Khaled Hosseini – And The Mountains Echoed: A Novel [Feature Review]

June 28, 2013

 

[easyazon-image align=”none” asin=”159463176X” locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51VqHa8exoL._SL110_.jpg” width=”73″]Page 2: Khaled Hosseini – And The Mountains Echoed

The schism of that initial, ideal love seems to reach each relationship subsequently shown. Love, if present at all between other characters, is splintered by selfishness or guilt. Abdullah could suffer unthinkingly, almost happily, for Pari. (The defining image of their love is his bloody, barefoot trek from a village where he has traded his shoes for a single feather, a gift for Pari’s collection.) Other characters are always conscious, and often resentful, of the burdens their loved ones place on them. Guilt rather than joy attends each sacrifice.

 

There is Abdullah’s stepmother, who wearies of caring for her invalid sister, yet even in her guilt over that weariness longs for a way out. There is Pari’s adoptive mother, who calls her daughter ungrateful, a “punishment.” There is Pari herself, who resents her mother’s neediness and simultaneous aches with remorse over her inattention to her.

 

Even in the healthier families one finds something broken. Abdullah loves his daughter, also named Pari, as fiercely as he loved his sister. But to her, his love is too fierce:

 

I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast, and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down upon me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.

 

Hosseini presents each of these strains of broken love in its own narrative fragment; each fragment has its own style and voice. There are third-person narrations followed by a first-person account lifted from a personal letter. In the middle there is even the text of an imagined interview with Pari’s adoptive mother, interpolated with Pari’s memories of their life together.

 

With these fragments Hosseini patches together a truly cosmopolitan novel. In contrast to the limited, linear exodus and return of his first two novels, this book goes everywhere—rural Afghanistan, urban Afghanistan, France, Southern California, the Greek Islands, Argentina, India—and does not end where it started.

 

As the setting expands, however, the drama contracts. And the Mountains Echoed is decidedly more mundane than The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns. Though it first treats the difficulty of living without someone under extraordinary circumstances, the book concentrates on the difficulty of living with someone under ordinary circumstances. Overbearing mothers, aging fathers, jealous sisters, self-absorbed lovers—these and not wars, not militias, are the antagonists in And the Mountains Echoed.

 

Mundane does not mean boring. It does mean less exciting conflict, but with characters and internal struggles that are thoroughly relatable to his audience, Hosseini manages to make the conflict engaging nonetheless. This book, like his earlier works, is a fairly swift read. Moreover, its structure creates the momentum that each isolated strain of the plot might lack in itself. The readers have been introduced to good love at the beginning; they expect its return at the end; they move quickly through each interrupting image of corrupt love to get there.

 


 

It seems that Hosseini, with these pivots in style and subject matter, is trying to evolve, to graduate from storyteller to serious novelist. And the Mountains Echoed is his attempt at a more complex, more mature narrative.

 

The attempt succeeds, but not without cost. The novel cuts deep on a psychological plane: its dark moments are more personal, more convicting than those in Hosseini’s earlier works. But in his urgency to reveal the full texture of each character’s psyche, Hosseini lets them talk too much. There is too much telling and not enough showing, a flaw that wearies the reader slightly and weakens the emotional impression of the novel.
And the Mountains Echoed is ultimately more a transitional than a landmark work. But though it may lack the sheer magic of The Kite Runner, it still finishes well and with enough memorable characters and scenes to reward its readers, even those who aren’t (yet) Khaled Hosseini devotees.