Starting off in Afghanistan, as is par for a Khaled Hosseini novel, And the Mountains Echoed continues in France, Greece and the US. Two young siblings from a poor rural family travel with their father to Kabul to visit their uncle, and from that innocuous beginning flows a tale of unceasing sorrow and disappointment that combines personal tragedy with Afghanistan’s troubles.
I’ve read at least one of Hosseini’s previous novels and I do find them enjoyable and touching, but I found that in this book, Hosseini uses narrative descriptions about the past too much and as a result, there is not too much action going on. Whether it be letters, interviews or characters reminiscing about their past, this is the bulk of the story. The result is that the story loses some of its original impact after the shocking event at the start, as the plot becomes a bit diluted with more characters introduced and moves on to several different countries, not to mention decades. Besides the Afghans at the beginning, there are American-Afghan members of the diaspora, a Greek surgeon, and a wealthy Afghan boy whose slowly realizes his isolated childhood is a reflection of his father’s dubious profession. The characters are all interconnected through the fateful beginning in Afghanistan through a widening and interconnected multilayered web.
Of course, some people may like this, as the complexity of the plot enables readers to be able to view events from differing perspectives and know that as with life, oftentimes, nothing is ever black and white. In this, And the Mountains Echoed strikes a contrast with Hosseini’s previous novels where it was very clear who the guilty parties were.
In this book, there is cruelty and compassion, and then, with the heartbreaking act at the start, a combination of both. Most of the characters, whether it be the poor father or the free-spirited beauty who settles down reluctantly into a loveless sham marriage or the dutiful American-born daughter who gives up her art scholarship to stay with her family, have suffered a lot, which amply reflects the complexity and unceasing hardship of Afghanistan.