In an approach strikingly similar to that used by Toni Morrison in Home (which I reviewed just last week), And the Mountains Echoed goes to the lengths I had hoped Home would. With each chapter told with a focus on a different character, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed covers a lot of ground both in the length of time addressed and in the geographic settings. Touching on many different issues in the history of Afghanistan from social issues to the long years of war and regime changes, And the Mountains Echoed is balanced, character driven, and layered with more than one compelling story.
Beginning with a touching if sad bedtime story, each of the characters’ narratives is tied, some more directly than others, to one family’s painful dissolution as a result of poverty and circumstance and the struggle some of them undergo to reconnect. Hosseini makes the most of the freedom that his approach affords by playing with how each shift of character focus is executed. Some are presented as first person narratives while others are third person limited. One of the longest is presented as a reflective letter while another is intercut with excerpts from a magazine interview.
So many aspects of life in Afghanistan are covered, from the years after the end of World War II through the present; a number of perspectives are provided, from children born and raised in the country to those who emigrated to the U.S. and France, refugees returning and foreign aid workers volunteering. While the decades long, back and forth, shifting political situation of the nation is addressed from time to time, it does not dominate the narrative and no one perspective is designated as the “right” one. The issue of how women have been treated over the years is one of those that received examination at a deeper level, but it too refrained from dominating the novel. Instead, a delicate balance is struck and carefully maintained, giving voice to several generations of people linked to Afghanistan.
I must confess, I read Hosseini’s The Kite Runner back in high school and didn’t care for it. In college, I took a history class that focused on the region that became Afghanistan and A Thousand Splendid Suns was on the syllabus. With a better understanding of the country’s background came a greater appreciation of what Hosseini was able to do in his writing (I still need to go back and read The Kite Runner again to see if I’ll like it better with that class under my belt). I know how confusing some of the cultural and geographical aspects of Hosseini’s work can be, having been in that position myself. I don’t think that an extensive background is as necessary to appreciate And the Mountains Echoed.
Family and the need to connect to one’s roots is probably the most dominant thing that permeates the text and makes it resonate. The drive to hold on to loved ones, to reconnect, and to develop a secure sense of self are universal. As the novel cycles back around to the main line it began with, Hosseini does a fantastic job of keeping the story realistic even as a sentimental strand peeks through, leaving this reader satisfied with its bittersweet conclusion.