Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini


Khalid Hosseini is an Afghan-born American novelist who resides in Northern California. By far he has published three novels namely: The Kite Runner (published in 2003),  A Thousnad Splendid Suns (published in 2007) and the most recently published edition, And the Mountains Echoed, in 2013.  With more than 38 million copies of his books sold in more than seventy countries he has earned immense international repute so much so that The Kite Runner was chosen by the Times, Daily Telegraph and Guradian as a Book of the Decade. A Thousand Splendid Suns was the Richard and Judy Best Read of the year. Exterior to his writing excellence and admiration he has been named as a good-will envoy to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, in 2006. Moreover, he is the founder of The Khalid Hosseini Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides humanitarian assistance to the people in Afghanistan. This helps explain the author’s continued empathy with Afghans and the reason why his novels are predominately Afghan-centric. Although Hosseini has claimed his third book to be more global and less Afghan-based but the very fact that the characters originate from Afghanistan is self-explanatory to the difficulty he had in making him appear less as an Afghan-centered author. It also elaborates his deep-rooted connection with the place of his birth and how migration to a foreign land is not always enough to dissociate a person from their roots. Wherever immigrants travel to, they will always have some values reflective of their origin.

Hosseini could also be accredited for sketching the beauty of relationships n all his books. In his novels starting from Kite Runner to And the Mountains Echoed there is traceable and tremendous discussions of father/son relationships, mother/daughter relationships and the relationship of siblings. In fact, it is the distinctive attribute of his current novel that inter alia other discoveries, it explores the closeness, affinity and platonic affection intrinsic to siblings.

His other commendable skill is the selection of book titles. Notably, his titles are not very catchy and pompous at first sight. Unconventionally they are succinct and resourceful and inadvertently incomplete, e.g  And the Mountains Echoed could be traced back to Hossein’s inspiration of the line ” And the hills echoed” by Allen Ginbsbergand; the unfinished title seems to relate to the incomplete lives of the characters.In fact the characters are impacted by the events in Afghan and the title of the novel is an indication of this.

In so far as the cast of the present novel is concerned it is unprecedentedly expansive and comprehensive often consequential in confusion as to remembering the events. However, in the medium of this perplexity Hosseini has been brilliant at maintaining a connection among all the characters and exhibiting them as different shades of one colour. The characters primarily include: Abdullah and Pari (siblings), Saboor (father of Abdullah and Pari), Uncle Nabi ( A chauffeur at Wahdati house), Mrs. Wahdati (a narcissist Aghan woman with great interest in poetry), Parwana (step-mother of Pari and Abdullah), Masooma (disabled twin sister of Parwana), Idrees and Timur ( cousin who return to visit war-ravaged Kabul), Markos (a Greek Dr, who chooses to be plastic surgeon and makes his way to Afghanistan), Thalia ( a disfigured girl after being bitten by a dog) and Adel and Ghola ( teenagers who become friends; the former from Afghanistan and latter an immigrant from Pakistan).

 

A great quote from the book.

A great quote from the book.

Proceeding to the structure it has been compartmentalized into nine chapters. The opening chapter is titled as ‘ Fall 1952 ‘ whereas the closing chapter is termed ‘ Winter 2010 ‘. Thus each chapter is focusing on a specific time period and the characters are skillfully incorporated into these timelines to depict the picture of Afghan at different times. As far as the dialectic style is concerned some stories are first narratives whilst others are in the third person narrative. This amalgamation is powerful to keep the reader from going off-put and getting monotonous. Against this backdrop, however, one cannot find single lead character and in this way every character becomes important depending on how the reader understands it and what corresponds to their interests. So for some, Uncle Nabi may be the most appealing of characters for being the sincerest and most loyal person of all if one is looking at a master/servant relationship. For others Parwana might be the most reprehensible character for in the race of life she does not shy off from abandoning her sister in solitude when she could have been the hand of comfort and support. Thus the novel gives room to readers to understand it from different perspectives and articulate their own thought around the story. It is for the reason of richness in information that it may not be possible to do justice to such an enriched novel. Perhaps there is probability that some incompleteness may still be felt on the consummation of this book review.

It could be said that fear of loneliness or solitude is central to the book. Almost every character is guided by this intimidation and struggles to shrug it off by whatever means at hand. Even the most powerfulof characters Nila Wahdati exhibits this fear when she is conversing with her foster daughter Pari: ” Fill these holes inside of me Pari”. In the context of Nila, it related to an incident that happened on her trip to India. It unwittingly clutched her when she was nearly 19.  A date, a trip, a moment she could never wash away. A truth that was too harsh to gulp down without slitting the throat but then again she had no choice but submit: painfully, unwittingly. The year of cruelty she thought of it in her mind, a period of woman subjugation she would often term it inside herself, that year when she was to be operated for her curable illness she had been injected with incurable loss of fraternity under the instruction of her father. How could her father do this to her? How could he rob her of her feminine asset? Her treasure had been robbed of her that nobody could buy her back. She tried buying the motherhood by purchasing her foster daughter and trying to find her lost self in her but often felt that Pari didnt belong to her: ” Pari I dont know where you belong”. This loss had grown inside her a sense of insecurity, a fear of being lonely and she had realized that the World cared less about people’s grievances: “… the World didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care a whit about hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone”.

Hosseini is not exceptional to centralize the fear of loneliness, other renowned authors of whom John Steinbeck is one, has also drawn upon it. In his novella ‘ Of mice and Men’ Steinbeck describes loneliness as the darkest side of human life and reaches the conclusion that it is inescapable and inevitable despite our incessant attempts to escape it. This he depicts through George and Lennie, friends by necessity, whose survival in pursuit of the American dream depended on their joint efforts. The two were ranch workers with minimal wages but dreamt of owning a farm of their own one day. This could translate into a reality only if they burnt the mid night oil on ranch and saved up money. However, because of their differences, Lennie being a childlike mind and George a man capable of change and growth but with a short-temperament but a loving and devoted nature, it became difficult for the two to stay together in the safety and comfort of each other. Lennie continues to act immaturely and without realizing his physical strength happens to strangle Mrs Curley (ranch owner’s wife) while stroking her hair. This leads George to shoot Lennie in the circumstances that had sprung. Thus putting their dreams to an end and returning to the World of loneliness he had been avoiding all this time. Hence, both Hosseni and Steinbeck are right to conclude that life is solitary without a purpose or when aims fail but it is the common feature of our lives that we turn blind eye to this aspect, sometimes by raising a child in the case of Nila or through companionship in the case of George/Lennie.

On the other hand, Hosseini draws our attention to the subjugation of humans to their desires. This is conceived when Parwana and Masouma are introduced in chapter three. The two are twin sisters, with Parwana being introduced as a ” tyrant” and Masouma as an “angle”. Since the latter is prettier than the former there is an atmosphere of natural jealousy between the two: ” Parwana was angry not because they threw pebbles but because they threw only at Masooma.” This jealousy transforms into a competition driving Parwana to sacrifice her sister in the race of life. Parwana realised that she ” may not know how to live without Masooma” but had to have a heart to desert her sister in a remote place where the echoes of her cries could never be heard. The incompleteness of her character defines the incompleteness of the title ‘and the mountains echoed’. What a reader gathers from their characters is the evilness of human nature which subsides our goodness and makes us the slaves of our wants. We learn from the work of Arthur Miller in ‘ A View from the Bridge’ that when men are overwhelmed by desires they do not abstain from breaking their long-practiced principles. This is exactly what Eddie Carbone does. He breaches his principles to overprotect his niece and to hide his secret obsessive love for her.Perhaps David Hume was correct to epitomize that men are slaves to their desires. This we see in the novel in the form of Parwana.

Another theme underpinning the novel is the biased treatment of women in Afghan culture. In the novel we learn of Nila on the one hand, and Parwana and Masooma on the other. All three women are Afghans by way of origin but they enjoy different levels of freedom. Whereas Nila wore ” dresses without sleeves” , smoked cigarettes with dignity , Parwana and Masouma remained confined to the four walls of their house mostly engaged in household chores like ” starting a fire in cooking and filling a pail with water from Shadbagh’s communal well and setting it to heat.” As a result of this stark difference in their lifestyles Nila ” was very surprising to people who had a conception of Afghan women and how repressed they have been legally and politically and physically because she is a such a modern woman”.  However, despite the unprecedented freedom and modernity she had been a struggling poet who had enjoyed freedom of expression but had still endured eras of forced secrecy. Perhaps Hosseni is justified about his plight of Afghan women. In the twenty first century with the talk of rights at its climax the reports of human rights watch have claimed that there are all time high domestic violence cases in Afghanistan and that 875 of households are affected by it. This is so despite the fact that in 2009 the Elimination of Violence Against Women Act was introduced. So much so that the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai undermined the Act by affirming his support for the right of a husband to beat his wife as part of a wider code of conduct document. Notwithstanding this, the Afghan Women and Girls Security Act 2012 has the potential to improve the living condition for women but their plight is not completely over. In this context, the book could be viewed as a plea with the international community or the domestic authorities to treat women as equal beings whose dignity and self-respect must be safeguarded.

Accordingly the book is not only an entertainment gadget through its suspenseful saga but also an insight into the predicament of Aghan women entitling it worthwhile reading. Upon reading this book review a feeling might generate that some of the aspects have not been touched upon. This limitation is subject to the versatility of ideas throughout the book leaving the reviewer with the last straw to pick and choose aspects sensitive to their interest. Futhermore a book review is never a substitute to reading the book itself, had this been true more copies of reviews would have sold than the original book. That said, the review is subject to holes like the holes in the character of Nila which can only be filled through reading of the book itself. Hope you will indulge in filling these holes and make this bookreview complete. Good Luck ! Enjoy reading.

 

 


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Mawra Raja is a final year LLB (Hons) student at Pakistan College of Law. She believes in hard work and puts it on top of her life pyramid. When she stumbles, she seeks the help of God. As far as the science of reading is concerned she finds great comfort in literature as she loves getting lost in things as marvelous and as wonderful as books. They make her forget about her own troubles, like a submarine and the sea, they submerge perfectly. And today she has no second thoughts in saying that we should not teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.


  • Nabil Saeed

    very well written Mawra! looking forward to reading this novel… 🙂

    • Mawra Raja

      Thanks for your insight Nabil 🙂 And you are absolutely correct to state that mistreatment of women is not confined to Afghanistan alone it is more of a global problem which must be addressed !

  • Kasim Khokhar

    I am glad that I spent good 15 minutes reading this review. Initially, I thought it was about the writer, Khaleed, but as I progressed, I realized that Mawra Raja has mingled the book review tremendously well in a contained and well composed fashion.carry on this good work. It is a must share thing
    Phenomenal piece of review writing.

  • Guest

    I loved this book…a journey with a family over time, involving stories
    within a story. The author created a word picture of places, life
    styles unknown to me. Beautiful At the end of the book I felt that I
    had connected with the soul of these people.
    Recommended Skagway Fishing Charter Fatsalmon Charters Captain Joe

  • Omarijaz

    Haven’t read the book but the review was more thn enough for me to understand the novel itself , v well wrote mawra
    keep it up
    cheers

  • Omarijaz

    Haven’t read the book but the review was more thn enough for me to understand the novel itself , v well wrote mawra
    keep it up
    cheers

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