A Sweeping Saga of Siblings

By Walton, James | The Spectator, May 11, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Sweeping Saga of Siblings


Walton, James, The Spectator


And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini Bloomsbury, £18.99, pp. 404, ISBN 9781408842423 The American comedian Stephen Colbert once joked that when he publicly criticised the novels of Khaled Hosseini, his front garden was invaded by angry members of women's books groups. They were carrying flaming torches in one hand and bottles of white wine in the other.

It's a joke that neatly sums up two significant facts about Hosseini's status as a writer. First - and not to be underestimated, of course - it proves that he's famous enough to make jokes about. But it also reminds us that his fame has been driven by ordinary book-lovers rather than literary professionals. His two previous novels, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, have sold around 38 million copies. Yet critics remain unsure about how seriously to treat his work as literature - often taking refuge in such traditionally ambiguous murmurs of appreciation as 'master storyteller'.

The debate is unlikely to be cleared up by And the Mountains Echoed, where all the elements that made his name are again firmly in place. Sure enough, this is another thumping, family-based, Afghanistancentred saga that features exile, regret and long-lost relatives across several decades.

In fact, the biggest difference from Hosseini's earlier books is simply that we get a lot more of all of them - to such an extent that at times it feels as if he has more narrative here than he knows what to do with.

The nine chapters, each set in a different time and/or place, naturally contain plenty of material that's relevant to the main plotlines - but also quite a lot that seems to be there largely for its own sake.

Chapter one, for example, is a bedtime story told by a rural Afghan father in 1952 about a poor farmer forced to give away one of his children to a horned giant. In chapter two, we realise why he chose this particular tale: the next day he sets off with son Abdullah and daughter Pari to Kabul, where, to Abdullah's horror, he gives the girl away to a wealthy couple called the Wahdatis.

At this point, a naive reader might well think that the rest of the book will consist of Abdullah's quest to get his beloved younger sister back. …

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