I recently read A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini and couldn’t rest until I found another book by the same author. And the Mountains Echoed is Khaled Hosseini’s third novel.
This story starts with two children, Abdullah and Pari, begging their father to tell them a story. The story he tells them is of a terrible giant called a ‘div’, who once roamed Afghanistan stealing children from their families. One grieving father whose child had been stolen eventually hunted down the div, who, instead of killing the man showed him his child, living a rich and happy life in the most beautiful place imaginable. The div then gave the father a choice, either take his child away and never return, or leave the child with the div where he would grow into a man who would one day be able to touch a great many lives in ways that would benefit them enormously. The father chose to leave his child with the div, and the div rewarded the father with a magic potion which made him forget his child and his grief.
I don’t know if Khaled Hosseini’s stories are typical of storytellers from this part of the world, but his stories certainly don’t shy away from telling of the most enormous griefs imaginable.
Although neither Abdullah or Pari realise it, soon after their father tells them this story, Pari is given to a rich childless couple in Kabul. Pari’s father and his family are so poor that the baby of the family died in the cold the previous winter, and his choice to give Pari away is heart rending. Abdullah’s heart is broken when he leaves his sister, while Pari, who is very young, eventually forgets that she ever had another family than Suleiman and Nila Wahdati.
The story then moves to that of Nabi, who is the Wahdati’s driver. Nabi is in love with Nila Wahdati and it is he who arranged for the Wahdati’s to adopt Pari. Nila is a glamourous poet, who is unable to have children. She and her husband are unhappily married, despite their wealth and the eventual adoption of Pari, who at least provides them with a common interest. When Suleiman has a stroke, Nila and Pari leave Afghanistan to live in Paris. Nabi cares for Suleiman Wahdati for the next fifty years.
Each chapter in And the Mountains Echoed is almost a short story. The chapters moves from character to character, telling of their lives and loves in an enormous circle, travelling all around the world. There is a heroic nurse who cares for children with horrific injuries, families who have left Afghanistan during the war but who return to Afghanistan to try and reclaim their property, war lords and many more characters and stories, all interwoven with each other, before the story eventually returns to Abdullah and Pari.
There are plenty of joys in the stories too, with dear friendships and love and enormous sacrifices and kindnesses. Each pair of characters (who are very often siblings), sometimes disappoint the reader enormously, but they are also capable of and very often do behave in ways that are inspiring and wonderful. Even though I had enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns I had no idea this book would be so wonderful. Now I’m on the lookout for The Kite Runner.