I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.
The first time we met Khaled Hosseini was ten years ago when he took us to a place called Afghanistan, which most of us knew only as a foreign enemy, not a country. In The Kite Runner we walked through the door to another world that both opened and broke our hearts. Now after six years, he’s back with his newest novel And the Mountains Echoed and his gift for storytelling is still growing.
There are two key women in And the Mountains Echoed and both are named Pari. One is the sister of Abdullah and the other is his daughter. The novel begins with ten-year-old Abdullah, Pari and their father leaving their small village to go to Kabul, where their uncle and a job await. It isn’t until they meet the uncle’s employer, a quiet man, and his glamorous, high-strung wife that Abdullah begins to sense something may not be quite right. Pari is his closest companion and he, her greatest protector, so when she sold from their family to live with the wealthy couple his heart breaks. Pari is so young that these new parents and life are all she remembers and with each passing year the past fades. Unfortunately, her new mother, Nila, is particularly ill-suited for the role, being solely concerned for herself and as Pari grows, but fails to morph into the acolyte daughter she demands, she begins to toy with Pari’s reality, cruelly hinting at her true past.
To intentionally unsteady and upend her, to turn her into a stranger to herself, to heave the weight of doubt on her mind, on all Pari thought she knew of her life, to make her feel as lost as if she were wandering through a desert at night, surrounded by darkness and the unknown, the truth elusive… forever moving, receding.
The other Pari is Abdullah’s daughter, named for the sister he loved and lost. As soon as he is old enough, Abdullah leaves Afghanistan and moves to Pakistan where he meets his wife with whom he eventually settles in San Francisco. Pari is born late in life to him and his wife and is a much cherished child, but as she reaches adulthood and wants to embark on her own life she realizes how difficult it may be.
It was in the tender, slightly panicky way he spoke these words that I knew my father was a wounded person, that his love for me was as true, vast and permanent as the sky, and that it would always bear down on me. It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free, or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.
And the Mountains Echoed spans decades, generations, and cities around the globe. The Pari connection may be as tenuous as neighborhood children who played together when young, a jealous sister, or the tenant in what was once a glorious mansion and yet, each has a story to tell, and each is explored in intricate and poetic detail. All are connected. The novel is a wide flung story of love, sacrifice and loss and encapsulates the striving between who we wish to be and who we really are. Hosseini’s ability to fill the reader with the voices of his characters and expose the innermost corners of their hearts without judgment is unparalleled. As the novel ends we are taken back to Abdullah and Pari, his daughter and Pari, his long-lost sister. Lives have been lived and more is forgotten then remembered but Hosseini creates an ending of hope tempered with reality, the kind that resonates deep within the heart.