‘And The Mountains Echoed’ By Khaled Hosseini Book Review: A Brilliant Novel Woven As A Quilt
Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed, his third novel, hit bookshelves last week. His first published work in three years, it manages to eclipse his first two brilliant literary efforts with a story that spans the globe in a multi-generational narrative of family and all of its physical and emotional branches. In Hosseini’s own words, And The Mountains Echoed is a “mosaic.” It’s a novel of imperfect fragments separated and fitted imperfectly back together to create something beautiful by way of its flaws, and the honesty therein.
And the Mountains Echoed begins with a fable told by a father to his two children – daughter Pari, 3, and son Abdullah, 10 – in a small village outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. In the fable, a father must choose one child to sacrifice to a mystical monster in order to save the rest. As the novel progresses, parallels to the fable emerge, most notably, the story of Abdullah having his beloved sister taken from his grasp and from his life. It is their story of sibling affection that is at the heart of the novel, which follows them, and those whose stories branch out from theirs, through over 60 years – from Afghanistan to Paris, from Pakistan to California and Greece.
With a story that’s composed of threads that will ultimately meet, there’s a fear in a reader that when they do meet, they will be woven together too perfectly, too seamlessly, too ordinarily and expectedly. But in Hosseini’s nimble hands, the threads join together making knots and frays, and at times, in a way that renders the fabric torn. Unlike the fable that foreshadows the novel’s stories of separation, where the father’s sacrifice is rewarded, there is no concrete morality. Life, of course, is not quite as clear.
There’s the pervasive theme in Hosseini’s novel of young men and women unmooring themselves from their family – because of hardship or boredom, for opportunity or for escape from fear or love or hate. And their impulsive departures, set out on for reasons that Hosseini never judges his characters for, are followed by returns to the harbor. Sometimes it’s too late, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it never happens in person. Maybe the reunion takes place in a letter, a box of feathers, a song. It’s always something that echoes just enough to be heard. If Hosseini is doing any moralizing throughout the novel, it is to say that it is always better late than never; and if you are too weak for one person, you can be stronger next time around.
Tales of love abound in And the Mountains Echoed, romantic, platonic, familial, the flourishing and unrequited. In one vignette, a man’s love for another man can only manifest itself as an intimate companionship, as the object of affection can’t reciprocate the kind of love he craves. In another, the love between a mother and son is only realized after a lengthy time apart and an increasingly imminent death; a simple verbalization of recognition allows their stubborn hands to stretch across the vast expanse of their differences and clasp with reciprocal affection. There is sentiment that separates itself from sentimentality.
Some have called And the Mountains Echoed a tapestry of a novel, but it’s more like a patchwork quilt. Sewn together by the thread of common blood, are lives that are separate and unique; lived by people of a variety of passions and vices and strengths, coming of age in different lands and different circumstances. Although quilt may sound less elegant than tapestry, it is a quilt of a novel that Hosseini created with And The Mountains Echoed, a beautiful quilt in which each patch’s story is made more material by its connection to the others.