Nobody who has read Khaled Hosseini's novel can deny he is an incredible storyteller. His previous novels "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns" topped best-seller lists both nationally and internationally and it was with great excitement that Hosseini fans and the literary world looked forward to the release of his third novel, "And the Mountains Echoed," on May 21.
The novel opens with a bedtime story told to two young siblings by their father. While this may seem like an idyllic scene, the story is one of loss and even with its vaguely happy ending suggests a lack of hope and control over life. And - much like showing a gun in the first act - an observant reader would rightfully expect the fictional tale to be reflected in the novel's plot. The hopeless story foreshadows plot developments and sets a tone for the rest of the novel as it unfolds across years and continents.
"And the Mountains Echoed" begins in rural Afghanistan, focusing on siblings Abdullah and Pari as young children. As the story continues, chapters focus on different characters, creating a web of relationships that is sometimes hard to follow. The narration spans from Afghanistan to America to Europe, covering not only the siblings but their uncle, parents, children, neighbors and acquaintances. While all are in some way related to the lives of the siblings, it can occasionally be hard to recall some of the more obscure connections. By focusing on such diverse connections, Hosseini is able to diversify viewpoints on the hardships facing Afghanistan natives, including those of Afghanis who left the country at different stages in their lives - some as very young children, some in adulthood - and who had varying levels of success in foreign countries and refugee camps and those of volunteer workers who donate their time and skills in the war-torn country. The variety of perspectives is interesting and subtly examines the relationships of each character to Afghanistan and the rest of the world.
While I was reading, however, I found the constant switching of characters to be a bit distracting. While I appreciated their significance, I found myself getting attached to certain characters and being quite disappointed when the chapters switched focus to a completely different story line. Although they were tied together, the associations were often loose - for example two Afghan-American businessmen who frequent a restaurant owned by another character - and occasionally seemed unnecessary. For instance, a large section dedicated to a Greek doctor volunteering in Afghanistan, while touching and well-written, had little to do with rest of the story. His role was necessary but could have received much less attention which could have been devoted to other characters.
The ending left a lot to be desired. Although Hosseini has never promised - or even provided - an entirely happy ending, when the novel ended I found myself double-checking that there weren't more pages hidden somewhere. But no, that was it. There is very little resolution and many unanswered questions remaining after the last page is turned. Even though it doesn't appear to be his style, I am hoping for a sequel to take care of those issues.
Though it begins with a fairy tale, this complex novel is anything but. It reveals the selfish nature of humanity alongside more redeeming features such as loyalty and courage. While certainly different in many ways from Hosseini's two novels, fans and new readers will not be disappointed by "And the Mountains Echoed."