Yup, that’s right. Another Khaled Hosseini book. And trust me. It’s worth it. And the Mountains Echoed (ATME…I’m lazy. Don’t judge.)
Just to set the scene, I’m currently watching Due South on DejaView. But I mean, MASH just ended, so that’s why I’m tuned to DejaView. And as my dad likes to remind me every time we watch MASH, “it might be the best show ever made”. Anyway, I’ve never seen Due South. I’m finding it’s pretty hilarious, though not purposefully. Also, the Mountie named his dog/wolf creature Diefenbaker. For the non Canadian readers, or for those Canadian readers who aren’t on top of their grade nine social studies, John Diefenbaker was the country’s thirteenth Prime Minister. But I digress. Back to ATME (which I’m writing about because this show is just so awful).
My absolute favourite part of the book was the very first chapter. Which sounds ridiculous, but it really sets the scene. A family in an Afghanistan village is struggling to feed his three children. The father tells a fairy tale to his two children, about a div (really just a big giant evil genie type creature) who terrorizes villages by stealing their children. The div comes to a particular village and gives the villagers a choice. They can give up one child from the home the div has chosen, or they can refuse and the div will destroy the village and take all the children. “The finger cut, to save the hand.” A child is chosen and given to the div, from a home with too many mouths to feed. The father, however, never recovers from the loss of his child. So one day, he decides to get his child back. He embarks on a trek to the div’s lair, and finds the div, along with hundreds of the children the div has stolen over the years. The children, however, are happier and healthier than they ever were at home. They are living in paradise, and the div has given them everything they could need or want. When the father discovers the children and the div, the div gives him a choice. He can take his child home, to the squalor of the village he lives in, or he can leave the child with the div to live a full of happiness with no memory or pain from being taken from their home. And so the father chooses to do what is best for his child, and returns home with a broken heart. Now, the reasons I love this so much is it’s foreshadowing of the rest of the story. And the imagery and symbolism of it. Hosseini not only tells his story, but a story in a story, and proves himself a master writer once again.
The following day, the father who was telling this story to his children begins a journey of his own. He brings his two oldest children, a pair of inseparable siblings whose love for each other knows no bounds, and takes them to visit his brother-in-law in Kabul. He leaves his young daughter with his in-law’s employers, and returns home with a devastated son. “A finger cut, to save the hand.” He tells his son, “it had to be her”. Which I guess makes sense, since his other two children were sons who could work and contribute to the household, which in that time in Afghanistan would be important. But the bond between the boy and his sister was so strong, it was devastating to read and watch that bond be severed by their father’s actions. Trying to imagine my parents making that choice and then imagining losing my sister almost made me cry. Which is really remarkable, since I very rarely cry. The emotions Hosseini evokes from his reader is incredible.
Anyway, the story progresses, each chapter being told from a different character’s viewpoint. The story spans years, generations, and continents. Which is interesting, because all of the characters’ lives intertwine (I guess that’s pretty crucial to have a coherent story). It reminded me a little bit of Roots, actually. If you haven’t read Roots by Alex Haley, well… get on that.
One of the most stand out parts of the story was one of the characters’ description of Alzheimer’s disease. The brother from the beginning of the story writes to his sister, in the hopes of her ever being found, before the disease over comes him: “They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under.” Several members of my family have succumbed to Alzheimer’s, and I’ve always found it difficult to empathize, trying to imagine what they were going through was very difficult. But the way Hosseini writes, the way he expresses himself, it touches my heart. And it gives me a lifeline of sorts, a way to understand what my family members were going through. So thank you, Mr. Hosseini, for allowing me to feel closer to the family members I’ve lost along the way. And for writing this beautiful book, and continuing to bring light to a country that has been facing dark times for too long.