Something lost in the telling

This is my review of And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

On the eve of a fateful journey, impoverished villager Baba Ayub tells his children the story of the “div”, the demonic giant of Afghan folklore who requires a father to hand over one of his children: the man is understandably traumatised until he grasps that as a consequence his boy has gained a much better existence. In succeeding chapters, the “life” of the novel imitates the “art” of the folktale.

This novel is like a series of short stories spanning six decades from 1952, located in Afghanistan, France, the United States and Greece, switching between the viewpoints of a succession of sometimes tenuously related characters: Afghans driven from their land, those who have prospered from the war, expatriates who fallen in love with the country. Although it is often interesting to see different perspectives on the same events, the digressive approach, large number of characters and extraneous detail tend to weaken the power of the narrative drive. There are many poignant moments, but I often felt that the author is telling me what to think rather than letting me analyse people’s behaviour and feelings for myself. The “voices” used are often too much those of an educated, middle-aged man – the author – rather than the characters in question: the chauffeur-factotum Nabi and Gholam the dispossessed teenager brought up in a refugee camp, are cases in point. As a qualified doctor, Hosseini may be less disturbed by maladies than the average reader, but the high incidence of illness and premature death amongst the characters, not least those in more privileged positions, is unduly depressing, miseries laden upon the misfortunes of Afghanistan. The unrelenting blows which strike even the most fortunate are offset by passages of extreme sentimentality which grated on me.

After the huge success of his first novel “The Kite Runner” and the searing account of the plight of Afghan women in “A Thousand Splendid Suns”, Khaled Hosseini’s third novel “And the Mountains Echoed” cannot fail to be a bestseller, but I found it somewhat disappointing. With his role to promote humanitarian assistance for Afghanistan, the author is well-placed to record interviews with a wide range of real people with various types of involvement in this war-torn land, and I would have found an account of these more rewarding than this rambling and sometimes mawkish novel, although it is clearly to many readers taste in various cultures.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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