I don’t know how I’ve managed to go so long without reading anything by Khaled Hosseini, but here I am in 2021 reviewing my first book by this master storyteller. And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead Books 2013) is a novel I am unlikely to forget in this lifetime or the next. The decisions the characters were forced to make out of love and/or necessity, a country thrust into decades of chaos and uncertainty, a fragmented people trying to reclaim lost lives and memories… This novel, the broken and the beautiful, will linger in your memory like the bits to a nursery rhyme half-remembered.
The novel opens in Kabul, Afghanistan. It’s 1952 and ten-year old Abdullah and his little sister, Pari, are each other’s worlds. But life is hard, and the family is struggling. A choice is made that will forever alter both of their lives; its impact ricocheting for decades from Kabul to Paris, Tinos, and even San Francisco.
It’s a story of family and a story of survival. Abdullah’s father makes the impossible of decisions to save the rest of his family. He tries to explain it to Abdullah. That sometimes one has to cut off a finger to keep the hand, but Abdullah will never forgive him. His childhood is scarred by loss.
Abdullah’s stepmother has her own demons and split-second decisions that altered her life’s course. Her brother, Nabi, a central character in the novel, also must deal with the repercussions of a decision that he orchestrated and forever changed his life and his family’s – a decision that destroyed one family but created another. One that was motivated but a love he’d never realize and supported by yet another love he couldn’t return.
The novel spans from 1952, with a few flashbacks to earlier years, to 2010. Near the end of the book, an old man lost to dementia sings the first two lines of a nursery rhyme in Farsi and a woman finishes the forgotten verse.
“I found a sad little fairy
Beneath the shade of a paper tree.
I know a sad little fairy
Who was blown away by the wind one night.”
That scene, and the tightening of my throat that it caused, have forever etched this novel in my heart.
Read this book.