The third book by Khaled Hosseini, published in 2003 ten years from the release of his best seller The Kite Runner, shows an author who has matured and sharpened the tools of the trade.
I remember borrowing his debut novel for an English-speaking friend when it was hot off the press, and being told: “The writing is nothing special, but the plot is compelling”. What made The Kite Runner interesting was indeed the moving plot.
In his latest book And the Mountains Echoed the plot is still emotionally involving, but the author’s writing is also more skillful. Not so much for the style, which is still plain and without frills, but for the complexity of structure: the story has a circular pattern, there are unexpected plot twists, and none of the characters is just black or white.
The chapters are short stories that would also work if read individually. However, it can still considered a novel as the characters’ storylines intertwine. The episodes are also bound together by the theme of the double, embodied by a number of couples: the siblings Abdullah and Pari, the brothers Idris and Timur, the sisters Parwana and Masooma, the wealthy Suleiman and his employee Nabi, the Greek surgeon and his childhood friend, the doctor and the wounded girl, the refugee camp boy and the warlord’s son, the two women sharing the same name.
Each of these pairs is flawed one way or another: be it because of separation, disease, rivalry, jealousy, unreciprocated love, mutilation, guilt, a broken promise or desire for revenge.
Violence and suffering, both physical and emotional, permeate the book. Like in The Kite Runner we are not spared strong imagery. It’s no surprise since Hosseini worked as a doctor for a decade before becoming a full-time writer.
One more topic is the sense of estrangement of Afghan refugees who go back to or visit their country after the war. They feel awkward and unable to really create a bond with the locals. The author himself emigrated to the US at 11, so it’s probably something he experienced first hand. This idea expands to the ethical implications of using other people’s painful real life experience as inspiration for fictional works.
To me, And the Mountains Echoed confirms that Hosseini is not a one hit wonder and I’ll be looking forward to read future works by this author.