And the Mountains Echoed
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 17:09
When I heard that Khaled Hosseini, author of “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” was releasing a new novel over the summer, I raced to read it as quickly as possible. I have been a huge fan of Hosseini ever since I picked up his first novel and was eager to see what the focus for his newest novel would be.
What I found, I had mixed feelings over. “And the Mountains Echoed” is a complicated, weaving story that follows the lives of parents, children, brothers, sisters, cousins and caretakers through their moral and physical struggles. It begins with a parable about a father who must sacrifice his child to a div, a mythical monster, and almost goes mad. He eventually follows the monster and finds it in an attempt to take his son back or die trying.
Although the div kidnapped the man’s son, it was not for nefarious purposes: the div shows the man that his son is actually growing up in privilege, wanting for nothing and will grow up to be an influential man, an opportunity he would not have had before. The man must choose: take his son home to his family and forsake a life of opportunity for his son or leave him with the div so he can fulfill his potential.
I outlined this story because the choice the father makes parallels to events later on in the story with the man who told the story to his children, one of which he sells to a wealthy family and the other he keeps with him. The story shows what happened to those children and their family members and how it shaped their lives.
While the book is interesting, its format is unusual for Hosseini. Similar to George R.R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” (the first of which I reviewed last week) each chapter switches to a different member of the family or those connected to the family in various ways. This is where things get a bit complicated.
While I appreciate that switching narrators throughout the various chapters in “And the Mountain Echoed” gives the book a certain depth, one of the reasons it works with Martin’s books is that he clearly labels each chapter’s narrator with the heading. Even if a reader gets confused, they can always thumb back through the book to look for other chapters labeled with the same narrator and refresh themselves on what was going on with that character last.
With “And the Mountains Echoed,” there is no such aid. While in the beginning it is relatively easy to figure out how everyone relates to each other, toward the middle it gets a little less clear. It probably didn’t help that I put the book down for a day, then tried to come back to it with a new chapter and had no idea how the narrator was relevant. I vaguely recognized his father’s name, but I’m still not sure how to relate him back to the family the various stories vaguely ties back to.
Another issue I had while reading this book was with the number of loose ends left with several characters. Each chapter was its own story, and while a lot of them were incredibly interesting, deep and heart wrenching (I was particularly moved by the chapter featuring the family’s uncle and the man he was a caretaker for), several of them left out information I felt was crucial, or at least could have added depth to the stories.
For example, the brother who was kept with his father eventually immigrated to America and started a restaurant. However, he grew up in poverty with his father, stepmother and stepbrother. How did he get the money to get to America? What made him start the restaurant? When did he leave his family and make the move? None of these questions were answered and I was left a little dissatisfied, especially since the remainder of his family is left behind in Afghanistan with less-than-happy endings.
Despite the issues I had, I really did enjoy the book and would recommend it to my friends. However, it was not my favorite of Hosseini’s, so I would definitely recommend his other books first. Also, I read this as an e-book, so I would also recommend trying to find a hard copy to make it easier to flip back sections if you get a bit lost.
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