"With the certitude of a true believer, Vellya Paapen had assured the twins that there was no such thing in the world as a black cat. He said that there were only black, cat-shaped holes in the universe."
-- Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review: And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read And the Mountains Echoed for my book club; it is not something I would have normally chosen on my own. I had read The Kite Runner and I enjoyed it, but it was so powerful, so touching, that I felt emotionally wrung out at the end. It was a little too traumatic for my tastes. So when I started this one, I anticipated the same tears, the same fall-in-love-with-a-character-only-to be-scarred-by-the-trauma-he-endures heartbreak. And when I found myself weeping on page 15, I felt sure that I was embarking on another emotional roller coaster. I was excited about the ride because the first fifteen pages of this book were pure magic.

And then, in my opinion, things went downhill from there.

My general review of And the Mountains Echoed, for those who have not read it is this: I can see why people would enjoy this book. It has interesting characters, poetic descriptions, and gut-wrenching tragedy on almost every page. (That's not really what I look for in a story, but there are plenty that do.) For me, however, Hosseini tried to do too much, and in the end he did too little. I cried on page 15 and I shed a couple of tears on the last page of the book (though I think at that point I was mainly just tired) but nowhere in the middle did it squeeze my heart. Instead of getting wrapped up in each character's drama, there were SO MANY, that I ended up just looking for the threads that would connect each anecdote to the whole and trying to keep up.

For those who have read the book and therefore know what I'm talking about, here are my top five frustrations with the novel. I would love to know other people's thoughts on these. *BEWARE—SPOILERS AHEAD*

1) Masooma: How come we never get a peek inside Masooma's head? So many characters in this book get to tell their side of the story, but Parwana's invalid sister gets no voice and a very unsatisfying end. Was she really calling for Parwana out in the desert? Or was it just the sound of her sister’s guilt on the wind? How did she die? Did she drift off into a peaceful opium haze? Or did she gasp of thirst and starvation? Or did an animal get to her before her demise? Maybe the book did not need her side of the story, but what about Nabi? He NEVER mentions his sister's death. Parwana married Saboor and Nabi visits them once a month in his fancy car. What was he told of Masooma's fate? Did Parwana lie to him or admit what she had done? Masooma's end was the loosest thread of the story for me.

2) Time: It bothered me that the sections were titled with dates and then the text inside them jumped around between years, sometimes even decades. It made the story hard to follow. The first time I noticed the abrupt transitions was on page 170, where the space between paragraphs covers six years of Idris's life.

3) Pari: The first Pari (Abdullah's little sister) was the focal point of the book. From the very beginning, we are waiting to get back to her life, to see what happened after she moved to France, to find out how and when she would reunite with her brother. When we do get back to her, the result is a little disappointing. The pages about her and her mother drag. And then, on page 222, Hosseini proceeds to sum up Pari's life in a long list. I don't understand it.

4) Perspective: Except for Saboor's bedtime story and Nabi's (long) letter, the book is told in third person from various characters' perspectives, and that made sense to me. Then, on page 279, it switches to first person, first for Markos's story and then for Abdullah's daughter Pari's section. The switch seemed unnecessary.


5) The Box of Feathers: I was waiting for the box of feathers. I'm sure we all were. I figured that Pari would somehow dig it up from under the windmill when she visited Afghanistan (a visit to which few, if any, pages in the book are dedicated, strangely enough) or, later, I thought that poor Gholam might discover it by accident when his family lived near the windmill. I didn't realize that Abdullah had taken it with him. Although the end of the book attempts the bitter-sweetness of warmth and love and conclusion mixed with sadness and mystery, it just did not work for me. It’s understandable for Pari (the sister) to remember nothing of the box of feathers, but I don’t understand why it was a mystery to Pari (the daughter) as well. Because Abdullah was not a quiet, mysterious man. There were plenty of men in this story who had secrets and hid things from their families, but Abdullah wasn’t like that. He told stories, he plucked nightmares from heads, he shared his grief. From the time his daughter was a little girl, she knew about his beloved sister. She knew how much her namesake had meant to her father. She knew that the little girl had been sold and that her dad longed to reunite with her. So why wouldn't he have told her about Pari's love of feathers? He had only three years of memories of his sweet little sister—wouldn’t he have wanted to share them all with his daughter, to keep her memory alive? I think Abdullah would have shown his daughter the box of feathers and told her the story of each one. It makes no sense for this loving, open father to keep such a memory secret from his little girl, especially near the end of his life, when he knew he was losing his memory. It just didn't work.

There were beautiful passages in this novel, and many of the characters will no doubt stick with me. I can't even imagine tackling a story this big, and I admire Hosseini for telling so much of it so well. But, in the end, I wanted a simpler story and an ending that satisfied.

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1 comment:

  1. So... I've been trying to get Goodreads to post my reviews to my blog for some time now, and it has never worked. Recently I've read some books that I really enjoyed and recommend (like Anything But Typical and Elements of Style and The Little Leftover Witch). Now, inexplicably, the feature decided to work on a review of a book that I didn't particularly enjoy. (Sigh.) Just trying to explain why I am suddenly bashing books on my blog. Not my intention.