[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”159463176X” locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VqHa8exoL.jpg” width=”221″ alt=”Khaled Hosseini” ]Living with Someone Under Ordinary Circumstances
A Feature Review of
And The Mountains Echoed: A Novel
Hardback: Riverhead, 2013
Buy now: [ [easyazon-link asin=”159463176X” locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ] [ [easyazon-link asin=”B009XIXVU6″ locale=”us”]Kindle[/easyazon-link] ]
Reviewed by Philip Zoutendam.
No doubt there are many in the pantheon of authors—ignored, forgotten, unknown in their own day—who would begrudge the perfect timing of Khaled Hosseini’s debut. In the last decade the world has been primed for any word about Afghanistan, and here was an Afghani author telling stories of his homeland.
Hosseini’s good fortune surely accounts for some of the immense popularity of The Kite Runner (2003 release) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007)—but by no means all of it. These books were good literature, not vapid page-turners spun for profit. They were thrilling, yes, with enough of the dramatic and exotic (run-ins with the Taliban, forbidden love, harrowing border crossings) to hold one rapt for hours, but they were not mere thrillers. Beneath the excitement they shared deeply humane narratives of love, separation, and the struggle to redeem that separation.
Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, offers more of the same, and also a little less of it. The novel begins in the same place, Pre-Taliban Afghanistan, with the same themes, love then separation, and it arcs toward redemption, but it goes to new places and gets there by different means along the way.
The novel opens with a story, a dark fairy tale with a Persian vernacular. A div (an ogre or spirit) abducts a child as a kind of tribute from his family; the father sets out to rescue him, only to find him delivered to a life of happiness and security unimaginable in his poor village. The father is offered the chance to intervene. He declines, accepting a life of estrangement at the cost of his son’s felicity.
This story is told by a father to his children, but the reader quickly perceives that it is about them too. They begin as the audience, but they soon become its characters. The abducted child will be the daughter, Pari, the div an infertile and lonely femme fatale from Kabul, and the wounded party not the father who consents to give her up, but her older brother, Abdullah, who can only watch in helpless rage.
Abdullah and Pari had loved each other—loved with an ardent love, the kind that gives sacrificially and comprehensively, that accepts another as necessary for one’s own life.
Their separation is an earthquake. They themselves are broken when cleaved apart—Pari grows up ignorant of her past life, but still feels haunted by “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence”—but they are only the beginning. They become a central fault line, radiating fissures and fractures to all the other characters, and even to the narrative voice of the novel itself.