Saturday, February 01, 2014

Book Review (#12 of 2014) And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

And the Mountains Echoed
First fiction book I have read in a while. My wife and I read Hosseini's other works and enjoyed them, this one was on the 2013 "Top Books" lists of several publications, so we were eager to read.

I had friends who lived in Afghanistan for years and told me that the Kite Runner originally was supposed to have a dark Afghan-style ending-- the boy was never found; but that would never sell to a Western audience so the author penned a happy ending and it sold millions and a movie. I kept that in mind when reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, which was captivating but had a predictable happy ending complete with the opening of a girls' school in Kabul. Hosseini's characters always endure stark tragedy to a Western reader, but in the end wrongs are made right.  Would this book be the same or different?

And the Mountains Echoed is ultimately about the relationships we enter into, some voluntarily and some not-- and how we live within those relationships when we wish we didn't still have to. It's also about the consequences when we sever those relationships.

The man who marries someone who was not his first choice, because the first choice was no longer possible.

The wife who marries a man while hoping for the best, realizing soon thereafter it will never get better and feels imprisoned.

The father who has children he cannot properly care for and feels he'd be better without.

The sister's keeper who wishes she didn't bear that responsibility anymore. The kept sister who wishes the same for her sibling.

The mother who adopts or inherits a child, perhaps even by choice, but ultimately sees the child as a burden, something she can't really love despite her own wishes. The child who feels the same about the mother.

The responsible person who wishes he could undo promises he made to someone that it would cost too much to keep.

The son who feels estranged in his own family, creating as much distance as possible between himself and his parents.

"Abdullah wished he could love her as he had his own mother...And perhaps (she) secretly wished the same, that she could love him."
"No one has to know. No one would. It would be her secret, one she would share with the mountains only. The question is whether it is a secret she can live with...She has lived with secrets all her life...At last, she makes her choice...Parwana keeps marching toward her new life."

"People learned to live with the most unimaginable things. As would he...he would not love his father as he had before...But he would learn to love him again even if now it was a different, more complicated, messier business."

"I can't help but see two people together out of a sense of genetic duty, doomed already to bewilder and siappoint each other, each honor-bound to defy the other." 

"I understand now why Madaline left all those years ago. The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck." 

What do you do with the tension, the frustration, the helplessness, and the guilt of feeling trapped--wanting out of the relationship? What do you do after you find a way to obtain release from it? How do you justify it and deal with the consequences? That is essentially the theme of this book set to Afghan culture. Add to the mix characters who are more Western than Afghan, but feel somewhat guilty about their lack of connection and contribution to their country of origin. (Much in the book occurs outside of Afghanistan-- in France, Greece, America.) What choices do these people make? There is also an East of Eden quality to the story-- the importance of knowing and understanding your origins and the weight we feel when we do not know.

Hosseini weaves together multiple stories from various eras together, and the book does tie up neatly and satisfactorily but much less like a fairy tale than his previous works. Not all injustices are righted. But the last chapters are of people who chose to stay and endure the relationship. These are praised as heroes. And these are the ones who find peace within themselves.

"This was her gift to me, the ironclad knowledge that she would never do to me what Madaline had done to Thalia. She was my mother and she would not leave me."

Four stars out of five.

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