You’d have to be living under a rock not to recognize the title THE KITE RUNNER. The book, which debuted in 2003, sold more than seven million copies in the U.S., catapulting its author Khaled Hosseini into literary stardom. His follow-up, A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS, was also a deserved bestseller. Now, exactly a decade later, his third novel --- AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED --- is primed to capture readers’ imaginations once again. While the story isn’t as cohesive or linear as the previous two, the result is just as magical.
Hosseini is a gifted storyteller, so it’s only natural that he begins AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED with a story. It’s the fall of 1952 in an impoverished Afghan village, and a widowed father is tucking his two children --- Abdullah, 10, and Pari, 3 --- into bed. As is their ritual, he conjures up an adventurous tale full of jinns and giants to carry them off to sleep. But on this particular night, Saboor’s motives run deeper. The story he spins of a father forced to give up his cherished youngest child to a div (a demon) as a sacrificial offering is an allegory meant to explain what is about to happen to their family. Unbeknownst to Abdullah and Pari, the next morning, they and their father will set off on a journey across the desert to Kabul so that Pari can be adopted by the Wahdatis, a wealthy childless couple who will raise the girl as their own, under one condition: the promise that Pari would never learn of her true origins or see her family again --- “the finger cut to save the hand.”
"In the end, the urge to take flight, to rage, and to reinvent, while simultaneously hanging on and embracing what life has in store, is what drives AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED and what makes it so poignant to read."
These are the circumstances that lay the groundwork --- and set the tone --- for the rest of the book. With each subsequent chapter told from a different character’s perspective, hopscotching back and forth from year to year and sometimes jumping decades, a more detailed portrait of the fallout from Saboor’s decision --- as well as an increasingly politically, economically and religiously fractured Afghanistan --- begins to emerge. While this approach might seem disjointed at first, the broad strokes and resultant gaps are what provide the story with its glue --- and its far-reaching meaning. As Hosseini writes, “A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner than later.”
In one chapter, we see Pari’s new life with the Wahdatis through the eyes of their chauffeur, Nabi, Saboor’s second wife’s brother and the person responsible for brokering Pari’s trade. In the form of a confession letter written to Markos, the man who would come to own the Wahdatis’ house in the years after Mr. Wahdati’s stroke and Mrs. Wahdati’s departure to Paris, Nabi describes not only his guilt for stealing Pari away from her family to give her a “better” childhood, but also his unexpected deep connection with Mr. Wahdati --- a quiet man with a subtle kindness that was often overlooked, especially by his wife.
In another chapter, Hosseini jumps ahead to 1974, when a grown-up Pari and her mother (Nali) are living in Paris. After years of drinking and burning through life as a single woman full of the freedom she never had in Afghanista