And The Mountains Echoed is one of the most puzzling books that can be. I dare not rate it low; I better not rate it high. In terms of the plot, it certainly isn’t a worthy successor of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. In several other ways, it is an ideal specimen to exhibit that Khaled Hosseini’s magic is blinding. It leaves you disappointed in some aspects and delighted in some, but is a usual Hosseini masterpiece indeed. The story is limited in its content but vast in its span and value, the storytelling is masterful in more ways than one, and the book is an experiment at a certain manner of narrating prose—that of narrating through perspectives of multiple characters.
It is a fine experiment, indeed a brilliant approach, yet incomplete. It is tasty, yet served half-raw. That the book is still one of the best ones one can come across, is just a testimony to Hosseini’s inimitable skill.
It starts by touching the heart like its two predecessors did; by the middle, Hosseini begins to impress and irritate—both deeply—at the same time; and by the end, the promise of ten toffees seems to have been cruelly limited to five. For instance, some of those toffees were promised by Adel and Iqbal, which was denied; why the toffees that Idris and Roshi had offered didn’t even touch my tongue before the story ended, is still a puzzle—and if those toffees were to be denied, why were they shown to me in the first place! When the long paragraphs don’t seem to be leading you to that ultimate goal of Abdullah and Pari getting reunited, you want to abandon the book; at the same time, that very goal keeps you glued.
The book does not have a running central character. The perspectives change with chapters, and the reader gets used to it after a while. But the shifts from past to present tense narration, and vice versa, aren’t as pleasing—it’s maddening. Maddening, but crucial, as those pasts often uncover stories within stories which drive the tale.
Since it does not have a regular protagonist, the book has a lot to be decoded by the reader. Discretely scattered dots—and there are many of them—are meant to be collected and connected by the reader. In that way, the book is a piece of brilliant poetry at its soul, covered by the misleading flesh of prose.
I can’t evaluate this book in one piece: for the first time, the book, the story, and the storytelling appear to be three different components for me.
The book gives a crucial lesson: every character is a protagonist. Authors have, for centuries, told us biased stories—stories with one protagonist—neglecting how the others felt. Hosseini teaches us that in life, everyone has a story to tell; and to focus on the story of one is gross injustice to all others. That is the underlying principle behind the book. If there are inconsequential characters and several insignificant portions of the past being described, it is only because they are from the viewpoint of the current protagonist; the reader is expected to bear with that and respect each of those characters’ thought processes.
The story too gives a crucial lesson: every action you take echoes for generations to come. Authors have, for centuries, told us incomplete stories—stories that end with one generation of characters. Hosseini takes us through a roller-coaster ride over decades and decades, of multiple generations shaped by one set of actions. That two siblings from the Afghan countryside, separated in childhood, reunite in the States, one coming from Paris via Kabul, via Shadbagh, is just a summary of how vast the story is.
The storytelling gives a crucial lesson: every detail matters. Authors have, for centuries, told us linear tales. This book tests your comprehension of life; can you connect the dots and solve the jigsaw, Hosseini keeps asking of you.
On a side note, just imagine if Chapter 7 (“Summer 2009”) hadn’t opened with the remark “Your father is a great man.” Realizing how much that manner of opening the chapter means, makes you appreciate how intelligent Hosseini is.
All in all, the book is a must-read, rather a must-experience; for the third straight time, I want to read Hosseini’s next.