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My main goal in reading Khaled Hosseini's new book, "And the Mountains Echoed," was to avoid crying. I failed within the first 20 pages. And by the last page, I was bawling.
So, yes, much like Hosseini's earlier works, "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," his latest book is bathed in sadness and despair, with the requisite occasional ray of hope. Much like those other two books, "And the Mountains Echoed" is powerful and haunting. And much like the country it describes, it is not easy to forget.
Hosseini, whose previous books have sold tens of millions of copies, approached his latest novel in a stylistically different manner than "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
The result is akin to a collection of short stories from pre-2001 and post-2001 Afghanistan. Each chapter focuses primarily on one character, but all are somehow linked, even if tenuously, by the book's central tragedy: a young boy's loss of his beloved sister, who is given up to a far wealthier family. That loss is conveyed so subtly - even with what in retrospect turns out to be a huge clue - that it is bewildering and devastating once fully understood.
Because of its sprawling nature - it spans decades and hops beyond Afghanistan to France, America and other places, including an imaginary one - the book manages to touch on a range of sensitive topics, from homosexuality in pre-Taliban Afghanistan to the guilt and apathy felt by successful Afghan exiles about their homeland.
The characters include foreign aid workers, the naive son of an Afghan warlord and a fish-out-of-water poetess, among others. One of the most powerful segments is a Q&A from a French journal. Ultimately - and yes, it's a cliche, but so what - the stories are about love in all its manifestations, even a manifestation that at first seems like hate.
I often squirmed as I read "And the Mountains Echoed." Like when the self-promoting, corrupt jerk of a character ends up being the one who helps the person in distress. Or when a child learns to accept, even welcome, the comforts bequeathed to him by his thief of a father. Many of the questions the book tackles involve ends, means and justifications, as well as sustainability versus survival.
Hosseini's latest book is not an easy read, but it is a quick one because you won't be able to put it down. To those readers who manage to get through it without shedding a tear, well, I tip my hat.