Monday, November 10, 2014

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

My new book club had this book assigned for discussion in October, and if this (and the Book Thief) planned for next month is anything to go by, I'm going to enjoy this every bit as much as my last group.

And The Mountains Echoed has been reviewed to death by now, so I won’t go into details on the plot, suffice to say a family is broken apart and through pure chance encounters manages to find its way back together, but not quickly and not without significant impact on all the family members.  No real spoilers as I think this is fairly obvious from the start.

I’d not read anything by Hosseini before, extensive hyperbole tends to put me off a book, rather than encourage me.  I did some reading about Hosseini, and his writing, and understand that this is not even considered his best work, so I’m now very tempted to move those copies of his earlier works up from where they’d been languishing at the bottom of the TBR pile.

The story scope is expansive.  It ranges backwards and forwards over several decades and continents.  The style is episodic, with each section having a different narrator, and their own distinct voice.  Each narrator goes back to a point that their part in the overall story arc started, even if they didn’t know it, and the story follows through until their part is completed.  Gradually the reader puts the pieces together, to form the whole.

All narrators have a piece of the story (except the neighbour-brother who lived in America, which wasn’t clear to me at all).  They had a direct impact on events, or were necessary to pass on a message.  The trick while reading is to not get distracted and try to remember all the threads so that you can sew it all together in your mind as the book moves on.

I have to admit that I was affected on many levels.  The writing is wonderful, the slow drip feed of the story was enough to give the characters, time and place real depth, but still keep me reading.  I ached for Pari and her brother, and felt each emotion keenly.  As I mentioned before I felt that each character had their own voice, and for those in the Western world in particular, they seemed pretty authentic to me.  My knowledge of Afghanistan is limited to news bulletins so I can honestly admit that I don’t know it is like to be a normal person in Afghanistan, which neatly brings me to my second point.

The Book Thief forced me to think about what life was like for ordinary Germans during WW2, and in the same way this forced me to be more aware of life in Afghanistan.  To my relief it wasn’t a soapbox for a rant about the war, though the war is not avoided.  The impact of the war is made clear.  What is not lost in a rant is that this is a story about the intersecting lives of one family and the people they come into contact with over a number of generations.  I’m a Sociologist by education, and for me it was utterly fascinating to perceive the change in culture and attitudes over time, and though I do not claim to be an expert in these matters, it seems to me that regardless of geography and religious beliefs we are all essentially the same.  The overwhelming impression I now have is that below the so-called civilised surface of society we all have a commonality of existence.  We all go through the same range of emotions, we all face life and death, have friendships and fall in love.

And yes, I did have a tear or two in my eyes while reading this.  If this is regarded by many as not his best work, then I do really need to read the rest.  I think this is really really good.

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