Hamza Fetuga: Book Review of Khaled Hosseini’s “And the Mountains Echoed”

I’ve heard a lot about Khaled’s books. From friends to goodreads.com and finally Quora, I was awash with tales of how great his books are, so I decided to give it a spin. I purchased two of his books, And the Mountain Echoed and the Kite Runner earlier this year; and I’m glad I did.

And the Mountains Echoed is an exceptional story about two Afghan siblings, Abdullah and Pari, who lost their mother when Pari was born, and had to survive under underwhelming conditions in a village called Shadbagh. Their father, Saboor, a very hardworking man, would do anything, ranging from digging of wells, to menial work at construction sites, just to make ends meet for his family. He cared dearly for his children and made a good storyteller. Every night, his kids would look forward to hearing a bedtime story, often to get disappointed because he was usually tired from the day’s toil.

When Pari was two years old, she was sold to a wealthy family in the flourishing capital, Kabul for an arguably worthy cause. Her father wanted Pari to be educated and lacking nothing. Saboor’s brother-in-law, Nabi who worked as a chef at the Wahdati’s was responsible for brokering the deal. His intentions however were rather questionable.

Nabi was awestruck and in love with his boss’ sterile wife, Nila. The Wahdati’s marriage was strained and dysfunctional up until the moment Pari came in their lives. Prior to this time, Nila would spend several hours chatting with Nabi, who drove her around the city, and was fully aware of all her sexcapades. Pari’s arrival heralded a rekindling in the marriage life of the Wahdati’s and subsequently, Nabi lost all the attention he previously enjoyed and craved for.

Meanwhile, Abdullah had left his father’s village shortly after Pari’s departure as he didn’t feel whole anymore. The firm bond between his sister and him had been broken overnight — unannounced and unanticipated, and unfortunately, he couldn’t do anything to stop it.

As the story unfolds, Mr Wahdati fell terribly ill and suffered from paralysis. Nila couldn’t keep up with her nagging mother, endless influx of visitors into the house and especially, taking care of Mr Wahdati’s needs. Hence, she fled to Paris with Pari who was still very young, never to return again, leaving Saboor to cater for Mr Wahdati. In spite of the monotony and arduousness of the task, he stood by Mr Wahdati till the last of his days.

With the overthrow of the government of Afghanistan by the Taliban, the country deteriorated and Kabul had its fair share of the ruin. The once-elegant house of the Wahdati’s deteriorated as the war wore on, though Nabi managed to maintain its interiors. Nabi later found out Mr Wahdati had been in love with him from the day he was recruited. After Mr Wahdati’s demise, Nabi refused to remarry. He highlighted his clearly-thought-out reasons, which raises questions on what people look out for in marriages or companionship.

With the influx of humanitarian Aid workers into Kabul, there was a high demand for housing. Nabi generously gave out the house to Dr Markos, a plastic surgeon, and his colleagues. The story of Dr Markos and Thalia, his childhood friend, is another sweet tale of undying love- one that isn’t deterred by distance or facial beauty. The doctor was greatly responsible for connecting Pari to her roots by carefully following Nabi’s instruction before his death. This eventually led to the reunion of brother and sister amidst bursts of emotions

Reading this book, I got a picture of the happenings during the Afghan war and the role the Taliban played. Khaled spices the story up with various important aspects of Afghan culture ranging from the food, their language (Farsi) and their poetry. The poetry was highlighted when Nila once said

“Even your graffiti artists spray Rumi on the walls”

Earlier in the book, there was a brief scene where two schoolboys were trying to woo teenage Pari’s stepmother’s sister with some catchy lines from Rumi’s large collection of poems.

I swear, since seeing your face, the whole world is fraud and fantasy,
The garden is bewildered as to what is leaf or blossom.
The distracted birds can’t distinguish the birdseed from the snare

Another important thing Khaled did was highlight the human part of war-torn Afghanistan. Amidst all the fighting, I could sense the disconnect between the average people, and the Afghan government and their supporters. Virtually all characters in the book who were in Afghanistan during the war were victims, leaving me with the impression that the war wasn’t a true reflection of the grievances of the common people. While reading, I had to pause severally to ponder or argue certain seemingly sincere actions carried out by different characters. Several philosophical arguments are highlighted in this book.

I was marveled by how palpable Khaled’s descriptions of old age were. It made me spend time imagining how people come to terms with the fact that they’re aging and certain parts of their minds and bodies were getting vestigial.

Overall, it was a super amazing experience. Awesome story told through great writing. Definitely my best book this year so far.

Rating: 9.3/10