The inspiration for the title came from “The Nurse’s Song”, a lovely poem by William Blake, in which he ends a verse with the line “And all the hills echoed”.
Well, well, go and play till the light fades away,
And then go home to bed.
The little ones leaped, and shouted, and laughed,
And all the hills echoed.
I changed “hills” to “mountains” partly because of the obvious nature of A fghanistan’s topography, but also because of the pervasive presence of mountains in the book. In fact, the mountains in this book bear sole witness to a couple of key, pivotal events. Just as a mountain would echo back a shout, the fateful acts committed before the mountains too emit an echo. They have a rippling effect, expanding outward, touching lives farther and farther away. I liked the idea of a decision or an act echoing through both place and time, altering the fates of characters both living and not yet born.
Many have asked me what the common themes are between And the Mountains Echoed and my previous novels. I am drawn over and over to family as a central theme of my writing. Like my previous two, this latest book is a multigenerational family story. Mostly, it is because I think all the grand themes of life, of being human, can be found within family stories – love, grief, conflict, duty, sacrifice. And yet, they play out differently from family to family, as each has its own unique makeup, dynamics, and volatile antagonisms, grounded as they may be in affection. And so there are endless variations on the theme. To me, families are puzzles that take a lifetime to work out – or not, as often is the case – and I like to explore how people within them try to connect, be it through love, duty, or circumstance.
Also, like the previous two books, the “home base” is still Afghanistan. No matter their nationality, the characters in this book have varying degrees of intimacy with Afghanistan. Some are Afghans living in exile who have a tenuous bond with their birthplace. Some are foreign aid workers who have adopted intense relationships with the country and its people. Others have deep ties that they are trying to either sever or keep alive, and yet others are more ambivalent about their Afghan roots.
Last, much of what the characters experience – as in the pre-vious books – is universal, regardless of their own nationality: loss of family, fear of abandonment, finding the courage to be a good person, the pull of “home,” taking care of a dying loved one. These are human experiences that transcend international borders, language, or religion.