And the Mountains Echoed
By Khaled Hosseini Bloomsbury, 401pp, $32.99
KHALED Hosseini’s new novel, And the Mountains Echoed, skilfully investigates the ways in which our identities are shaped by decisions past and present. This is a broad story stretching across generations and continents, bound with themes of familial obligation, shame and sacrifice — preoccupations that will be familiar to readers of the Afghanistan-born American writer’s wildly popular earlier works, The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007).
And the Mountains Echoed opens with a folk story about a div, a monster that haunts Afghan villages. In each village, the div chooses a single house and steals one child in return for sparing the rest of the family. One father who loses a son travels to the monster’s lair to retrieve him — only to discover his child’s life there is very different from what he had imagined.
Pari and her brother Abdullah are a captive audience to this narrative. The two children are sitting in the middle of the desert listening to the storyteller, their father Saboor. Via flashbacks, we learn Pari and Abdullah lead a happy, if impoverished, existence in the Afghan village of Shadbagh in 1952.
The children are watched over by their father and their stepmother Parwana. An adoring brother, Abdullah collects exotic feathers for his sister, which she keeps in an old tin tea box under her bed.
Yet trouble is on the horizon for the family. Saboor is en route to Kabul with Pari and Abdullah to face a difficult choice: should he give up Pari to Nila — a wealthy and beautiful Afghan woman unable to have children of her own — or rear her with his wife in Shadbagh?
Nila is an artistic type who chafes against the restrictions on women in 1950s Kabul. She ignores her husband, drinks liquor and wears sleeveless dresses. Saboor decides to give up his daughter, and this choice reverberates throughout the lives of the wide array of characters in this novel.
In a series of small, sometimes overlapping stories we peer into the past of Saboor’s