“In an interview I once asked Hosseini how he managed to create such luminous speech patterns for his characters, and he smiled and said: ‘I let them tell their own stories”
This is Khaled Hosseini’s second appearance on a Richard and Judy Book Club list. A Thousand Splendid Suns won the public vote as our Best Read of 2008.
Like that novel, and his debut The Kite Runner, one of the joys of reading Hosseini is his extraordinary skill with dialogue. His characters speak with both simplicity and profoundness. One critic describes him as having ‘a Dickensian knack for storytelling…excels at writing suspenseful epics filled with compelling characters’.
In an interview I once asked Hosseini how he managed to create such luminous speech patterns for his characters, and he smiled and said: ‘I let them tell their own stories. I say to them: “What do you want to say now?” and, well, they tell me.’
He made it sound easy.
And the Mountains Echoed again has its roots in Afghanistan, and its past. The story begins in 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother – their own mother is dead – in a small village. Life is difficult; their father, Saboor, is always scratching for what little work he can find and money’s too tight to mention. The Afghan winters are brutal.
But despite the hardships, Abdullah and Pari are happy. He is devoted to his sister – who is named after a fairy – and will do anything for her, walking over rocks to fetch her the feather she craves for her collection; even trading his only pair of shoes for one.
But this being a world created by Khaled Hosseini, you know it can’t last.
“Saboor is telling his children the mythical tale of the div – an ogre – that one day knocked on a poor man’s door. The div demanded that the man hand over his son, and bore him away in a sack.”
Much of this novel reads like a delicately-woven skein of short stories, cleverly meshed together, so it’s appropriate that we open with one – an ancient Afghan folk-tale.
Saboor is telling his children the mythical tale of the div – an ogre – that one day knocked on a poor man’s door. The div demanded that the man hand over his son, and bore him away in a sack.
After years of remorse and misery, the father decides to search for his beloved boy. After much wandering, he at last finds him – living a life of ease and luxury in the div’s palace.
‘You are a cruel beast,’ the man tells the div.
But the div calmly replies: ‘When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.’
If you have read Hosseini’s earlier books, a shiver will go through you at this point because you’ll know what’s coming. Sure enough, soon after telling his children the story, Saboor hands Pari into the care of a wealthy Kabul couple. Abdullah is devastated and marked for life by the loss of his sister.
The plotlines move fluently into the future, crossing generations and spreading around the world. There are many gems of individual storytelling along the way, but we never lose sight of Abdullah. Eventually he moves to America. Will he ever find Pari again?
One besotted reviewer describes the final pages thus: ‘Hosseini pulls off his usual – impressive – trick of breaking your heart… and leaving you smiling.’
Here are a selection of the reviews for And The Mountains Echoed
“Khaled Hosseini’s formula – separated siblings and the sweep of Afghan history – is a winning one when his narrative chemistry gets to work.”
“Hosseini returns with an instantly relatable novel that follows generations of a troubled family across the Middle East.”