When I opened Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, I had high hopes. Hosseini is the author of two books I love: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. It’s the September read for the JWC Book Club, but I figured I would share my thoughts before we meet later this month.
First thing first — the book’s synopsis, courtesy of Goodreads:
Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.
In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
All in all, I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.
One of the issues that people run into with some authors is the Expectation Game. I’ve run into this with authors like Gillian Flynn and J.K. Rowling — a problem in which a standard is set with one significant book or series, and that is the yardstick used to measure every book thereafter, regardless of genre, narrative style, or message. As I wrote when I was reviewing The Casual Vacancy, I do my best to read each book without expecting a certain type of narrative. Khaled Hosseini has gained notoriety as an author who writes intense, visceral historical fiction set in Afghanistan. His writing deals with pain and cataclysmic personal events in a pointed and unapologetic manner. His style is direct, a slap in the face.
And the Mountains Echoed is not that type of book.
While his first two novels are the literary equivalent of a shout, Mountains is a whisper. It is written in a wholly different style: nine chapters, nine different narrators, jumping across the world over in a sixty-year span. The catalyst for everything — a peasant selling his daughter to a wealthy family — sets things into motion, but is not necessarily the center of the novel. I think it is this difference that has caused Mountains to receive mixed reviews.
Onto my feelings: Hosseini’s writing is impressive. It is beautiful, it is subtle, and it lends a new level of poetry to his craft. One of the reasons that I know I can pick up a Hosseini book and enjoy it is that I can (regardless of conent), expect a superb quality of writing. The variation in changing narrators is refreshing, and creates an unexpected type of momentum. I grew attached to each person connected to the story, although I knew that I would lose them at the end of the chapter. The themes in this novel are about the whole of life — love, family, emptiness, satisfaction, health, death, and reflection.
If we’re playing the “Expectation Game,” I have to say that while Hosseini’s first two books made me feel more, I took more away about life and adulthood from Mountains. Furthermore, I think his writing and the way that he reveals his story has improved over the first two novels. Interestingly enough, I’ve given all three of his books four out of five stars, but I feel tremendously different about each of them. I respect and fear the events in The Kite Runner, empathize with and adore the characters in A Thousand Splendid Suns, and simply enjoy the story, history, and message presented in And the Mountains Echoed. It is a beautiful novel, and is best enjoyed with distance from Hosseini’s other novels. If you can manage it, it is definitely worth a read.