'And the Mountains Echoed' by Khaled Hosseini’sReviewed by Marcela Valdes The Washington Post. May 20, 2013.
Nuance is rare on the bestseller list. In most cases, ambiguity is stripped away to appeal to the greatest number and lowest common denominator. So it always renews my faith when a popular novelist shows a decided preference for moral complexity. It suggests that readers crave more than simplistic escape. Or perhaps it just means that some writers, like Khaled Hosseini, know how to whisk rough moral fiber into something exquisite.
Hosseini’s first two novels, “The Kite Runner” (2003) and “A Thousand Splendid Suns” (2007), spent a combined total of 171 weeks on the bestseller list. He knows how to please a crowd. In his case, the secret ingredient might be intense emotion. I’m not an easy touch when it comes to novels, but Hosseini’s new book, “And the Mountains Echoed,” had tears dropping from my eyes by Page 45.
The killer scene is set in Kabul in 1952, in a home so heavy with fruit trees and privilege that when 10-year-old Abdullah crosses its threshold, he feels as if he has entered a palace. Abdullah is the son of a broke day laborer; his mother died giving birth to his sister, Pari. The previous winter, the cold seeped into his family’s shack and froze his 2-week-old stepbrother to death. Now his father has walked Abdullah and Pari across miles of desert, from their tiny village to the great city of Kabul, in hopes that one brutal act — a bargain with two rich devils — will save their family from the next ruthless winter. Later, Abdullah will think back on that terrible afternoon and remember a line from one of his father’s bedtime stories: “A finger had to be cut, to save the hand.”