Here's something you should know about Khaled Hosseini: All his stories have more or less, the same ingredients.
It always starts with Afghanistan in its pre-war days. The protagonists are children, guileless and innocent. Then the invasion happens. People separate, the bonds between them torn apart either by fate or by design. Many gut-wrenching chapters later, there's some kind of reunion but with a catch - there's something amiss, something unfulfilled, like a testimony to the unfairness of life.
To be honest, I'm not a fan of formulaic things. Yet, when it's Hosseini telling a story, I listen. I give in. I let his words curl around me like a blanket. I fall in love. And when it's all over, I clutch the book to my chest and weep like a child.
Because formula or no formula, Khaled Hosseini just knows how to tell a story. He knows what to say and how to say it. It's like an art he has mastered - and no matter how many times he does it, the impact of it never fades.
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. Unlike his previous books, Hosseini adopts a short-story approach for this one. There are multiple narratives in multiple time-frames spread across several different countries, all connected by a common link to Afghanistan.
The writing is beautiful, as always. Sample this:
"All my life, I have lived like an aquarium fish in the safety of a glass tank, behind a barrier as impenetrable as it has been transparent. I have been free to observe the glimmering world on the other side, to picture myself in it, if I like. But I have always been contained, hemmed in, by the hard, unyielding confines of the existence that Baba has constructed for me, at first knowingly, when I was young, and now guilelessly, now that he is fading day by day. I think I have grown accustomed to the glass and am terrified that when it breaks, when I am alone, I will spill out into the wide open unknown and flop around, helpless, lost, gasping for breath."
And the Mountains Echoed was one of my most anticipated books this year and it did not disappoint. That being said, it pales in comparison to his previous works - The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Maybe it was the multiple POV thing. With so many characters and so many stories, it's inevitable that some would hit harder than the rest. Personally, I found the first half more emotionally striking - Abdullah, Nabi and Parwana's stories all made me tear up. I missed Afghanistan in the later segments.
And in case it wasn't obvious enough, I just wanted to say that I love Khaled Hosseini. If it weren't for him, I would have foolishly associated Afghanistan with just the Taliban. It's shocking how little I know about this country even though it's so close to mine.
Thank you for the culture-cum-history lessons, Mr. Hosseini. And even if your next book adheres to the formula, I'll still read it and in all likelihood, cherish it.
4 out of 5 stars