Having finished The Kite Runner, I decided to read another book by Khaled Hosseini that the library also had on CD. And the Mountains Echoed is very different, and for a large part of the book somewhat confusing to figure out what it really is about.
I have read several novels recently that tell a story from the perspective of multiple characters, and as long as there aren’t too many of them it can be a very effective way of adding more dimensions to a story. Usually, however, all the characters are telling part of the same story. In this novel, the threads between the different characters’ stories are sometimes tenuous and occasionally hard to discern at all for a while.
Hosseini is a good storyteller, however, and I appreciated each story for itself, though I certainly enjoyed some more than others. I just wondered what they all had to do with each other, where the story was going – if there was any destination at all in the sense I was thinking of, and how in the world the title of the story related to any of them.
While I could tell that the stories all, in some way, related to the story of Pari and Abdullah in the second chapter, I really had trouble seeing why some of the chapters were included, such as the one with Markos, the Greek doctor. Yes, he lives in the house that Pari had lived in for a time as a girl, and he knew Nabi, who was responsible for Pari having been there. But his chapter is mostly about his relationship with his mother and with Thalia on the Greek island of Tinos.
Reading reviews afterward helped me see themes that run through all the stories. There are parents wanting to protect their children, yet the ways they attempt to protect from one kind of hurt may lead to other kinds of hurt. The actions of all people affect those around them, who in turn affect others, like ripples in water. (Is that perhaps part of the meaning of the title, that our actions echo in other people’s live?)
Another theme, one that is more easily seen in retrospect, is how morally ambiguous all the characters are. People who appear good harbor a selfish or hurtful streak inside, and those who are more openly selfish and hurtful also do good for those around them.
I did not find this novel as satisfying as others with a more focused storyline and characters one can follow from beginning to end. But it is a thoughtful exploration of people in their relationships with those closest to them (whether close in family relationships or physical proximity – certainly there is not always much in the way of emotional closeness).
Characters often do not do what you would like them to, for an outcome that makes you feel good. But they are people like you and me and they live the often messy lives and relationships that we have.