TV news reduces Afghanistan to a dusty backdrop where wars have been fought, often by outsiders while its people have had to stand by while their country is over-run by ever more brutal regimes, each one seemingly more desperate for power. It is, perhaps, one of the world’s most misunderstood countries yet with this one work of fiction And the Mountains Echoed Khaled Hosseini shows us that what matters most in life is the same, whether you are a dirt-poor family from Afghanistan, or a rich one who lives in the West.
It is a beautifully told, sprawling masterpiece of a tale about two siblings, Abdhullah and Pari, who are separated as children because their family cannot afford to keep them both.
I doubt there are many other writers who could pull off what Hosseini has done in this book: telling his overarching story of Abdullah and Pari in a series of vignettes, with each chapter told by a different character, sometimes two. Some reviewers have commented that these chapters are so self-contained they could even be short stories while other readers have criticised the writer for this.
I stand somewhere between the two sides, admiring this experimental story-telling technique and the vast cast of characters that move in and out of the narrative – some of whom disappear without a trace. I never once found it to be a distraction as all Hosseini’s characters are so believable that I enjoyed these tangential asides. I think the writer is mirroring real life – where people do move in and out of our lives.
The denouement, for some readers, was unsatisfactory, but for me, in the vast tragic story of a family from Afghanistan, there can be no such thing as a neat, Hollywood ending.