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Thursday, 31 October 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed opens with a haunting folktale, told in the form of a bedtime story by the impoverished Saboor to his children, Abdullah and his beloved little sister Pari, of a monstrous div who visits a poor household and demands one child from the father, or it will kill all of his offspring. The child is chosen and taken away in a sack. Years later, wracked with guilt and half-mad with anguish and sorrow, the father sets out on a quest to find his son, whom he finds living in luxury at the div’s palace, much better off than he would have been living at home, and with no memory of his original family. The story serves as something of a heartbreaking allegory; it swiftly becomes a nightmarish reality for the young siblings, as shortly after the tale is told, Saboor sells his small daughter to a wealthy family in Kabul.

The novel deviates somewhat from Hosseini’s first two novels in that it does not focus on one character alone, nor is it set mostly in Afghanistan. And the Mountains Echoed is instead reminiscent of a collection of short stories as each of the nine chapters rotates in perspective and follows characters all over the globe, from Afghanistan, to Paris, California and Greece.  

All of the separate narratives are linked by the devastating event that occurs at the beginning of the novel - the brutal separation of Pari and Abdullah - which forms the foundation of the main plot.

The novel begins strongly - Hosseini’s beautiful, lilting prose eases you into the tale, telling the story with a gorgeous simplicity. The folklore story of the div made for an innovative opening, and the tragic removal of little Pari so early on was reminiscent of the shocking and tearful events of both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns; I thought this was going to have me bawling.

Nonetheless, this is where the positive aspects end. The adoption of so many different voices meant Echoed lacked the depth of character that brought his first two books alive. Since the novel does not focus as much on the plight of one character, it is not as emotionally wrought or as intricate and personal. Some of the stories felt a little unnecessary - such as the one set in Greece - which was a touch boring, seemed to come to nothing, and had little to do with the main story. All I cared about was Pari and Abdullah; I was desperate to know if they would ever find one another again, and I think Hosseini might have benefited by focusing on this a bit more, as overall the plot is not very strong. 

What’s worse, this is the only Hosseini novel which has failed to make me cry! I think this is because it lacked the subtle complexities of his other two novels, as well as a character we get to know on a personal and emotional level. It is undoubtedly a sad book, but it is not as deep, meaningful or tear-jerking as I was hoping and expecting it to be. 

If you liked Hosseini’s first two novels, don’t expect quite the same with this. I was beyond excited when I heard Khaled Hosseini was releasing a new book, and although this one is - despite my grumbling - very good, it doesn’t have the same magic and emotion which make both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns so special. It’s definitely worth your time and is a solid novel, but if you’re new to Hosseini, I would recommend trying his other books to begin with. 

Rating: 7/10

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