Two Sundays ago I took a bottle of sunscreen and the latest Khaled Hosseini novel down to Clifton Second. I had devoured half the book in two hours, oblivious to the second degree burn I was slowly developing. The book is wonderful. Khaled Hosseini is wonderful. But three chapters in, this thought crossed my mind:
It is the excellence of his first two novels that is the downfall of his third.
Khaled Hosseini is an incredible writer and this book is no different. He is a poet and his words dance across the page. He writes with deep emotion, delving into political and family dynamics made all the more complex by long-standing cultural customs. He writes stories which I have no way of relating to and yet, somehow, I do.
Nothing went wrong with this book. It is a beautiful story, beautifully written, and I urge you all to read it. It will be the gem on your summer reading list. I can only tell you why it paled in comparison to his previous two novels, and it is only because of my personal interests.
The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns were both set amongst cultural norms which are not relevant to me. I take a deep interest in political science and foreign cultures, which is why I was so riveted by the stories told in these two novels. I wanted to know what it was like to grow up as a child in Kabul or to be the second wife of an abusive man, in a regime which oppresses woman. I took as much out of the drama of these individual character’s lives as I did out of learning about the cultural truths of a country so far removed from my reality.
And the Mountains Echoed did not focus on the politics of the area. It is the story of a poor family, living in a small town a few hours outside of Kabul in the 1940’s. They are forced, by poverty and desperation, to sell their only daughter to a wealthy couple who raise Pari as their own. The book doesn’t so much focus on the political history of the area and how it affected the people, but rather on the paths the characters choose which determines the destinies of their lives and those of their children. It is a family drama.
The story jumps decades, giving you glimpses into the lives of Pari and her lost siblings as they move countries, marry and have children.
I have two main criticisms of the book. Towards the end, the story changes focus and you hear the life story of a Greek doctor who has arrived in Kabul to help treat the victims of war and poverty and has set up home in the house that belonged to Pari’s adoptive parents. Although the story was intriguing and certainly not boring, I felt like it didn’t really have a place in this book. It was so far removed from Pari’s family, that when the book jumped back to her brother’s new life in the States I had to page back for context because I had forgotten who they were.
My other criticism is that so many stories were left unfinished. What starts out a single family living in a small hut outside of Kabul, delves deep into the stories of all their lives and sends you backward and forward in time, from Afghanistan to France and to the USA. Some of the stories were touched on so briefly that I had all but forgotten them by the time I reached the last page. But hardly any of them wrapped up.
I do appreciate it when a book doesn’t wrap up in a chocolate box at the end. A little bit of mystery is refreshing, leaves you wanting more. But I felt frustrated at the end. I had little tidbits of peoples lives and no closure.
I want to know more about Thierry and why he doesn’t speak to his family. I want to know if Thalia ever left the island, if she ever found love despite her mutilated face. If Pari, the namesake, ever continues her studies and what happens to Amra and her adopted daughter Roshi, who lived through unimaginable trauma.
Khaled Hosseini is a poet and an artist. His writing is, without fail, beautiful and I remain a huge fan. This book may not have been my favourite of his, but it is in every other way a fantastic piece of writing.