Khaled Hosseini’s latest novel, And the Mountains Echoed, begins with a bedtime story about a difficult decision. Could a father give up his favorite child in order to save all of his other children, even though it would mean a certain death for his favorite child? The story sets the tone for the rest of the novel: In 1952, two children and their father begin the long journey from the fictional village of Shadbagh to Kabul. After the childrens’ mother died following little Pari’s birth, Abdullah and his three-year-old sister have always been inseparable. That will soon change in Kabul, where the father will sell Pari off to a wealthy, childless couple.
The book then breaks off into a nonlinear format, jumping back and forth from past to present as it follows the circle of people who have been affected by this decision: Abdullah and Pari; their father, Saboor, who can’t seem to fully love his children following his first wife’s death; their stepuncle, Nabi, who arranged the sale; their stepmother, Parwana, who lives with the burden of past decisions but cannot love Abdullah and Pari as her own children; Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati, Pari’s adoptive parents; Iqbal, Abdullah and Pari’s stepbrother; and Dr. Markos Varvaris, a Greek plastic surgeon working with an NGO in present-day Kabul. It’s not always immediately clear who these people are or why they play such a prominent role in the story, but all of them are somehow linked to that fateful day in 1952.
And the Mountains Echoed is similar to Hosseini’s previous novels in ways his fans are probably familiar with. There’s a strong focus on Afghan family bonds and the plot has transnational aspects, branching out from Afghanistan to areas like France, the United States, and Greece. The book is also written in the grand traditions of storytelling that people love Hosseini for. But this time around, Hosseini also embraced a method of storytelling that I was delighted to see him use: open endings. Vignette-like subplots pick up and drop off throughout the book. Some may find this aspect of the book disjointed, but I loved it because it was more realistic. Since the book is about a family that is torn apart, first by that one decision, but then also by time and dislocation and war, it makes sense that some stories will be lost or intentionally kept secret.
The book is engrossing, bittersweet, and ultimately hopeful. It’s a must-read for Hosseini fans and people who love multigenerational family sagas.
And the Mountains Echoed was released on May 21, 2013 by Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin.