‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and righting, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’
In his magnificent tale of tragic sacrifice, broken lives and the curious nature of love, Hosseini presents a beautiful novel of the incredible resilience of humankind.
Spanning across two centuries and six decades, the novel begins with the story of siblings Abdullah and Pari, two young and innocent children living through the hardships of life in rural 1940s Afghanistan. Looked after by their gruff, hardworking father Saboor and their equally hardened yet proud stepmother Parwana, they lead a surprisingly idyllic life: laughing through orchards, running with their beloved stray dog, dozing under the dappled shade of the oak tree. Blissfully ignorant of the hardships their father endures to ensure their survival and of the choice he must make to save his family.
The narration changes to the perspective of their half-uncle, Nabi. He works in the capital city of Afghanistan, Kabul, as a chauffeur and gardener for the wealthy Wahdatis. His life consists of cooking meals in an airy, modern kitchen, for fashionable, glamorous guests. The guests of Mr Wahdati’s alluring new wife, Nila. Young, striking and refreshingly modern (this is the fifties, before Afghanistan returned to its former conservative, religious state), Nabi soon falls in love with her and her ground-breakingly sensual poetry. Yet when Mr Wahdati falls ill, the delicate mirage of their domestic balance shatters, setting in motion another unsettling chain of events that determines the futures of many.
The novel then recounts the story of a young woman in Paris, a woman aware of an absence in her life, a void she cannot fill; yet she is too pre-occupied with her volatile, fragile mother to dwell upon it. Her colourful life crosses paths with her shadowy past when she receives a phone call from a Mr Markos Vivaris in Kabul, a plastic surgeon doing charity work in the now war-shattered city. He too has a hidden past, papered over with his travelling, his photography, his charity.
All these characters seem connected by their Afghan heritage, of a past lost and broken by hardship, war and human aspiration. Intriguingly, the novel slowly unravels their secrets to reveal a history permeated with tragedy, heartbreak and the complexities of human emotion, weaving a mesmerising web which becomes yet more intricate the more it is untangled.
All in all, Hosseini manages to create a compelling and beautiful masterpiece. Switching frequently from different character’s viewpoints is at first slightly disorientating, but it doesn’t happen too often and provides a wonderful insight into their most personal feelings. The incredible sense of time and distance is managed skilfully – as Hosseini has already proved apt at mastering in previous novels – yet in this book seems to perfect it without it seeming overly ambitious. Three continents, six decades and multiple perspectives is a complicated task, after all.
Ultimately, I could not recommend this book more. If you have read either of Hosseini’s other novels – the Kite Runner (which I have also reviewed on this blog) or A Thousand Splendid Suns – you will hopefully also appreciate the power of his storytelling and his uncanny ability to delve into the heart of human feeling. If you haven’t, start with this one. Its narrative often lacks true detail, scrimping slightly on descriptive passages with a sense of only vague knowledge of its surroundings, but its characterisation and plot is second almost to none.
In typical Hosseini style it ends somewhat melancholy yet hopeful – the story of humanity thus far I suppose – and leaves you with a resounding sense of the futility of ever being able to truly and fully appreciate what you have.
‘And the Mountains Echoed’…likely with the sound not just of human sacrifice and struggle, but with the ever-triumphant cry of hope.