And the Mountains Echoed


There is no way to summarize or give Khaled Hosseini’s new book “And the Mountains Echoed” (May 2013) its necessary credit in a short review. Hosseini’s new book is not to be missed, put all your other summer reads aside and tackle this one. You will be transported into Shadbagh, Kabul, Paris, Tinos, San Francisco and back again.

Your family will be enriched by the many characters that Hosseini unveils. Hassan and Amir from “The Kite Runner”, together with Mariam and Laila from “A Thousand Splendid Suns” are already permanent members of my family, now I add Pari, Abdallah, Markos, Thalia, Amra, Roshi and so many more.

It’s a multi-generational story told from different perspectives jumping through the past 1949, all the way to 2011, in a non-sequential, intriguing way.  Hosseini includes a reporter’s interview with Nila, that gives a penetrating perspective of who she is. The letter from Nabi to Markos exposes so many of the missing details. The background of the novel being the political turmoil in Afghanistan. One can’t help but see so many parallels in Egypt.

The novel centers around the sibling relationship starting with Pari, who is 3 years old and Abdallah 10 years old in Shadbagh, Afghanistan a fictional village town. It ends with Pari at a family reunion in Provence, France and Abdullah in a nursing home in San Francisco. Their journey from their separation up to their reunion is full of heart wrenching emotional hurdles that we go through with them.

All the themes are very close to home for Egyptians. Many of the characters voyage from East to West. The ensuing search for identity. This is exemplified through many characters one of which is Dr. Idris Bashiri who lives in San Francisco “Idris is struck again by how easily the locals can tell he is a westernized Afghan, how the whiff of money and power affords him unwarranted privilege in this city.” Idris constantly feels “the subtle mocking, the vague reproach he has sensed from the locals, the government officials, those in the aid agencies.”

The search for contentment and happiness and how materialism has very little to do with both. “for the price of that home theatre we could have built a school in Afghanistan.” Yet Idris avoids helping Roshi who is in Afghanistan and badly needs surgery. He justifies his choice “Everything he owns he has earned. (…) He had given his twenties to medicine.

He had paid his dues. Why should he feel badly. This is his family. This is his life. (…) It feels infinite, insurmountable, and his promise to her misguided, a reckless mistake, a terrible misreading of the measures of his own powers and will and character. Something best forgotten. Idris is torn by Amra’s (an NGO doctor) view of “the wealthy wide-eyed exiles – come home to gawk at the carnage now that the boogeymen have left” and the reality that “Kabul is… a thousand tragedies per square mile.”

The dichotomy of Islam, as a culture and religion, and the debate between liberal complete integration into western culture in France through Nila, and her descendants. Poignantly adverse to Abdullah holding on to Farsi, and religion, and Pari not being integrated into society completely as a consequence. Abdullah explains to his daughter Pari “that if culture is a house, then language was the key to the front door; to all the rooms inside. Without it, he said, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.”

The social structure of the 50s the wealthy elite with their own culture in Kabul as expressed through The Wahdatis. While life in Shadbagh with Mullah Shekib’s teachings, for Saboor, Nabi and his twin sisters is extremely different. Then, after the wars the new aristocracy in Kabul represented in new money, aid workers, and expats on assignments. Shadbagh destroyed and in its place, Shadbagh eNau created and governed by a criminal of war, and depicted by his son Adel “He saw for the first time his father’s house for the monstrosity, the affront, the monument to injustice, that it was to everyone else.”

The novel is full of stories of strong women, single mothers, widows, and strong bonds between siblings especially of the opposite sex, Isabelle and Thierry; Markos and Thalia, Nabi and his twin sisters, Abdullah and Pari. How difficult it can be to deal with aging parents, being crippled, disfigured or being strikingly beautiful like Madeleine and Nila.

The consequences of our decisions and actions (karma) being manifested through generations of Saboor’s children who are reunited in the end and Parwana’s who both end in death.

I love the title. Hosseini says its inspiration from William Blake’s “Nurse’s Song”. It seems like the mountains echoed with all their secrets and stories. Parwana says it best “No one has to know. No one would. It would be her secret, one she would share with the mountains only.”

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