A bond of unbridled innocent love ripped by affliction of poverty, betrayal of love and patriotism , and pangs of conscience of those bruised by internecine strife and terror in Afganistan – these are the subtle ingredients in And the mountains echoed , Khaled Hosseini’s novel on how the strands of human relationship frazzle with miseries and mayhem of war.
Three year old Pari who lives with her poor parents in a remote village in Afganistan is the apple of her brother Abdullah’s eyes. But by a cruel ordination of indigence the siblings’ father sends Pari with her step uncle Nabi to a rich family in Kabul he works with , to endow her a life away from the drudgery back home. The pangs of separation from his cynosure chokes his heart with a nothingness and devastates ten year old Abdulla for whom life without Pari is inconceivable : ” Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdulah’s vision everywhere he went. She was in the silences that had become so frequent at the house, silences that welled up between their words, sometimes cold and hollow, sometimes pregnant with things that went unsaid . “
Growing up and shaping the contour of a new life with her adoptive parents in Kabul , Pari’s own family gradually recedes to the periphery of her memory and over time even brother Abdullah too fades from her consciousness. Three years into her life in Kabul , her mother Nila shifts them both to Paris, leaving her ailing husband with Nabi to look after .
In Paris Pari pursues her studies, adapts to her new way of life and culture and starts her professional career as a University professor . Soon she gets married and is blessed with children and grandchildren. But just when everything seems to be going her way , Nila who otherwise is given to an insouciant , promiscuous life commits suicide, leaving Pari with the unanswered question about her real mother and Nila’s very attitude towards her existence : ” What was I Maman ? What was I supposed to be, growing in your womb-assuming it was even in your womb that I was conceived ? A patch for that hole you carried in your heart ? …..I was only another burden, and you must have realized it. But you couldn’t go down to the pawnshop and sell me “. To add to her misfortune Pari catches rheumatoid forcing her into early retirement and her husband too dies of a heart attack , leaving Pari lonely, desolate.
But throughout all these ups and downs Pari feels a void deep down her inner self – of someone missing from her life whose love and compassion have been sub-consciously eluding her for years . Off and on she perceives the pangs of an enigmatic detachment from someone whose emotions she feels are too deeply inter-wined with hers , but is unable to picture him in her mind or trace his existence even in the remotest nook of her memory .
But by a fortuitous twist of destiny Pari gets to hear from Marcos , a surgeon from Kabul who stays in the house where Pari lived decades back . With a blurry picture of her childhood she figures out from a letter left by Nabi with Marcos before dying, Pari manages to visit her forsaken village to discover that the person whose shadowy presence has so long been pounding her deep inside is none other than her brother Abdulah who now lives in California. She somehow succeeds in connecting to his daughter and eventually an ecstatic Pari finds herself emotionally choked before her forlorn brother fifty eight years after their painful separation. Hosseini sketches this ultimate re-union of the siblings through Abdullah’s daughter : “Smiling, her eyes teared over, Pari reaches for Baba’s hands and takes them into her own….Baba grins, moisture now pooling in his eyes as well’ . But the saga of the unfathomable brother-sister relationship ends as a sweet-bitter moment as Abdullah , now a dementia patient is unable to recognize his long faded little sister !!
The passion and poignancy with which Hosseini portrays the devastations wreaked by civil war on Afganistan’s social fabric makes And the mountains echoed a strikingly captivating read.