I am a big fan of Khaled Hosseini. If you've never read one of his books, I recommend you do! I loved The Kite Runner, you may have seen the movie, but A Thousand Splendid Suns was my favorite. These are books with incredible stories, but in addition to that, incredible language. I love when fiction reads like poetry. One of the most important things I learned in my poetry writing classes (and something I obviously ignore when I'm blogging) is to make every word count. Choose one word over all the other ones because that's the only word that could possibly do. That's how I feel about Hosseini's writing. He makes absolutely every word important and, best of all, completely beautiful. And the Mountains Echoed is just like that.
“When you have lived as long as I have, the div replied, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color.”
And the Mountains Echoed is like his other books in that it's set in Hosseini's home country of Afghanistan. Each chapter is a piece of the overall story, and focuses on a different character. All of these characters and stories connect, but each has it's own distinct vibe. Some stories are told in first person, some in third. One is even written as a letter. It's hard to choose a favorite, but it was definitely Pari and Abdullah who broke my heart initially. Two siblings who loved each other so much, but their father was forced to give one away to provide for his family. It's the saddest thing, and you get to see how this decision changes everyone's lives forever. This is a major theme in the book. One decision. One choice. Changing not just your life, but your family's, and the people to follow you who you don't even know yet.
“He is annoyed with their lack of interest, their blithe ignorance of the arbitrary genetic lottery that has granted them their privileged lives.”
For me, while I love following these characters' lives from childhood to death or old age, it's made much more interesting by the historical backdrop of Afghanistan. As I read (and this is true of all his books), it bothers me that I don't know more about this place and its people. Parts of the story are in the 1950s all the way up to the current day. And it's interesting to see how war changes the lives of these people, the living conditions, the sacrifices people have to make. In one scene, men rush into our character's home and just take everything. He just watches because what can he do? He's just grateful there are no women in the home for them to take. Another family moves because they're in a war zone and when they come back years later, a warlord has built a mansion on top of their village. These and worse things happen. Things Americans would never dream of having to live with. It's fascinating to read about.
“Human behavior is messy and unpredictable and unconcerned with convenient symmetries.”
As much as I am drawn in by the language and the story, with its history and realism, it really is the characters who make a great story. It's impressive that Hosseini can write so many vivid, unique characters in this book. From the spoiled Afghan-American children to a beautiful, outspoken female poet to the family of one of Afghanistan's most dangerous men (well, there are a lot of those). Each character is complex and realistic. And you feel every one of their plights.
Who Will Like This Book?
“They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind.”
I think the only reason someone may not enjoy this book is if they don't want to read anything sad. I've known people like that and I understand, but to me part of the beauty in this story is that it's realistic. Sadness is bound to happen when you're living in a land as tumultuous as Afghanistan. I enjoyed this taste of Afghan culture and history. I especially enjoyed the specificity of language and lovely craftsmanship Hosseini uses to write these exquisite little stories.