Monday, June 24, 2013

And The Mountains Echoed - Review

And The Mountains Echoed is widely read Khaled Hosseni's third novel,following The kite Runner and Thousand Splendid Suns. Somewhere in the middle of the book, the story telling abilities of a minor character is described as follows : 
"..This was often the pattern of their conversations, Gholam choosing what they would talk about, launching into a story with gusto, roping Adel in, only to lose interest and leave both the story and Adel dangling"
I believe Khaled Hosseini must have completed writing this book, brutally self-appraised his own work, and then fit in this line that succinctly describes his writing style as far as And The Mountains Echoed is concerned. And The Mountains Echoed is written in a completely non-linear fashion, starting at Afghanistan in the 1940s, going back and forth in time and ending somewhere after 2010 (where a couple of important characters sit together and watch The Slumdog Millionaire), while traversing between Afghanistan, France, Greece and the USA. 
The novel begins with a father narrating a story to his children Abdullah and Pari:
"So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just this one. Don't either of you ask me for more....One story, then. Listen, both of you, listen well. And don't interrupt"
And as Saboor starts narrating a magical story involving "jinn s" (genies) and "div s" (demons), we immediately sense that this story-inside-story is just a metaphor, and the metaphor is explained almost immediately. The book moves at a breakneck speed, until the narrative shifts to explain the back-story of a minor character. We are mildly irritated at this diversion, but invest ourselves with a completely new character, only to find that the narrative shifts again, to a different place and time.

The narrative also takes different forms. While it is mostly third person, it shifts to first person at times, and epistolary at others. Having read a lot of other reviews, I realize that many people find this narrative distracting. Another thing a lot of people find discerning is that the book focuses too much on minor characters, and does not tell us enough about the lead characters. But this is exactly what makes me love this book, more than The Kiterunner and Thousand Splendid Suns (am I the only one to say so?). Almost every character has a back-story, which explains clearly the motive for their actions. 

And this shifting narrative, isn't that what life is all about? We meet a lot of people, we love few and we hate few, and then we are forced to separate from them all and meet a completely new set of people. Our knowledge of others' lives is not complete, it is filled only with bits and pieces. Khaled Hosseni's writing is magical, and by the end of novel, any lingering doubt in his mastery of storytelling is swept away. I could relate to the emotions and actions of most characters - Abdullah, Pari, Nabi, Suleiman, Marcos, Thalia, Pari (no typo here), and my favorite Odie. No character is morally right or wrong - like the epigraph says, 
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”"
On the flip side, I felt that a few characters like Gholam, Adel, Timur and Idris had enormous potential to be developed, but were left incomplete. There is a general opinion that this book is about sibling love. It is. But it is also about a galaxy of other human emotions. It is about a man who realises the true worth of his mom when he is 55 years old, it is about a woman who abandons her child to pursue her ambitions, it is about a girl jealous of her more beautiful sibling, it is about a man who almost dies at a place far away from home, lives on, and gives back to the society in his own way, it is about a man too lazy too do what he knows is right, and it is much more.

I recommend this novel to everyone - this is a book you cannot hate (if your idea of good book is one that focuses on the story alone,and dispels all distractions, you might be mildly disappointed with this book. But still, you won't hate it, and you won't have wasted your time). And don't mind the narrative - like Nabi says 
"A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are all bound to reach your destination sooner or later"

(My Goodreads reveiw of this book is available here

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