Book Review: ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Housseini
I consider The Kite Runner to be on a short list of books I attribute to turning me into a more avid reader, and so it was a no brainer that I would tackle Khaled Housseini’s latest bestseller, And the Mountains Echoed, his third Afghan-angle emotional roller coaster to date. And to sum it up, I absolutely adored the book, though it isn’t quite on the level of The Kite Runner in terms of its ability to carve a permanent spot in my memory.
Housseini has proven that he is a master storyteller who has a way of getting to his readers’ hearts with his delicate prose and heartstring-tugging themes. And the Mountains Echoed is his most ambitious book to to date, spanning three generations across 70 years, and set in multiple locations ranging from Afghanistan, France, the United States and Greece.
The story is told by a large cast of interconnected characters linked to each other through a tragic incident where circumstances forced a family to give up a beloved child, and examines how it has had a ripple effect on each of their lives. To top things off, Housseini employs an assortment of narrative styles, from third person to third person and even adopting letters and magazine interviews. Each chapter is told through the point of view of a different character in a different time and place, creating a rich tapestry pieced together by a common thread.
The result is a book that offers a slightly different experience each chapter, and at times comes across as a series of skilled character-driven short stories. It works, for the most part, offering insights otherwise not possible with a single character focus, but on the other hand some readers might not like the way the narrative has been split and scattered. For me personally, the introductory chapters, which begin with a father telling his children a touching parable, are the strongest, while the last couple of chapters meandered too much for my liking and turned out to be the most disappointing despite delivering the biggest payoff.
But on the whole, And the Mountains Echoed is still a rewarding novel that tackles universal themes such as guilt, regret, yearning, isolation, family, kinship, and of course — the Housseini special — redemption. Housseini knows how to speak to our hearts and he does so often and with a punch in this book, though at times you could argue that he might have been stepping perilously close to the boundary of manipulation. As usual, while the book is more “international” than his previous efforts, there is a strong Afghan flavour that reflects Housseini’s heritage and the “survivor’s guilt” he says he feels from escaping his war torn country.
The Kite Runner is an unforgettable classic. A Thousand Splendid sons is not quite in the same league (to be honest I’ve largely forgotten its details), but it’s still a very fine book full that pulls the heart strings. I’d put And the Mountains Echoed in between the two — a commendably ambitious effort that fans of Housseini’s writing should love.