Presents a story inspired by human love, how people take care of one another, and how choices resonate through subsequent generations. Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and step-mother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Adbullah, Pari, as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named, is everything.
So begins Khaled Hosseini’s new novel, his first in six years but, somehow, it seems so much longer than that. Also, it’s not too soon to get out the tissues because this book induces one crying jag after another. The fable that Saboor tells his two children, Pari and Abdullah, in Afghanistan, sets the stage for a multigenerational saga that spans more than half a century, and crosses three continents. And honestly, who better than Hosseini, to prove to us once again the resilience of family and love and honor and betrayal and respect for one another? He does it so well and so ably with storytelling skills not to be rivaled.
The book almost reads like a series of interconnected short stories which really plays to Hosseini’s skill as a storyteller. And it’s hard to summarize without giving away too much. So let me just say that Pari and Abdullah are there in 1952, with the telling of the fable and they continue to be important characters in the story throughout the book. But Hosseini also extends the connections to brothers, sisters, cousins and caretakers, and expands his tale from Afghanistan to France, Greece and the U.S. as his characters move on and abandon their homeland. It’s quite striking and very powerful. And he fills each location with strong, vibrant characters: selfless, Nabi, uncle to Pari and Abdullah, who brokers a deal that impacts two families for years to come and never gets over his guilt; the young son of an Afghan warlord, who doesn’t really understand his father’s affairs, but gets a hasty education from Abdullah’s adolescent cousin, whose future is in the warlord’s hands; a young Greek girl whose face is chewed off by a dog and who confronts shocked observers bravely and with great audacity, daring acquaintances to accept her; a young California woman, who accepts her Afghan parents left-over allegiance to their Muslim faith, while giving up her bright future; and a Greek plastic surgeon who gives up everything to care for the mutilated children in Kabul. Hosseini weaves their stories together to produce a tapestry that displays all the hopes and dreams of the characters over the course of half a century.
As good as it was the book isn’t without its faults. Some of the stories dragged a bit and when Hosseini wrote about his homeland, he produced a much stronger narrative with writing that was much more urgent and compelling than the writing about life outside of Afghanistan. That’s a trivial complaint for what is overall a wonderful novel, possibly his best novel. If you enjoy a continually shifting narrative, one that travels back and forth through time and space, one that exposes the wrongs that have been done to the people of Afghanistan by the Russians, the Taliban and the U.S. then this is a novel that will satisfy. Very highly recommended.
So begins Hosseini’s latest, And the Mountains Echoed – with Afghan father, Saboor, telling his young children a story. Saboor’s son, Abdullah, and his daughter, Pari, are the novel’s central characters, siblings who share an uncommonly beautiful bond. The story Saboor tells them is about a mythical Afghan ogre, a div, which separates children from their families – a fate which, according to the tale, might not be so horrible as first imagined. Unfortunately for Abdullah and Pari, such a separation will shortly become their reality. Going forward from this point, the novel spans some sixty years, 1949-2010, moving ever outward to encompass a huge cast of characters, whose lives and loves we follow around the globe, from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos. All of the characters’ stories, of course, across generations and continents, will come back to Abdullah and Pari.
Certainly Hosseini is a consummate storyteller. I adored both The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns when I read them several years ago. This one I did not enjoy quite as much. I think the wide-reaching scope of the family saga is both its strength and its weakness – so that finally I found it getting bogged down in itself. Nonetheless, I did very much enjoy and definitely recommend, particularly to fans of Hosseini.
And then another one.
And near the end of this section, as I put the book down for the evening, I thought, "why do I feel so bored right now?" and I realized it was because I did not care about these people. Or the previous people. Or Pari's life as a young adult, honestly. It felt to me like just a huge placeholder until we could get back to the core of the story, Pari and Abdullah. Would they find each other? Would a reunion fix everything? Most of the intervening sections were interesting enough to deserve having the stories they contained told, but I didn't want to read these stories in the middle of this book. I didn't want to dance around on the periphery of Pari's and Abdullah's lives.
So my verdict is: the writing - wonderful. The beginning and the end - A+. The middle sections - uneven. I'm probably being extra-harsh in giving the book 2 1/2 stars, but I guess I'm probably subtracting half from "it was okay" just because I wanted it to be better than it was.
Recommended for: people who enjoy intertwining stories, Bay Area natives, fans of the bittersweet
Quote: "He could not imagine that Father had once been a boy, like him. A boy. Carefree, light on his feet. Running headlong into the open fields with his playmates. Father, whose hands were scarred, whose face was crosshatched with deep lines of weariness. Father, who might as well have been born with shovel in hand and mud under his nails."
And the Mountains Echoed tells the lives of many characters – Abdullah and Pari, their Uncle Nabi, Nila Wahdati who is married too young to a wealthy man, cousins Idris and Timur who could not be more different, the deformed Thalia and the mother who abandons her, a Greek doctor who spends his life helping Afganis, and many more. The novel is, in essence, a series of linked stories about these characters – all of whom are strong enough to carry an entire book had Hosseini wished to do that.
The reader does not always see the connections between the characters immediately, but as their distinct voices ring out across the pages, it becomes clear how their lives have intersected with those of the other characters. The effect is powerful.
Khaled Hosseini is a magnificent storyteller. His prose is captivating, deeply moving, and insightful. But it is his characters which elevate his novels. His latest effort after six years of work, is another example of the range of Hosseini’s talent.
I did not want this book to end. I savored the pages. I found myself completely engaged in the lives of the many characters. I was transported through time and across thousands of miles. And the Mountains Echoed is a novel about family, loss, identity, and connection with others. Hosseini explores the idea that a simple choice will echo across time and have deep ramifications for generations to come.
At the moment I heard that this book was to be published, I began to anticipate it. I longed to read it. And it did not disappoint. If you have not read a Hosseini novel yet, I urge you to pick up a copy of this one when it goes on sale later this month.
Readers who love historical fiction, multi-generational family sagas and character-driven novels of the highest caliber will not want to miss And the Mountains Echoed.
Highly, highly recommended.
And the Mountains Echoed opens in 1952 with an Afghani father telling his son and daughter a fable - the story of a parent's love for his child, fighting off a div (ogre) who claims children from their village. The father loses one of his children to the div, but cannot stop thinking about him. After many years, the father goes to the div's palace to reclaim his son, but the child is now living a life of privilege and happiness. The div offers the father the chance to reclaim his child, but does he really want to take him back to a life of poverty and hardship?
"You are a cruel beast, Baba Ayub said. When you have lived as long as I have, the div replied, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color."
And that fable sets the stage for the rest of the book. In the next chapter, the storytelling father sells his daughter to a wealthy family, separating his son and daughter. They have shared an incredible bond in their short lives. Is that bond every truly broken? Can the echoes of their love follow them and stay with them?
Hosseini takes us on a wide, sweeping, encompassing journey touching on all who play a part or touch the lives of the two children - from childhood to old age. As it's base the story is about the two children, but Hosseini builds wonderfully rich tales around many of the other characters. In that sense, the book has many lead characters, spanning countries and time lines. (I have to say, one of my personal favourites was Odelia, one character's Greek mother. Her sense of right and purpose was inspiring.) At least one character in And The Mountains Echoed will touch or stand out for every reader. Not every character is sympathetic, but all elicit a reaction.
The narrative often skips from one character to another and from one time period to another. I did find myself having to reestablish who was who and the connections a few times. Some threads are left unfinished and I was left wondering what might have happened to some players. Although, that certainly may have been Hosseini's intent. Each story leaves an impression or an echo on the next, stringing a thread of connectedness between all.
As always Hosseini has a way with words and what I did read was enjoyable and would recommend this book to his followers.
These two, a brother and sister in a remote Afghan village, are separated in a surprising way that forever changes their lives and those of their descendants. Surprisingly, however, after the children are split apart, Hosseini spends as much time exploring the lives of those who cross their paths as he does on his "main characters." It is not at first always clear who some of these people are and, frankly, some of their stories are rather boring and do not add much to the mix. The result is that I, as an admirer of the author's two previous novels, found myself struggling to get through the last one-third or so of "And the Mountains Echoed."
The novel explores family loyalty, personal sacrifice, family betrayal, and the nature of memory, heredity, and "luck of the draw" life. I think that Hosseini fans will want to read this one based on their experience with the author's previous work - just be aware that his approach to it is very different from the one he took with his two previous books.
OK, here is what I think is going on, in my head and in my heart:
I will start with what is simple, but very important. This is the first book I have listened to where I would advise very strongly that you read the paper book rather than listen to the audio version. There are three narrators: the author (Khaled Hosseini), a woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and a second male narrator (Navid Negahban). The latter two slur English words to such an extent that you must decipher what is being said by the context of the words. Cheek sounds like chick; swim sounds like "sweem"; breeze sounds like bees; words sounds like wards; shut sounds like shot; launches sounds like lunches. Must I go on? The woman's voice is so muted that you must increase the volume. I liked Hosseini's reading of the introductory fairy tale, but then later he enunciates every darn letter. Quite simply, the narration is unprofessional. Furthermore, why in the world have they even bothered to use three different narrators? The book shifts to different locations around the world - France, Greece and the US. I would have preferred three narrators: one fluent in French, one in Greek and one in American, or just one narrator that speaks fluent English. They all spoke what I think was meant to be English with an Afghan accent; let's just say poor English. Some of the characters lived in France since their early youth. The narration is so poor that it detracts from one's appreciation of the author's words. Read the paper book!
This book is about an Afghan family, starting at the end of the 40s and ending a decade into the 21st Century. It is about the how the 20th Century has split families. It isn't unusual today to find members of one family spread all over the world. What does this do to us? And what is the essence of family....if we do not live near each other and if we do not have daily contact, hands on contact. Are we still bound to each other? Does family remain family?
The book begins with a bedtime story, which is as I originally thought the central message of the entire book. So pay attention. The beginning is also the best part of the book, because there in the beginning you most intimately rub shoulders with the main characters. These characters will have children and grandchildren and spouses and friends and you never really come to know them as you do the first ones. The central theme of the book IS based on the choices that are made by the first characters we meet. Later chapters deal with one family and then another family or friend. They can almost be seen as separate stories, but yes they do all come together at the end. The problem is that the book does not succeed in bringing all of these diverse stories to life. Neither are all the different places brought to life. Afghanistan was well portrayed, but not Paris, not California, not Greece! The book tries to do too much. Or is it that Hosseini has best captured that which he knows best? I will credit him in his attempt to show what happens to "family" in today's globalized world.
But none of the above is really what brought the tears to my eyes. We love someone, and even if we try our hardest to make the best choices, even if we sacrifice our own personal needs, still one can be left with such emptiness. Sometimes that emptiness simply cannot be filled. Sometimes we try our best, but so much is misunderstood. Life is damn messy. There can be a wonderful blessing in forgetting. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. The book explains this better than I have.
Completed June 11, 2013
The first part of [And the Mountains Echoed] is completely amazing. Reading the first couple of chapters, I thought that it could be even better than [The Kite Runner].
Sadly, compared to his two previous books, this one was a bit of a disappointment.
The story unfolds through characters whose lives have in some way been touched by the consequences of this action. Among them, Pari herself; Pari’s step-Uncle Nabi , the wealthy couple’s chauffeur/cook; Pari’s adoptive mother Nila, an unconventional and slightly neurotic Muslim woman; Dr. Markos, a Greek plastic surgeon working for an international aid agency to restore disfigured children in post-Taliban Afghanistan; and other richly drawn people.
I found Hosseini’s style of skipping from timeframe to timeframe distracting. One paragraph might end in 1968 and the next resume in 2002, without warning. Also, grasping the reason for the deep background given about each character -- without any hint as to the character’s importance to the unfolding of events -- seemed tiresome and a little confusing.
For these reasons I cannot rate And The Mountains Echoed as highly as Kite Runner. But, I also can’t deny that Hosseini tells us a marvelous story in such beautiful prose that at times I wept. Tragedies are believable, never maudlin. Coincidences are credible, never miraculous. Characters’ flaws and virtues are well balanced. Altogether a good read!
I think that this was an emotional tale of the harsh realities that life sometimes presents. The ugly side of life that sometimes must be dealt with and how people handle it. There are some heartbreaking scenes and some little pearls of hope scattered through out. There is a contrast of the people who have things and those that have not.
The middle of the book seems to meander around. I wasn’t sure what the point of the story was when all these different characters were introduced with their own stories. Half way through the book I still wasn’t sure what I thought of it. The ending made the book for me and everything came to together. I think that I liked A Thousand Splendid Sons and The Kite Runner just a little better than this one. The story is presented in a much different manner this time. In spite of all that I have to say that I still love his writing style and that I feel that this is an excellent book. I read it last week and I am still able to vividly recall parts that touched me. Not every book leaves a lasting impression! I give this book 4.5 stars out of 5.
Then something happens. The skipping around between time periods starts to become a bit hard to follow. Characters begin to appear that don't seem to quite fit the picture. And there is one chapter set in Greece where a young boy and his disfigured friend are taking a picture with a "homemade" camera which totally threw me. I honestly thought perhaps there was an error in the download - did I miss something?
That aside, this is still a very good read which portrays how families are split apart, both literally and figuratively. This is a story of survival and recovery. It is a story of pain and of love. It is a story of a people in a country torn apart by war and poverty. Perhaps this is not as gripping as "Kite Runner", but it is still a worthwhile read by a very good author.
Hosseini is a magnificent story teller, as demonstrated by his first two novels, and his skill can easily be seen in his most recent work as well. However, the structure of the book, jumping back and forth in both time and story thread, result in a disjointed reading experience and detract from the overall enjoyment of the work. As in his previous novels, much of the action centers on Afghanistan, from the late 1940s to the present day. Unlike Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, however, large parts of the story take place in locales as diverse as Paris, California and Greece.
Perhaps having read the previous two books, much of the novelty of Afghan history and culture has worn off, leaving only the underlying story to support the reading experience. That is still enough to recommend the novel, yet not enough to award it the rating garnered by his previous efforts.
This book includes stories upon stories. Starting with a fable and then telling the stories of families over many generations and then by the end intertwining all of the individual stories into one. This is how the title of the book is worked in. I expected to find the title actually in the story, but the title actually explains the book. As you travel through each of the individual stories, parts of them "echo" into the next. At least, that is how I interpreted the title. That is what makes this book so uniquely beautiful.
When talking with a friend about this book, I described it as heartbreaking and yet, wonderful. Each of the stories were full of agony, despair, disappointment, suffering, or heartache, but they were also full of hope, happiness, and surrounded by a love and devotion for family. That devotion is what kept you turning the pages. The love of family is really what is at the heart of this novel. Brothers and sisters, cousins, and even friends who are all the family that the person has. The decisions, compromises and judgments rendered in each of their lives and the ramifications for future generations were mind-boggling. How Hosseini can create these stories is amazing and I am so glad he has shared his talent with us.
The stories are set in Afghanistan, Greece, France, and the US. There are stories of extreme wealth and severe poverty. The stories of poverty, especially in Afghanistan, were such a jolt to my easy life here in America. It was another humbling reminder (after going through a weekend of a "boil order" in our town) that there is truly so much suffering in the world that most of us have no grasp of. I truly am appreciating our community and our freedoms after reading this novel.
I could gush on and on about this novel, but I just don't want to give any more of it away. The main tip I would give you for this novel is to try to read it in a short period of time. I don't think that will be an issue because you will want to continue reading it. But, even after just a 2 day break from the book, it was difficult for me to keep all the stories and characters straightened out. The flow of the novel was a bit difficult at times because the flow of one story would stop and transfer to another story without much warning. There were several times in the novel where I had to stop and reread a page or two to get my mind on the right people. Keeping a character list might be helpful as you read along.
This was our book club choice for the month and it makes for an excellent discussion. The questions supplied on the publisher's website, although deep, were a good jump start to the numerous topics. Loss, separation, family, and forgiveness are just a few of the topics you could start with.
There were so many wonderful descriptions and ways to tell a story in this book. I could have practically highlighted something on every single page. I will give you just one example that when I read it, I nodded and said, "Exactly!".
"It was a hot day, the sun biting the skin like it had teeth." Page 301
If you like books full of description, emotion, and are character driven, run and pick up this latest book by Hosseini at your local bookstore or library. You won't be able to forget it.
In the end, I'm not certain that it all works as well as might have been intended.
Some of the inter-related sub plots are developed too much to be mere asides, but not enough to tie up the loose ends of the characters involved. Some of the array of story telling techniques seem to be pointless or distracting. But, I didn't want, at any time, to put the book down. He is a great story teller, and I wanted to enjoy all of the story that he was telling me.
So, a good book, but one that could have been great.
Read July 2013