Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Review: 'And the mountains echoed' by Khaled Hosseini

'And the Mountains Echoed', Khaled Hosseini's third and the latest novel is morally complex, unlike the linear, uni-dimensional characters in his earlier novels. It is scattered into smaller stories and also subtler themes with no straight heroes or villains but with characters that are torn by the complexity of their circumstances, choices and their inner struggles. Afghanistan, his country of birth, and the events therein, particularly the political and social turbulence, move from being the essential backdrop in his earlier two books to having a peripheral presence - not solely dictating the trajectory of lives and events.

The story itself is otherwise a group of separate stories, artfully connected, only to put them together as one. If there is one theme that runs through most stories, it is 'care-giving'. Hosseini  tries to bring out how care-givers make choices, their frail moments and convictions, joys and tribulations, and the struggles associated with their choices. Whether it is the seven year old Abdullah who takes up the task of caring for his three year old sister Pari, after the demise of their mother, or how decades later Abdullah's daughter, also named Pari, chooses to take care of him, sacrificing her marital life and her dream of being an artist, Hosseini  brings out the importance of 'care-giving' as one of the bases, foundational to the concept of family. There are other themes - simple, complex and melodramatic that criss-cross the story and also run in parallel. Although the novel starts with the tragic separation of Abdullah and Pari when Pari is adopted by a rich couple and later taken by Pari's adopted mother, a Farsi poet, to Paris, it soon goes into the back burner, giving way to other stories of Abdullah's uncle Nabi who works as a driver in Kabul, Nabi's guest Markos who is a aid worker from Greece, Markos's aging mother in the Greek Island of Tinos, her childhood friend and so on.

Hosseini's profession as a doctor is hugely imprinted over his writing. He generously peppers his writings with medical terminology and descriptions of medical conditions. But I think it goes beyond that - I suspect his profession provides him with an opportunity to delve deep into peoples' lives; it makes him privy to the struggles of the people with critical ailments as also their care-givers. I suspect, it is his window, through which he gains insight into so many peoples' minds. Interestingly though, Hosseini seems to take a dig at this very thing. In what is written as an interview (he uses different styles of narration including interviews and letters in this novel) that Nila Wadhati, the Farsi poet who adopted Pari, gives to a French magazine, the poet calls "creative process" a "necessarily thievish undertaking". One that steals peoples' "desires,their dreams, pocket their flaws, their suffering" and by "morally questionable means".  It is here that he brings out the inner struggle of the author in him too?

The novel, through its stories, spread across multiple generations and locations, tries to bring out how people respond to circumstances, how these responses are different and the inner struggles that go behind them. While most stories richly depict the complexity of human emotion, there are points at which it gets simplistic and linear - the melodrama that Khaled Hossieni has become known for.  

1 comment:

  1. Khaled Hosseini is at his usual best where he brings soul into each of his characters. This book is a little different from his earlier 2 books where the story revolved around 2 - 3main characters. Here its a journey thorugh people, places, ages and time. With Afghanistan in this backdrop you can feel the pain , misery and cries of people there. I would surely recommedn this book to all those readers who enjoy a journey of emotions without expecting some miracle to happen!


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