Our managing Partner, Morag Inglis, had chosen History of the World in Ten and a Half Chapters by Julian Barnes as our latest Book Club book. However, with the summer holidays being in full swing we haven’t been able to fix a date for a discussion of that particular work.
So, in the meantime, being an enormous fan of both the Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I was delighted when one of my friends gave me the latest novel by Khaled Hosseini And The Mountains Echoed. When you have enjoyed an author’s previous works so much, you always hope that you will not be disappointed by their latest publication. Not only was I not disappointed, I was enthralled. I loved it. I started reading on a Tuesday evening around 6.00pm and read all night, finishing at 8.13 am the next morning. I could not put the book down.
“You want a story and I will tell you one” Hosseini begins. It is 1952 in Afghanistan and a father permanently exhausted by the business of survival tells a bedtime tale to his two children, Abdullah and Pari. It is a narrative about a demon that draws a father into making a terrible pact. The father can gift to his favourite son a better life but only by giving the child away and never seeing him again.
Indeed, this is what Saboor, the poor Afghan father telling the story, is about to do himself. He gives his three year old daughter Pari, who has an unusually strong bond with her brother Abdullah, to a wealthy man in Kabul. This act, like a pebble thrown into a pool of water, creates ripples; not just one, but countless ripples. The reader could be forgiven at the outset for expecting a tale of a brother and sister who were forced to separate and how they ultimately were reunited by a unified sense of loss and yearning for each other, but the novel is much more multi-layered than that.
In fact the reader is taken on a journey which paints a subtle, complex and conflicted picture of Afghanistan. The themes of Afghanistan’s relationship with the wider world, the traumas suffered by those who remain living there and what happens to those who leave and then come back to rediscover their country are explored. There is nostalgia for the old Afghanistan which has become hardened by its clashes with Western freedoms and shattered by modern wars.
For me though it is the characters that held me spellbound. The story of Abdullah and Pari is a perfect spring board for tales about people surrounding the siblings. At first you may think the other characters are assumed merely as foils but they become gripping and captivating as the reader follows their own destinations. An uncle’s suggestion and father’s decision produce a storyline that spans generations of families, history and continents creating a complex novel about bonds and the making of difficult and incorrect choices and their long lasting consequences.
The writing flows beautifully and I was beguiled from start to finish. And the Mountains Echoed is larger in scope than either of Hosseini’s previous novels, dealing with many more intricate issues. I enjoyed the journey of the novel. As Hosseini said, “A story is like a moving train no matter where you hop onboard you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.” Very true, but from the start of the narrative I had no idea of the route being taken to reach the end and I did not know my heart would soar and break so many times along the way.