I rarely read fiction; I’ve always held it to an impossibly high standard, and if I’m not gripped within the first few pages, I often return the book to a shelf, and never bother with it again. In my teens, I read The Bell Jar
, and they sort of ruined me for most other authors.
When the opportunity to review And the Mountains Echoed
came up, I’m not sure what made me raise my hand and say I’d do it. It’s not like I’ve not read any
fiction recently, but the fiction I have read has been what I would describe as “easy” fiction. The sort you can still follow when your brain is addled and you’ve only got 5 minutes to read at a time.
This book, though… this book had me gripped within the first paragraph; it was easy to read because it was so magnificently written. This book is singularly the most heartbreaking story I have ever read. A word of warning: if you are prone to crying at sad stories, do not read this book in public. I was crying before the end of the first chapter, and by the end of the book there were proper waves of grief and sobbing.
If I were from Afghanistan, I would write a story about how the country has been torn apart – not just by the Taliban and Al Quaida, but by the Russians, the US-backed Muhajideen, and the countless others. I would write about how Afghanistan wasn’t always what we see in the news footage. But Hosseini is far more clever than I am. He has written a story which shows how the country was torn apart, but as the background to a far more personal, and relatable tragedy. Rather than point out “look, look what these people did to my beloved country” he points out, “look at humans; look at what we do to each other; look at how the world is; look at what has happened.”
The book is written from several different points of view. There are nine chapters, each written from the perspective of a different person. As each chapter begins, you wonder, “wait, who is this? Why have you stopped that other story? I really wanted to know what happened!” The chapters each stand alone as their own story of a person’s experience – but they all intertwine, often in ways you don’t really expect. The craftsmanship involved in putting this novel together is exquisite.
The story sweeps through several decades, its earliest point being in 1949. Each chapter tells a story; each story intertwines. I don’t want to tell you much more than that, because I really don’t want to ruin for you what is really a fantastic read.
Hosseini portrays Afghanistan as a normal, human country that existed before 2001, with normal people living normal lives. It makes it into a real place with real people, better than any news show, documentary or newspaper report could or has. We in the West are often ignorant of what goes on outside of our immediate geography, until something happens farther afield. Suddenly, in 2001 we were all aware of the Taliban, and that is what we knew Afghanistan for. We didn’t hear much about the 1979 war because it didn’t involve oil, and although the US were supporting the Muhajideen, troops were not sent there en masse. Theoretically, what was happening at that time had little bearing on our lives, so it wasn’t widely reported. Afghanistan has essentially been at war since then. This book doesn’t deal with the fighting or the politics, but rather the lives of the people affected by it.
If I had to give this book marks out of five, it would get a six. I absolutely loved it. For someone whose living room is filled with half-finished books, to finish this book within three days is something that shocked me. And now I have that feeling you get when you finish an astoundingly epic book, and you know what whatever you pick up next is unlikely to fill that gap.
I’ve not read Hosseini’s other books, but I’m currently wondering if they’re in stock at my local library.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of this book in exchange for a review, but that was not dependent on my writing a favourable review. All words and opinions are my own.
Thanks for reading.