Tuesday, June 4, 2013
Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Author: Khaled Hosseini
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Personal Copy
This book would be rated: PG-13
Yes, you saw that rating right. Three stars. I know it's probably not fair, since Hosseini's writing in And the Mountains Echoed is just as beautiful and moving as it was in his previous two novels (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, for those who have been living under a rock for the last decade). But my expectations were high-- Hosseini is a wonderfully gifted storyteller, and in his previous novels the stories were so rich and epic and heartbreaking and tragic and life-affirming that I felt like I had been living in those novels while reading them. They are two of my favorite books, ever. So the bar was set almost stratospherically high for And the Mountains Echoed.
The story begins in 1952 near Kabul, where nine-year-old Abdullah and his two-year-old sister Pari are traveling from their small, impoverished village to visit their uncle in the big city. The three make the trip on foot, through the desert, and when they arrive, Pari is abducted/adopted by the wealthy family the uncle works for. Abdullah's heart is broken.
This sounds like a promising beginning, right? But then the story jumps. We get the uncle's point of view, then jump to the adoptive mother's point of view after she and Pari move to Paris, then we jump to the present day and hear from a doctor traveling in Kabul. We hear from about a dozen different narrators, each somewhat related to the main story of Abdullah and Pari, but often very tangentially. Finally, in the last few chapters (spoiler alert) the brother and sister are brought back together again, but that feels unsatisfying, not just because of the plot elements but also because their time together felt so long in the past in terms of the narrative that it almost feels irrelevant.
That said, And the Mountains Echoed is a book worth reading. If I stumbled on it at the library or started reading it based on Amazon's "Recommended for You" reads, I probably would have had an entirely more positive reception of the story, but I wanted it to be more moving, more epic, and more cohesive than it was.