Thursday, 28 March 2013

And The Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini

Our lives are made of stories: stories that we tell ourselves and of ourselves, stories that others tell of us, stories that we construct to help us understand the world and to help us reason. And The Mountains Echoed is, in one way, a collection of such stories and, in another, one story told from a collection of perspectives. There are a dozen different sides to every tale, as many different viewpoints as there are people involved, and this is something that Khaled Hosseini takes and plays with and transforms into something thoughtful and compassionate. The woman who from one person’s perspective is loud and brash and thoughtless is beautiful and enthralling from another’s view, or difficult and troubled from a third storyline. There is the girl who knows only a part of her story and the boy who knows far too much of it, the man who sees ruin where another sees hope.

And The Mountains Echoed is, altogether, the story of one family rocked by circumstance and difficult choices. It spans across decades, from the 1950s to present day, and around the world, France, Afghanistan, Greece, America. Moving from first person to third, letters to reminiscences, from now to the past and back again, Hosseini takes us on a journey, piling images and ideas into our minds in a quiet and subtle way. Where The Kite Runner was a man’s world and A Thousand Splendid Suns a woman’s world, And The Mountains Echoed breaches the gap, opening the story up for everyone.

Abdullah and Pari, brother and sister, are as close as close can be, but their father, recently remarried after their mother’s death, struggles to find work, to clothe and feed his family, to keep them warm in the harsh Afghan winter. But after he takes them on a trip to Kabul, walking the desert through day and night, he makes a choice no father should ever have to, setting their futures on a new course. Will this choice, this rift be permanent and irreparable? Where will it lead them and their family and into whose lives? What consequences will echo back at them from the mountains?

Hosseini sees people – sees into them – and reproduces this on the page with a rhythm and language reminiscent of poetry. I understand that Afghan poetry and literature traditionally uses certain meters and rhythms in its construct, and so I wonder: is this something Hosseini – consciously or subconsciously – has tapped into here? I have never been to Afghanistan, but he brings alive both its living beauty and its brutal history without being sentimental. Chapter by chapter, each one written with a different point of view, a different perspective, and each one a different little piece of the story, in parts related and unrelated to the overarching storyline of a lost little girl torn from her family’s heart. It exudes sadness, but in a touching way; whilst the stories told are in many cases tinged with sadness and difficulty, they are not depressing. Instead they are compassionate and caring, perhaps because of the conundrum introduced in the story of the prologue: what would you do for love?

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