In a village in Afghanistan, a man sets out on a journey with his two young children. Ten-year-old Abdullah has no way of knowing that this journey will tear him away from his beloved younger sister and change the course of both of their lives forever. From here, we’re taken on a journey through the history of Afghanistan and its people, covering major themes such as war, class, race and immigration.
As with all of Khaled Hosseini’s books, ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ is beautifully written. Each of the characters, even though they may appear only briefly, feel so completely real they could almost walk off the page. I also feel like I’ve definitely learnt a lot more about the changing culture of Afghanistan.
But when I was asked if I enjoyed reading this book, I didn’t know quite how to answer. I don’t really have any strong feelings either way. I didn’t dislike it, but at the same time I definitely don’t think that it lived up to its potential. Given how much I enjoyed his first two novels, this one fell a little flat.
The blurb describes this book as an epic, heart breaking tale of a brother and sister who refuse to be separated. I disagree. This is more of a collection of stories about a group of people all loosely connected to each other, which collectively come together. At its heart, this book is not really about the characters themselves, it’s more of an overarching statement about human nature, love and loss and about Afghanistan’s relationship with its citizens – both at home and abroad.
Because the narrative is split between the stories of lots of different characters, I didn’t feel like I engaged emotionally with any of them. We’re introduced to Pari and Abdullah in the opening chapters, but there wasn’t enough time spent on them for me to care about the ending to their story. Some of the secondary characters are given a lot of page space and I thought this could easily have been edited down, or in some cases cut altogether.
The author paints a vivid picture of a country at war and full of divisions in class and wealth. But at the same time, this was where the problem lay for me. It felt like a series of snapshots, with the author telling us specific things that he wanted us to see rather than taking us along for the journey itself.