And The Mountains Echoed
By Khaled Hosseini
In some ways, Hosseini’s new novel reads more like a collection of linked stories. The book opens in 1952, its lens trained on Abdullah, a 10-year-old Afghan boy, and his three-year-old sister, Pari, to whom Abdullah is wholly devoted and whose birth was the occasion of their mother’s death. But the perspective quickly shifts to their stepmother, and each section thereafter focuses on a different person, living in a different time period. There is an allure to this structure, as when a character is introduced whose connection to Abdullah and Pari is mysterious—the 12-year-old son of a rich warlord, for example, whose story is set in 2009—but ultimately it leaves the reader waiting to learn the siblings’ fate, after they are wrenched apart at the end of the second chapter.
Hosseini writes with remarkable descriptive fluidity. The image he’s identified as an early spark for the novel is especially vivid: Saboor, the children’s father, travelling by foot from their village to Kabul, pulling little Pari in a red wagon with Abdullah walking alongside. There is also a widowed schoolteacher marching to work, her “fist closed at the neck of her sweater,” and a 10-year-old girl, crying in the kitchen as she reads a note from her mother saying she’ll be away for the weekend. Description holds the narrative together more effectively than plot, and small moments ring truer than momentous events—a jealous sister’s wicked act of vengeance feels melodramatic; a kindly doctor’s colossal failure of a child he cares for seems unlikely.
Some sections race by, filling in the gaps. Some feel tenuously connected to the central family, but could work well as stand-alone stories. One particularly moving scene comes from a Greek NGO worker’s reminiscence of his childhood on a tiny island. He and a friend build a camera from a cardboard box then hit the beach to test the contraption. He takes her picture—from the back, so as to conceal her significant facial disfigurement—and the photo takes on its own life. It is this kind of “snapshot” that makes Hosseini such a treat to read.