And the Mountains Echoes, Div, embarrassment, Emotional Whirlwind, Ensemble Story, gratefulness, guilt, haplessness, helplessness, inadequacy, jealousy, Khaled Hosseini, Kinship, Love, nostalgia, pain
And the Mountains Echoed is a celebration of the unique bond between siblings; it could be the tale of siblings related by blood, cousins, friends or even two kids who are strangers really, but they all seem to share a kinship between each other that is akin to the one between siblings.
The story begins with a narration of a story. The plot of that narration lays the groundwork for the entire book. This story is about a father named Baba Ayub, who has to give his youngest child to a div in order to save the rest of his family. Baba Ayub then traverses great extents of land to find his son. On reaching there, he finds how happy his son is there and the div rewards him for his efforts by giving him a potion to erase all memory of the tragedy of having to let go of his son…
Told from various perspectives, it is interesting to note that Khaled Hosseini generally sticks to the third person narrative and uses the first person only in three instances – to tell the tale of Nabi, Markos and Pari (Abdullah’s daughter).
His language is simple yet, effective. His words have a way of creeping into your heart and finding a comfortable niche there. Once again, he makes you feel, like few authors have succeeded. And this time, it is guilt, pain, jealousy, embarrassment, love, inadequacy, haplessness, helplessness, gratefulness, nostalgia, and a truckload of other emotions. Someone recently told me not to read some legal documents like I would a novel; clearly he had never read a Khaled Hosseini novel!
Although most people stop at describing the book as the story between Abdullah and his sister Pari (who is sold off at the beginning of the story; “The finger cut, to save the hand.”, as Hosseini puts it eloquently), it is more than just that one. It is a series of stories that finish the first. It comes close to resembling life in the fact that ‘reality’ is multi-faceted and different people perceive the same incidents differently. At some point in the story, Hosseini himself talks about the ‘comfort to be found in the permanence of mathematical truths’, which as he later states is ‘nothing like life’. The crux of the story lies in the separation of a young Abdullah and Pari. It is like a stone thrown into a pond; it causes a series of ripples and the rest of the book essentially shows how the ripples resonate.
You hurt with almost the same intensity when it finally dawns upon the 10-year-old Abdullah that, he was going to be separated from his little sister. You hate the entire universe with him. You fervently wish that, there was a way to prevent all this.
His step-mother’s story is one of twisted Karma. You see Parwaana grow up with her twin Masooma and feel the jealousy that envelopes her being as she feels wronged. She defines her twin’s beauty as ‘an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly.’ And one fine day she let’s this self-pity get the better of her, and even though she spends a good many years trying to atone for that momentary lapse of judgment, in the end Masooma relieves her of this burden and Parwaana feels like she was finally born into this world; alive for the first time and elevated to the status of an independent being and not a mere shadow of her twin.
Nabi, who went to the city and sought employment under Mr. Wahdati mainly to get away from the task of taking care of his physically disabled sister Masooma, finds Karma catch up with him when the beautiful Nila Wahdati adopts his neice and later leaves him to take care of Mr. Wahdati himself. The homosexuality in the story is played out almost as it would in the society there; nothing hyped, just an unfortunate fact that Suleiman Wahdati would just have to live with, without ever having his feelings for Nabi reciprocated. Nonetheless, Nabi does care enough to look after Suleiman and later, even take his life.
When the story of the cousins Idris and Timur is played out, Idris’ silent jealousy of Timur’s ability to warm his way into people’s heart is almost palpable. You feel bad for him as he starts out, you become enthralled by his quiet disposition, he makes you sympathize with his character. However, he soon let’s you down. You know he is choosing the easier path and you are disappointed by his change of heart, but you stop short of hating him and find it in you to condone his actions or lack thereof. You do this, because you know just how tempting it is to sit back and do nothing when you see people undergo difficulties; to turn a blind eye to the sufferings of others!
One of the most intriguing relationships in the story is that between Pari and her beautiful, enigmatic, adoptive mother ~ Nila Wahdati. She seems to go through bouts of depression and Pari’s adoption seems like a failed attempt in finding something to fill up the void in her. As Pari herself describes; “All my life, she gave to me a shovel and said, fill these holes inside of me”. There’s the whole comparison in that chapter between an adoptive mother and a natural mother. This is clear in that part when Pari thinks to herself, “She is furious with herself for her own stupidity. Opening herself up like this, voluntarily, to a lifetime of worry and anguish. It was madness. Sheer lunacy. A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose. Faith that the world will not destroy you.” You begin to question whether you necessarily need to carry a being within your womb for nine whole months to have any kind of maternal feelings towards a child; or was Nila just not meant to be a mother?
One of the most poignant stories in the book is that of the relationship between Abdullah’s half-brother’s son Gholum and the ex-Jihadi-turned-Philanthropist’s son, Adel. You see a world of a difference in their respective lives. The imbalance is so blatant that, it seems unfair and it is only worse when you know that it is actually so! You see it as Adel expresses his astonishment when he finds out that Gholum does not know his own birthday, and instead of taking it as an insult, Gholum responds saying, “I bet you know yours. I bet you count down.” But then, there is wall that separates their lives, and neither can really run away from their respective lives. The encounter however leaves Adel with a sort of awakening to the monstrosity of his father’s actions. And yet, he knows all too well that there is little he could do about it.
The story of the Plastic Surgeon from Greece is again independent, yet connected to the large scheme things. You see how Markos grows up with a very strict mother whose tough love has made him want to put miles between him and his home. Then there is Thalia, whose face has been deformed when a dog attacked her as a child. She has grown up with relative neglect from her mother and what Markos’ mother offers her is self-respect, dignity and a place where she could be normal. Markos has grown up comparing his mother’s acts of kindness to how “The rope that pulls you from the flood can become a noose around your neck”. However, years later, he realizes just how much his mother loves him and this time, she tells him “You’ve turned out good”, and she goes on to tell him something that I felt was meant as much for me, as it was for Markos, “It’s a funny thing, but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.”
Finally, you come full circle to Abdullah’s daughter, also named Pari. She grows up overly protected by her father who seems to be working over-time to prevent her from being taken away like his little sister was. She grows up constantly considering tearing herself free but finally staying back and trying to withstand “its rigor (of her father’s love) even as it squeezed you (her) into something smaller than yourself (herself)”, until her encounter with her aunt Pari. Her father might never recognize or remember his sister from his childhood, but he left a box full of feathers before the memory loss, to say that he was thinking of her!
Thus, at the end, you realize that maybe Abdullah’s memory loss was like the potion that the div gave Baba Ayub, only it came too little too late to prevent the ripples in the pond, and still too little too early that, it prevented a long-awaited reunion. Thus, it took away the happy ending from the story and replaced it with the balm of the loss of a cherished memory!