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Book Review: And the Mountains Echoed

I just have to begin with I love Khaled Hossieni. There is something magical (sounds cliche I know) about his writing, his choice of words, metaphors and not the least the portrayal of human emotions. This is the second book of his that I am reading (and his third book) and I should say I love it. I don't fall in love easily, (I mean with authors ) and don't fall for the hype of the market, if it all I respond to the hype it has been negative, but this book has lived to its hype.

Book: And the Mountains Echoed
Author: Khaled Hossieni
Genre: Fiction - Period
Main Characters: Saboor, Parwana, Masooma, Pari, Abdullah, Nila and Mr Wahdati, 

When Paddy asked me what the book was about, when I was in about the first 20 pages, I said comfortably about love between siblings. But now I am not quite sure, as it had many more complex emotions and relationships than just the sibling love between the lead pair. 


The setting of the book is once again Afghanistan much alike his two other books. Afghanistan pre war, during and post war, yet it is not essentially a war drama. The plot runs across countries like The US, Greece and Paris

Khalid had once again proven himself a master story teller by weaving the lives of several persons with some common thread, full of richness and colourful. They are so well positioned and their personalities really have an element of brutal truth - this is what we humans are capable of, this is what I could have done. Their flaws make them what they are, make us feel closer to them, make us feel that they are humane.

The most interesting factor to me was the interlinked stories, each narrated by different persons, in their point of views. The different POVs is actually a make or break factor and for me it worked so well that I can not stop gushing about it. The story runs across different time periods, well captured by each different POVs.


'he didn’t understand why a wave of something, something like the tail end of a sad dream, always swept through him whenever he heard the jingling, surprising him each time like an unexpected gust of wind. But then it passed, as all things do. It passed'


'He closed his fingers around her hand, the way he did each night when he and his little sister slept in their cot, their skulls touching, their legs tangled.'


The story begins with Saboor telling to his 10 years old Abdullah and 3 years daughter Pari the story of a djinn who abducts a small boy from the family and the boy's father finally accepts that it was for his best future on seeing the luxury and comfort the boy has been living unlike their poor family. His acceptance and sacrifice leads to the Djinn blessing their village with prosperity, yet he dies heart broken. The kids hear the story without understanding that the story was their own and it was Pari who was.being traded off. The sibling love between Abdullah and Pari is so touchingly envisioned through simple actions and simpler words.


"The boy hadn’t explicitly addressed his note to either one of them, but Masooma had casually assumed that he’d intended the poem for her and the cousin for Parwana. For the first time, Parwana saw herself through her sister’s eyes. She saw how her sister viewed her. Which was the same as how the rest of them did. It left her gutted, what Masooma said. It flattened her. "


"Parwana’s time is already consumed. Accounted for. Her whole life is. "


"Parwana feels herself standing on the brink of telling her everything, telling Masooma how wrong she is, how little she knows the sister with whom she shared the womb, how for years now Parwana’s life has been one long unspoken apology. But to what end? Her own relief once again at Masooma’s expense? She bites down the words. She has inflicted enough pain on her sister."


The story of Parwana, their step mother and her guilt ridden relationship with her twin sister, Masooma portraying much different emotions of sibling rivalry and jealous then replaced with guilt and remorse. Her love for Saboor and her own insecurity and complex on being a plain Jane comparing to the beautiful Masooma led her to create an accident that turned Masooma a cripple for life. Her resignation in accepting her fate on being stuck with her forever and then choosing her life over her sister's is flawed yet plausible, given the circumstances. She ends remarrying Saboor after his wife's death.


"A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later. "
"She was an extraordinary woman, and I went to bed that night feeling like I was perhaps more than ordinary myself. This was the effect she had on me."


"I remember that when my parents fought, they did not stop until a clear victor had been declared. It was their way of sealing off unpleasantness, to caulk it with a verdict, keep it from leaking into the normalcy of the next day. Not so with the Wahdatis. Their fights didn’t so much end as dissipate, like a drop of ink in a bowl of water, with a residual taint that lingered."


The story next moves on to a letter by Nabi, the kid's step uncle and Parwana's brother to his friend Markos, explaining the circumstances under which he aided the adoption of Pari by the Wahdatis. He, a chauffeur cum cook and a loyal servant to his master, who is smitten by Mrs.Nila Wahdati and her non Afghan ways of life. Nila takes off with Pari to Paris, she being half French, when Mr Wahdati becomes bedridden due to a paralytic stroke attack. Nabi stays back to take care of his master, only to inherit his wealth and learn about his master's special 'affection' on him. Even after his inheritance, Nabi continues to be a servant at heart, that he lets Mr. Markos (to whom he addresses the letter) to use the house rentfree. He ends the letter seeking his help to find Pari and give her the letter.


"he is annoyed with their lack of interest, their blithe ignorance of the arbitrary genetic lottery that has granted them their privileged lives. He feels a sudden rift between himself and his family, even Nahil, most of whose questions about his trip revolve around restaurants and the lack of indoor plumbing. He looks at them accusingly now as the locals must have looked at him when he’d first arrived in Kabul."


"Perhaps if she had grimaced at him, said something infantile, full of loathing and hate. An eruption of rancor. Perhaps that might have been better. Instead, a clean, diplomatic dismissal. And this note. Don’t worry. You’re not in it. An act of kindness. Perhaps, more accurately, an act of charity. He should be relieved. But it hurts. He feels the blow of it, like an ax to the head."


On the other hand two brothers visit Afghanistan to claim their ancestral property and one of them wins the heart of a small girl and the other helps her financially. The twist here is quite unexpected and just shows not all things are quite as they seem to be. Another one of the human flaws is brought out exquisitively and just makes us wonder how many of us would be Abe and how many Timur in real life. How many of us let our conscience be buried among our daily routines? 

"I have been absent. Absent for all the meals Thalia and Mamá have shared at this table, the laughs, the quarrels, the stretches of boredom, the illnesses, the long string of simple rituals that make up a lifetime. Entering my childhood home is a little disorienting, like reading the end of a novel that I’d started, then abandoned, long ago."


"The net effect is that she has made me feel vaguely reprimanded and, what’s more, deserving of it, guilty of wrongs unspoken, offenses I’ve never been formally charged with."


" a nagging doubt begins to set in. A faint intimation that I have judged Madaline harshly, that we weren’t even that different, she and I. Hadn’t we both yearned for escape, reinvention, new identities? Hadn’t we each, in the end, unmoored ourselves by cutting loose the anchors that weighed us down? I scoff at this, tell myself we are nothing alike, even as I sense that the anger I feel toward her may really be a mask for my envy over her succeeding at it all better than I had."

" I have waited all my life to hear those words. Is it too late now for this? For us? Have we squandered too much for too long, Mamá and I? Part of me thinks it is better to go on as we have, to act as though we don’t know how ill suited we have been for each other. Less painful that way. Perhaps better than this belated offering. This fragile, trembling little glimpse of how it could have been between us. All it will beget is regret, I tell myself, and what good is regret? It brings back nothing. What we have lost is irretrievable."


Next in line is the story of Nabi's friend Markos, a greek plastic surgeon and his childhood friend Thalia. She is the daughter of his mom's friend, who abandoned her at the first chance in pursuit of acting opportunities. She chooses her scarred face, once eaten by a dog of her mom's boyfriend, over plastic surgery. She lives with Markos' mom and takes care of her in her old age. 


"You’re lucky, Pari. You won’t have to work as hard for men to take you seriously. They’ll pay attention to you. Too much beauty, it corrupts things. She would laugh. Oh, listen to me. I’m not saying I speak from experience. Of course not. It’s merely an observation.


You’re saying I’m not beautiful. I’m saying you don’t want to be. Besides, you are pretty, and that is plenty good enough. Je t’assure, ma cherie. It’s better, even."

The story then traces the not so peaceful mom daughter relationship between Nila and Pari, who grows up without knowing about her real parentage. Nila is quite an interesting character as a radical thinker of that age. Pari marries one of her mom's boyfriends and then remarries, all the while feeling a part of her missing and void. She is almost past her middle age, when she receives a call from Mr Markos regarding Nabi's letter.
"He knew he would not love his father again as he had before, when he would sleep happily curled in the bay of his thick arms. That was inconceivable now. But he would learn to love him again even if now it was a different, more complicated, messier business. Adel could almost feel himself leapfrogging over childhood. Soon, he would land as an adult. And when he did, there would be no going back because adulthood was akin to what his father had once said about being a war hero: once you became one, you died one. "


Adle, a kid of a wealthy father strikes an unlikely friendship with a poor boy, only to learn the wealth and respect amassed by his father is only out of fear and violence. A child's respect and love for his dad is quickly replaced with contempt and grief. Much later it is revealed that the poor boy's father is none other than Saboor's step son.


"Other people, though—especially Afghans—are always pointing out how fortunate Baba is, what a blessing I am. They speak of me admiringly. They make me out to be a saint, the daughter who has heroically forgone some glittering life of ease and privilege to stay home and look after her father. They compliment me on my good humor. They marvel at my courage and nobility the way people do those who have overcome a physical deformity or maybe a crippling speech impediment. But I don’t recognize myself in this version of the story."


"There are days when all I want is to be free of him and his petulance and neediness. I am nothing like a saint."


Abdullah, the young boy who lost his sister, on the other hand lives with his wife and daughter Pari and owns a restaurant at the United States. Pari, on account of his aged father and her mom's sudden death, decides to stay home instead of going to college. She has always lived with his dad's sister Pari in her imagination, as her sister.


Pari finds Abdullah and his daughter Pari, only when Abdullah had lost much of his memory, but she finds a company in the younger Pari. Pari teaches her niece to live her life, without remorse and gives her confidence to do so. She also realises how her brother had remembered her on every occasion, though he doesn't anymore. She on the other hand, doesn't remember anything about her past but finds a box of feathers he had had stored with him in her memory and understands its significance in her lost past. The story ends with both of them finding peace.


Ok I do understand that I have narrated the entire story without much 'review'. This entire story is for Paddy who was eager to know the story yet without the patience to read it anyway.


Coming back to the review part, though several others had expressed their disappointment, I felt the story had a complete circle, it ended where it starte. I accept it had several parallel stories running, yet they had.a common theme. The sister who prevented her sister marrying her love, ended marrying him only to take care of his children. The brother who ran away from the responsibility of taking care of a crippled sister ended up taking care of an estranged husband. The runaway wife with a very radical view of life ended her life after losing her boyfriend to her daughter. The daughter ends up with her long lost brother, who doesn't even remember her and ends regretting having not taken care of her mother. The girl whose mom abandoned her due to her facial imperfection, chooses to.stay and take care of her friend's mom, while he becomes a plastic surgeon and leaves the country to help others. The son of a wealthy landlord understands that he could never love his dad the same way after he finds he killed his friend's dad.


Bottomline: 5 on 5 Loved it. I am so completely in love with his writing. By the way, I could not resist sharing too many of his lines, because I love too many of them.


"Kabul is … A thousand tragedies per square mile.”

“Must have been quite the culture shock, going there." "Yes it was.” Idris doesn’t say that the real culture shock has been in coming back.

"Their connection has frayed. The unexpected intimacy he had stumbled upon in that hospital, so urgent and acute, has eroded into something dull. The experience has lost its power. He recognizes the fierce determination that had seized him for what it really was, an illusion, a mirage. He had fallen under the influence of something like a drug. The distance between him and the girl feels vast now. It feels infinite, insurmountable, and his promise to her misguided, a reckless mistake, a terrible misreading of the measures of his own powers and will and character. Something best forgotten. He isn’t capable of it. It is that simple"


". I learned that the world didn’t see the inside of you, that it didn’t care a whit about the hopes and dreams, and sorrows, that lay masked by skin and bone. It was as simple, as absurd, and as cruel as that."


"Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly."


"It’s a funny thing, Markos, but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.”


"the creative process as a necessarily thievish undertaking. Dig beneath a beautiful piece of writing, Monsieur Boustouler, and you will find all manner of dishonor. Creating means vandalizing the lives of other people, turning them into unwilling and unwitting participants. You steal their desires, their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering. You take what does not belong to you. You do this knowingly."


"The new awareness had not faded from his mind, but slowly it had found company. Another, opposing current of consciousness coursed through him now, one that did not displace the first but claimed space beside it. Adel felt an awakening to this other, more troubling part of himself. The part of him that over time would gradually, almost imperceptibly, accept this new identity that at present prickled like a wet wool sweater. Adel saw that, in the end, he would probably accept things as his mother had. Adel had been angry with her at first; he was more forgiving now. Perhaps she had accepted out of fear of her husband. Or as a bargain for the life of luxury she led. Mostly, Adel suspected, she had accepted for the same reason he would: because she had to. What choice was there? Adel could not run from his life any more than Gholam could from his. People learned to live with the most unimaginable things. As would he. This was his life. This was his mother. This was his father. And this was him, even if he hadn’t always known it. "


"And then he thought he would reach into his pocket for what he had found one day walking through the orchards, the left half of a pair of spectacles, snapped at the bridge, the lens a spiderweb of cracks, the temple crusted with dried blood. He would toss the broken spectacles into a ditch. Adel suspected that as he turned back around and walked home, what he would feel mostly would be relief."


"Some people hide their sadness very well, Pari. He was like that. "


"It wore me out, trying to make like I was having a good time."


"All my life, she gave to me a shovel and said, Fill these holes inside of me, Pari"


", I have always needed the weight of Baba on my back."


" I can’t wait for you, Pari. I won’t wait around for you to grow up."


Authors like him are the ones that make me pick my pen to write (oh and the crappy ones, who gives me the confidence that if they can, I can too :P )


Now I HAVE to read his second book A thousand Splendid Suns!


Cheers

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