Within the first 100 pages of Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed,” a father gives up his beloved daughter; a jealous sister pushes her twin out of a tree, leaving her paralyzed; and an old man reflects on a lost love.
In other words, this is not a novel for easy reading. But if you were a fan of Hosseini’s previous bestsellers “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” then you already know that the author doesn’t have a penchant for writing lighthearted fare. On the contrary, his works are emotionally wrenching, delving deep into themes of family, love, friendship and betrayal.
The events at the beginning of the novel are only a sampling of the heartbreaking moments found further on in the story. But it’s not all doom and gloom, for there are also moments of love, hope and redemption. And it’s these moments that make all the difficult parts worthwhile.
In fact, it’s the hard parts that raise the ethical questions at the center of the story. If you were a poor laborer like Samoor with the chance to relinquish your young daughter, giving her the opportunity to escape the deadly Afghan winter and enter a better life, would you put aside your love to do what’s best for her? Is that what’s really best for her, or is a parent’s love more important than material comforts? Or if you were Samoor’s son Abdullah, who’s done more to raise his sister than even her parent, how would you feel about your father?
Watching the characters struggle with these questions is what makes the novel so engaging. That’s because the protagonists are all flawed in some way, whether they’re haunted by their past, cursed by their life’s unfortunate circumstances or simply too selfish to do what they know is right. Their imperfection makes them more realistic, bringing the moral dilemmas of the plot into a clearer, more personal context.
Yet, if the novel has any fault it’s the fact that there are too many protagonists. “And the Mountains Echoed” is not a linear story centering on one main character. The book follows multiple characters across a range of times in settings from Afghanistan to America. It is frustrating to become absorbed in one person’s story only to switch over to someone else’s in the next chapter. But every character brings something different to the table, holding the reader’s interest.
This Hosseini novel, rich in character and emotional depth, is worth a look.
After picking up a copy at Words Bookstore, stop by Maplewood Middle School on Sept. 21 to get it signed by the Khaled Hosseini. Visit www.wordsbookstore.com to learn more.
Sean Quinn can be reached at email@example.com.