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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

This book has all the essential elements that made Hosseini's first two books popular and successful.  It is set in Afghanistan.  The story spans over a half century, and delves back to a time when things were more stable, more open, and more hopeful in Afghanistan.  I had some difficulty figuring out when this idealized past occurred, but it may well have been in the time of Mohammed Daoud Khan, who overthrew his brother in law, the last king of Afghanistan, in the 1950's and was known for his progressive politics, his modernization of Afghanistan, which doubled the work force, and his progressive view of the rights of women.  That Afghanistan was never quite realized, but that may have been the most recent path that could have led them into the 21st century.  This is also a tale of siblings who are separated by circumstances at an early age, never to really reunite, which is another critical Hosseini ingredient.

The opening myth is one that permeates a network of tales, its meaning developing and diversifying across the course of the book. A div, or demon, draws a father into a terrible pact. The father can gift his favorite son a better life by giving the child away, never to see him again. This is what Saboor, the poor Afghan father telling the story, is himself about to do to his three-year-old daughter, Pari, who has an unusually powerful bond to her brother, Abdullah. From the moment the realization dawns that Saboor is going to give Pari to the wife of a wealthy man in Kabul, the ache of separation and longing pervade the story.

Hosseini is a gifted story teller, and while the book winds its way between several inter-related stories, the reader is not impatient for him to tie them all together, which he does at the end in a bittersweet way.  There is less violence in this book than in his past two books and more yearning.

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