So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one…Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his sister Pari live with their father and stepmother in the small village of Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, is constantly in search of work and they struggle together through poverty and brutal winters. To Abdullah, Pari – as beautiful and sweet-natured as the fairy for which she was named – is everything. More like a parent than a brother, Abdullah will do anything for her, even trading his only pair of shoes for a feather for her treasured collection. Each night they sleep together in their cot, their heads touching, their limbs tangled. One day the siblings journey across the desert to Kabul with their father. Pari and Abdullah have no sense of the fate that awaits them there, for the event which unfolds will tear their lives apart; sometimes a finger must be cut to save the hand. Crossing generations and continents, moving from Kabul, to Paris, to San Francisco, to the Greek island of Tinos, with profound wisdom, depth, insight and compassion, Khaled Hosseini writes about the bonds that define us and shape our lives, the ways in which we help our loved ones in need, how the choices we make resonate through history and how we are often surprised by the people closest to us.
And the Mountains Echoed is an ode to siblinghood and all the joys and heartbreaks that come with it – the anguish of separation, the guilt of envy, the comfort of companionship, the burden of responsibility.
In the opening chapter of And the Mountains Echoed, a poor father tells his children a story. A monster ravished a town until a child was offered to appease him. In order to save the rest of his family and the town, a father sacrifices his favorite child to the monster. Years later, unable to recover from the sorrow of this decision, the father scales a mountain to reach the monster’s fortress, seeking to bring his son home. But, finding that the boy is happy, well-fed, clothed and educated, he reconsiders. In this story is the core of the tales to come. Hosseini writes of the bond between parents and children, and the sacrifices some parents make to see that their children are well looked after. Does the benefit of a more comfortable home, a richer material upbringing, outweigh the loss of that natural parent-child experience? The theme of parenting, with complications well beyond the keep-or-send-away element, permeates.
The son of a wealthy local big-shot comes to realize that his comforts come at the expense of others. A massively scarred girl is left by her mother in the care of someone who is probably better suited to raise her. A young woman sacrifices years of her life to take care of an ailing parent. A war-ravaged child is taken in by one of her caregivers.
What I learned from the book:
We (the human race) have (mostly) good intentions. But we (mostly) do not follow through. We soothe ourselves. We convince ourselves. We justify our actions. Or our lack of actions. We have an “out of sight, out of mind” way of thinking. It’s a human flaw. And sometimes it has consequences that we cannot comprehend. Consequences that we may never realize because, hey, it’s out of sight. Oh sure. Just like him to point out WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME! Not that I’m taking it personally…