I haven’t read Hosseini’s other, more famous works. After stumbling upon this book online, I decided to give it a go. And the Mountains Echoed is a collection of stories spread across half a century, centering around two Afghan siblings who are separated at a young age. We then have stories from the point of view of people who were involved, and those who have a further role to play. The book is set on the backdrop of Afghanistan, and we see it for what it was, pre-Russian era, and what it became in the decades to come, post Taliban. Though the book is free from the context of the war and struggles of the country as a whole and focuses only on the personal motivations of the characters, which I liked.

While the narrative of the stories is not in order, and we jump back and forth between the past and the present in various chapters, the entire structure of the story is seamlessly weaved and very easy to follow. Every chapter is from the point of view of a character who is either directly, or tangentially involved in the overarching story. This is not to say that the characters themselves are only helpers in order to move the plot forward. Far from it. We get a deep sense of the characters’ ambitions and struggles. Hosseini also masterfully plays around with time. There is a sense of the years passing in the voices of the characters, which the author does not always have to explicitly specify. The language is simple and easy to follow, which was a good change for me right after reading Lolita.

For the stories themselves, they are rich and beautiful. If I had to use one word to describe them, it would be poignant. The author presents various themes like friendship, loyality, jealousy, guilt, love and filial piety. Perhaps my favourite story of all was one that was only tangentially related to the overarching plot, that if the Greek surgeon Morcos.

I’ve been reading for quite some time, but I have to say that not very many books have left quite the impression this one did on me. Reading from the point of view of the characters of this book–nearly all of whom haunted by tragedies of the past or present–gave me a perspective I always thought I had, but never really did. It has forced me to examine the way I perceive and react to the people around me. To think about them and their motivations and desires and not to judge them harshly as I have been prone to in the past. It also gave me new appreciation for my parents.

There were also quite a few quotes that I loved in the book. Here are a few of those -

  • One is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart.

  • People mostly have it backwards. They think they live by what they want. But really what guides them is what they’re afraid of.

  • Sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize that your life had a purpose, and likely one that you never had in mind.

(Mild spoiler here)

The only complain I have is that the ending could have been a lot better than it was. Hosseini tries to go with a bittersweet touch, but I think he fails at that, because of too much buildup. In a book riddled entirely with tragedy and darkness, what kept me going was the potential of the fairy tale ending, but Hosseini robs us of that, and chooses to go the route of heartbreak.