And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
Before this novel, Khaled Hosseini‘s third, even hit shelves on May 21, the world had already made it a bestseller; many months – more likely years – will pass before it fades from the international spotlight. Although I had the galley for months before, I kept it tightly closed, glancing at it occasionally to savor its potential. But when I found the audible version has Hosseini himself narrating (he alternates chapters and characters with Iranian American actors Navid Negahban and Shohreh Aghdashlo), resistance disappeared. Having met Hosseini once before – the emphasis is on before, as in before he became a sensational phenomenon (you can read that story here) – hearing him voice his own words lulled me into finishing all too quickly.
Although more than a few weeks have passed, I delayed writing this post, silently paralyzed by the heavy burden of waiting for his next book. Four years elapsed between The Kite Runner (2003) and A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007; still my favorite of his three), then another six until Mountains appeared. If that progression holds, then we’re looking at eight long years, 2021 (!), for his next. Guess I’ll have to make sure my aging eyeballs and ringing ears are still functioning into the next decade!
Mountains is surely Hosseini’s most expansive story thus far. From a remote village in Afghanistan, his characters disperse around the world, to a comparatively cosmopolitan 1950s Kabul, to the literary lights of Paris, to the Greek island of Tinos, to the contemporary immigrant communities of Northern California. At the center of multiple generations of scattered family and related others are a brother and sister whose father decides that “‘the best'” for both children will be to live separate lives.
Abdullah “believed, the reason God had made him, [was] so he would be there to take care of Pari when He took away their mother.” Over the next half-century and more, he remains tightly bound to the memories of his lost sibling even as he ends up on the other side of the world. Pari, whose original family ties never had the chance to solidify, continues to search her heart for the elusive, unnamed presence that was once Abdullah. Around and between and overlapping these two unjustly separated souls, Hosseini creates an intimate landscape populated by an uncle with a dying wish, village sisters whose love for the same sweetheart traps one and saves the other, neighborhood boys who escape their war-torn homeland and their prodigal return, a talented surgeon who once longed to be a photographer and the single image seared into his heart, and so many more.
Readers and critics alike have lauded, cheered, extolled, and marveled over Mountains. I gladly confess to my own groupie admiration for Hosseini’s work: his writing has matured profoundly through this three novels, surely enriched in no small part by his experiences as a Goodwill Envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) since 2006, which inspired him to establish his The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.
And yet … oh, that yet. From Kite to Suns to Mountains, I can’t seem to let go of a tiny seed of concern over what we might expect when his next title debuts (hopefully not too) far in the future. I wonder if that maturity might have come with an unexpected price. Mountains, for all its epic sweep, glows with a surprising sheen that wasn’t found in either Kite or Suns. The emotions that felt earnest and pure in Hosseini’s first two novels, seem to glow with a calculated (dare I say perfect?) patina in his latest – absent mothers and their replacements, lost lovers and their substitutes, damaged children and their substantial metamophoses. Regardless, I’m committed to whatever will come next bearing his name … until then, I remain devotedly resigned to wait (and wait and wait).
Tidbit: One of my most insightful BookDragon followers messaged me recently with “Has Hosseini become a savvy sentimentalist?” – that ‘savvy’ resonated with my own ‘sheen.’ He continued, “I also wondered if [Hosseini] had become the ‘Amy Tan’ of Afghan Americans.” In order not to bias that observation with any further personal elaboration, I invite (hope, plead, beg?) others to join in and comment.