps her close as much as possible. He is the brother who would trade his only pair of shoes to get his sister a unique feather as she collects them in an old tea tin. Unaware of where they’re going, Pari is nonchalant about the journey, but, Abdullah senses something amiss. When Pari is sold to a wealthy couple in Kabul, Abdullah is heart-broken.

The narration then moves to the story about Abdullah’s step mother. You read about two young, twin girls and the differences in their similarities from far back in time. Then you are given a letter written in first person, by Nabi, the driver of Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati, Pari’s parents. In the letter you are made privy to Nila, the woman who is Pari’s mother. Hosseini tells you Nila’s habits, her explicit poems, and her marriage to Suleiman Wahdati. However, you’re not sure, where you are in the timeline. Your anticipation about what happened to Pari and her growing years would have to wait for now you are reading of two men (who you read of as youngsters in the former part of the book) Idris and Timur. And then? Here is Pari at last, in Paris. Hosseini tells you about her growing up years and her flamboyant mother Nila Wahdati. You’re unsure if you are to be happy or sad for her. Then, the writer takes you to Greece and you read of a really lovely short story of a smart woman, Thalia, who fate tried to take down, but didn’t manage it. Personally, the story of Thalia is as clear as day and my most favourite one. I can’t help but think what was it doing in there at all. Why did I need to know about Thalia I don’t know, but the character more than makes up for its existence. What about the story of the brother and his sister you might ask? And yes, you will, but there are no clear answers. You’re going to find them at the trailing end of the book and you might even be surprised by the lack of cliché involved. But then, again what’s the fun in cliché?

Somehow, there is something unsatisfying about And the Mountains Echoed because there are so many unanswered questions and so many open ends in the book it’s almost impossible to weave all of it together. The fact that Hosseini’s story-telling keeps you glued right through the book is commendable. It’s not easy to take away from him the hat of a story-teller. There is a nagging feeling of this human mind which wonders about the innumerable people who keep sifting in and out of the main plot. Which makes me wonder if there is a main plot at all. Is this book about Abdullah and Pari; about a brother and his sister? Or is it about the stories of varied people whose paths intersect in the timeline of life? Maybe. Maybe not. What didn’t work for me at all was the narration which kept shifting from first person to third at random times. The editing of the book seemed very sketchy. It is full of fragments and one word sentences. All this, surely not expected from a writer like Hosseini. And somehow, even the title doesn’t blend into all of it and tie it up.

All in all, And the Mountains Echoed is worth your time, and it will keep you glued. But I’m sure that the man who wrote stellar books like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns can do much, much better.


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