fiction, review

And the Mountains Echoed

Indonesian edition’s cover

Humanity is a very complex issue. What’s right, what’s wrong, it’s hard to decide. I’ve been a witness to Khaled Hosseini’s proving it in The Kite Runner, and now again in his latest work, And the Mountains Echoed. It’s a splendid book with numerous, neatly overlapping pieces of narrative and various human, unsettling characters. Through the many stories inside it, Hosseini once again invites us to understand the nature of human beings, and of being a human.

Those stories begin with a piece of narrative, where Saboor, an old poor man, brings his younger daughter Pari to Kabul with him. He tells his family that he will be only doing labor for a rich man in the city, and that Abdullah, his oldest son, doesn’t have to go with them. But Abdullah insists, and even though Saboor has already warned him, he refuses to get back home. So they depart together, Abdullah and Pari riding on a cart while Saboor pulling them. Abdullah thinks he’s only keeping his father and beloved sister company along the trip, but once in Kabul, he discovers the ugly truth: that his father is going to sell Pari to a rich childless couple to get some money for surviving the severe winter ahead of them. But it’s only a tiny piece of story among many others forming the entire course of events. Readers will soon find out that Pari’s heart-wrenching story actually begins with Nila and Suleiman Wahdati’s complicated, empty marriage, and that their chauffeur Nabi plays a very big part in it. It will also be revealed, later on, that the terrible ordeal Saboor’s family has to deal with at that time is not the only one, evidently seen in the difficult life Parwana, his second wife, has to lead. After the second half of the book, the storyline gets even more complicated with a story of Pari’s later life in Paris, Abdullah’s refuge in America, and of how a middle-aged surgeon named Markos Vavaris makes an effort to connect them via Abdullah’s daughter.

The threaded stories are woven together by the characters inhabiting their crowded space. It is quite impossible to elaborate all their portrayals one by one, but there are some main “actors” who deserve to put under the spotlight. I know the whole story of And the Mountains Echoed centers around Abdullah and Pari, but the fate befalling them will not be realized without the role of Nabi, their uncle. Out of love and ego, he comes to Saboor and suggests that he sells one of his children to the Wahdatis. Nabi is not a mean person by nature, and he is a very kind man and brother, but his desire to do everything for the one he loves has driven him to decide something so cruel and unacceptable. What he’s done hurts Abdullah so deeply, especially because the boy is very vulnerable and afraid of losing his beloved one. Abdullah may not look affected much by the loss of his sister, especially when the narrative shows that he can go on with his life, but deep down he’s not the way he is anymore. On the contrary, Pari doesn’t seem to realize what happens to her, for her life has taken her away from her childhood memories. Nevertheless, she is still described as mentally weak. Though very smart, she is not as determined as her mother, Nila Wahdati, who dares to fight anything and anyone in her restrictive society. But Nila is a very intricate character, too, charming and pretty, yet so lonely and mournful and emotionally unstable. She deems her marriage to Suleiman an escapism, but in it she cannot find happiness, either.

Every character Hosseini describes in And the Mountains Echoed seems to doom to weaknesses and damaging selfishness. They are heartless, merciless people without them realizing it. It is so hard to judge them, because they are all humans, and humans live with mistakes. What so amazing about them is that they are so deeply and clearly portrayed, bearing evidence of Hosseini’s indisputable talent for creating soulfully many complicated characters. But that’s not it. Hosseini is also skillful in not only writing, but weaving stories. The intertwining pieces of the narrative seem to be told at random, without considering where each ends and where each begins. But if you peruse them carefully, they’re actually written in order, meant to run smoothly and nicely to reveal the one core idea Hosseini intends to deliver. One story is connected to another, and another until they’re braided in a certain, beautiful pattern in which we can see the whole meaning. This model seems so ambitious, and is truly well executed, but the result is not really satisfying. There are some stories which I deem unnecessary, not having any significance in forming the storyline. They’re like loose threads in the pattern, not even worth notice. And, as a consequence, the atmosphere shrouding the narrative doesn’t feel as strong and poignant as that of The Kite Runner. Reading And the Mountains Echoed is, in my opinion, quite easy. It doesn’t need your extra energy, and won’t make you drained of emotions.

Overall, And the Mountains Echoed is actually a wonderful book, a collection of touching, marvelously told stories. All the characters are also amazingly described, inhabiting a space of narrative that’s cleverly woven. But there’s something missing, and without it this book feels a bit less.

Rating: 4/5

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