Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

As an AP Lit. teacher, I'm always trying to keep current with the newest books out there, and yet that's NOT why I read Khaled Hosseini's newest novel And the Mountains Echoed.  I read this newest novel, because to not read his any one of his novels would feel to me like a deprivation.  To say that I've loved his novels would mean that I've enjoyed them, which isn't really the right word choice.  In fact, I think the correct way of describing my reading experience with each of Hosseini's novels would be provoking.  I mean that in a moving and meaningful sort of way, but in a manner that always leaves me feeling something deep and thoughtful.  For that, I am always drawn to anything Hosseini has published, and I was not disappointed by And the Mountains Echoed.

Review:  The story begins with a tale or myth of sacrifice that parents might recount to their children as some type of bedtime story.  In this opening chapter, the father in the story tells his young son and daughter this myth as he walks across a vast desert--the young son only along on the journey because he wants to help push his much-beloved younger sister into the city.  Little did he know that the sacrificial story his father told him would echo into his own life.

In marvelously poetic language, each chapter is woven like a thread in the tapestry of the tale, adding another character that is important and touches the lives of the original brother, sister, or impoverished father.  We travel from the farmland that the father took his children across the desert into the city, into the streets of Paris, across the sea into Greece, and even farther into the busy streets of California, each adding a character and another layer to the story of this family.

While the constant change in direction can feel jarring in the beginning, it soon becomes apparent that these tales each play a vital role in the development of the plot.  In essence, the storyline is linear and circular all at the same time, if the reader will only be patient enough to see it through.  We meet many different characters who intersect in the journey of these two little children at the beginning of the book, or who impacted them in some way, and what made these people into who they were in the present moment.  In short, Hosseini reminds the reader that we shouldn't judge until we have walked in someone else's shoes.

One of my favorite chapter-tales was story of the American doctor who arrived in Afghanistan to do foreign aide work and service.  During his time, he realized how selfish he was and even how selfish his own children were back home.  Without giving away the entire story, I was blown away by how easy he was to relate to and how completely he affected me.  Why?  Because he returned home and ever so slowly grew numb again to all that he had awakened to in his time in Afghanistan.  I sobbed into those pages and felt the air crush from lungs, because I could see so clearly how mind-numbingly easy we are to forget.  We. Simply. Forget.  Rather than hang onto our endeavors to change the world and make things better, it's easier to forget and grow numb; it's easier to live in our simple lives and forget that life is not so easy for others.  In short, this chapter hit way too close to home.  The mirror was held up to me, and I cried.

After that chapter.  I had to set the book aside for about two weeks.  I would look at it and close my eyes with real sadness.  What power Hosseini had used in language, words, and story to show me my own weaknesses.  That chapter wasn't just about mankind.  It was about me, and I've thought about it ever since.

In short, I was blown away by And the Mountains Echoed.  While some readers have felt the narrative thread was not as cohesive as they would like, in that it was not a linear story with the main characters followed throughout, I have to say that I thought this was his most powerful novel to date.  The echoes of what human connection, family, and kindness can do were not lost on me.  This was a game changer in a novel and whispered of action in ways that telling me never would have done.  Brilliant.  Just brilliant.

Have you read Hosseini's newest novel? If so, which of the chapter tales most stood out to you?


  1. I just got this at the end of the year. I really must find time to read it because I have also enjoyed him in the past!

    1. It was probably my favorite of the three. I thought A Thousand Splendid Suns topped it for me, but there was something about the subtleties in this one that really got to me.