Beginning with Saboor, a poor Afghani in a small village in 1952, telling a beautiful fable to his children Abdullah, age ten and Pari, age three, Hosseini alerts the reader that the lives of this family will follow Saboor’s tale and wake them in the night for the rest of their lives. Abdullah adores his little sister and seems more her father and soul mate than brother. Their mother died giving birth to Pari and she means everything to Abdullah. Saboor’s second wife Parwana has born two sons and they’ve lost one in infancy to winter’s privations and she works endlessly to keep her baby alive. Parwana’s brother Nabi has left their small village and is a cook and chauffeur for Suleiman, a wealthy Kabul man, who marries Nila, a poet, who doesn’t fit Kabul society’s rules. She sinks into depression because she cannot have children.
Nabi, who has a crush on Nila, wants to alleviate her sadness. So he arranges for Nila and Suleiman Wahdati to adopt Pari to save her from possible death in the cold winter thus mirroring the fable their father told the children. Abdullah is crushed beyond imagining when Pari is left with the Wahdatis. Pari is young enough to adapt to her new family without any obvious problems. She brings life to the Wahdati marriage. They dote on her, read to her, take her to the park and become a family thus forming a marriage that never seemed to have any depth of feeling before her arrival. Nabi is a cinematic observer of the marriage:
“I remember that when my parents fought, they did not stop until a clear victor had been declared. It was their way of sealing off unpleasantness, to caulk it with a verdict, keep it from leaking into the normalcy of the next day. Not so with the Wahdatis. Their fights didn’t so much end as dissipate – like a drop of ink in a bowl of water, with a residual tint that lingered.”
Later Suleiman has a stroke and Nila can’t cope with his illness so she and Pari move to Paris and leave all connections to Afghanistan behind. Nila’s poetry brings her critical acclaim but depression and alcoholism reduce her. Pari spends her childhood thinking her father has died and not knowing that she has other family. Pari loves mathematics and problems with solutions. She senses that something is missing from her life but doesn’t have any idea of what it might be. The novel explores the lives of those left behind in Afghanistan through a series of minor characters and flashbacks.
And the Mountains Echoed shows the effects of extreme poverty and what it can force a family to do. It’s filled with Hosseini’s imaginative language and characters but the unessential stories of an Afghan warlord, two cousins from America looking for their inheritance and a Greek’s long, long journey to becoming a doctor in Kabul spoil the flow of the central story of siblings Pari and Abdullah and how their separation changed their lives. Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times adored this novel and she’s rarely effusive. Kirkus Reviews panned it. Most Hosseini fans will love it.
Summing it Up: Read this for the beautiful fable that begins the novel and for the way the stories of Pari and Abdullah mirror the fable. Enjoy Hosseini’s imaginative characters and his exploration of the Afghani diaspora as you put up with some minor characters’ contrived lives when they interrupt a simple story of sibling love and separation.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Super Nutrition, Book Club
Publication date: May 21, 2013
Author’s Website: http://khaledhosseini.com/
Reading Group Guide: http://media.bloomsbury.com/rep/files/and-the-mountains-echoed-reading-group-guide-pdf-version.pdf and http://khaledhosseini.com/books/and-the-mountains-echoed/discussion-questions/
What Others are Saying:
Learn more about the history of women poets in Afghanistan in the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2013/05/the-tumultuous-history-behind-i-and-the-mountains-echoed-i-s-female-poet/276335/
Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/khaled-hosseini/and-the-mountains-echoed/
New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/21/books/and-the-mountains-echoed-by-khaled-hosseini.html