Hype can be a cruel demon. For an author, it sets an expectation that can be extremely difficult to live up to. For a reader, more often than not it only leads to crushing disappointment.
Khaled Hosseini is immune to such nonsense. First, his debut novel, The Kite Runner, became an international bestseller. It spawned a film adaptation. Then came A Thousand Splendid Suns, his follow-up, which I happen to like better than Kite Runner (review here). Now we have his third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, and Hosseini has yet to stumble. It almost doesn’t seem fair, does it?
The themes are familiar: family, honor, dignity, love, sacrifice, and pride. Action is centered around several decades in Afghanistan, with side trips to the US. This has been true for all three of Hosseini’s novels, yet the story feels fresh and urgent. Mountains is ostensibly the story of a brother and sister who are separated as children, but it’s actually more akin to a collection of inter-connected short stories centered around the brother and sister. Each chapter assumes a new point of view–someone connected to them by blood or circumstance, and each is compelling in its own way.
An unhappy poet who adopts a child in a desperate attempt to fill the holes in her life. The father who gives his little girl up for a chance at a better life. The uncle who must live with the choices he made to impress an unattainable woman. The doctor whose charitable work masks a deep guilt that he has left his own family behind. Cousins, one whose road to hell is paved with good intentions and one whose selfish acts of charity attract him all the love and attention he desires. The brother whose entire life is lived haunted by the absence of his sister.
All are wildly different, but because Hosseini understands them so deeply he is extraordinarily capable of weaving together their innumerable layers for the reader. These are complex, vivid people. The pages practically pulse with their heartbeats.
Hosseini also has the rare gift of making observations about life or society without making them sound hopelessly trite or cloying. If some of his quotes seem to be stating the obvious, it’s easy to forgive him because in every section he earns the respect of his readers.