Sacrifice and Redemption: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is the only author who shames me every time I read his novels. My daily complaints become irrelevant compared to what Afghan people have gone through. So if you need a good jolt of reality, read any of his three novels. “And the Mountains Echoed” is his latest addition to his two previous bestsellers “The Kite Runner” and “A Thousand Splendid Suns.”  All three were inspired by the history, culture, and life in Afghanistan.

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed

Summary

The novel starts with siblings Abdullah and Pari travelling to Kabul with their father. They thought they were there to simply visit their uncle Nabi, a chauffeur to a wealthy man named Suleiman Wahdati. It turned out that the Wahdatis are unable to bear children and Pari is the solution to that problem. The siblings were separated and this event branched out to different story lines involving the characters in the novel.

Afghan refugee children

Afghan refugee children

As the story moves along, you will find yourself caught in a web of relationships—a sibling rivalry between two sisters, one being more beautiful than the other; a homosexual tension between an employer and his employee; an unstable mother-daughter relationship; a strained friendship between an Afghan expat and a girl refugee; and an unlikely friendship between a landlord’s son and a peasant.

The novel comes full circle with the reunion of Abdullah and Pari but not in the way that most readers want or expect but it is closest to what happens in real life.

Review

At the core of this novel is the sacrifice that family members are willing to make for the sake of their loved ones. The growth of the characters in this multi-generational novel is what makes it more engaging. The tension between their past and present pulls the reader deeper to their journey of self-discovery and individual redemption.

I would’ve preferred a parallel growth in the lives of Abdullah and Pari in the course of the novel instead of having it summarized in the end. Pari’s life was given more focus than Abdullah’s although both were characters were equally significant in the story. Other than that, it is a masterpiece that rips your heart and pierces your soul. “And the Mountains Echoed” is a novel that beautifully juxtaposes loyalty and betrayal, morality and corruption, kindness and cruelty, hope and despair.

Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini

Hosseini depicts human suffering and triumph so eloquently and painfully that it made me want to reach out to the characters and hold their hands throughout the entire novel. He is a master storyteller who knows how to blend reality and fiction in a way that awakens empathy on his readers. He removes you from your selfish little world by taking you to a place beyond your reach but nonetheless ever so real.

Peering into “The Marriage Plot”

My head is bursting with words. I have to stop what I’m doing right now and let my cramped brain get some air by freeing these overlapping book mumblings! After a month-long hiatus, I finally found some time to steal for a quick blog. I’ve been indulging with my favorite genre the past few months and I promise to write more about them this month. Here’s a taste of something literary for you 🙂

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Pulitzer-prize winner Jeffrey Eugenides created a novel that borders on being a literary snob in “The Marriage Plot.” Dubbed as one of the best novels of 2011, this book followed the intertwined lives of three college friends who tackled the intricacies of love and braved the harsh realities of the world outside the four walls of their classroom.

Madeleine Hanna is an English Major who lives in the world of Jane Austen and George Eliot. She is writing her thesis on the marriage plot found in English novels. Leonard Bankhead is a mysterious yet charming loner who becomes Madeleine’s object of affection. Mitchell Grammaticus, on the other hand, is Madeleine’s long-time friend and long-time secret admirer who pursued Religion as his major. The novel started on the day of their graduation and was narrated with flashbacks and present realities that slowly moved forward to their future.

Madeleine ended up having a relationship with Leonard and marries him eventually (less than a year after their graduation). Mitchell went to Europe and India to find more spiritual enlightenment but this didn’t help him forget the missed opportunities he had with Madeleine and the numerous “what ifs” that hovered in his head. Leonard battled with depression throughout the novel. This condition took a toll on his marriage with Madeleine. Mitchell and Madeleine meet again toward the end of the story after a surprising turn of events.

The Reader Experience

The novel started pretty slow for me but I immediately loved the character of Madeleine being a literature major myself. I said earlier that this book bordered on being a literary snob mainly because of the literary giants (and their works) it mentioned throughout the story. Some of whom are unknown in the circle of average fiction readers. Perhaps this was what gave Eugenides the credibility to create a character, who took that course for the same reason I took mine,

She’d become an English major for the purest and dullest of reasons: because she loved to read.

Finding a kindred spirit like her made me more engaged in reading this novel! Her reading list is pretty awesome (and nerdy for some, I guess). I will enumerate some later on. I love the character development of Mitchell. His search for meaning led him to different places where he saw the myriad faces of spirituality exhibited by various people. The pseudo-love triangle between them was the thin thread I was hanging on to. I was secretly hoping that Madeleine would finally notice and admit that Mitchell was the “one who got away.”

I almost gave up on this novel when it reached the part when Leonard was struggling being a manic depressive. Eugenides made it so depressing that it felt like I was on the verge of having one, too! The uncanny beauty in that part was that I learned what it was like to be depressed and how hard it was to fight it. Leonard was a very intellectual character. He explained his condition in the most sensible way. His terrible mood swings affected me the way it almost ruined Madeleine’s sanity. In the end, Leonard made a drastic decision that I never expected. This decision led to Madeleine and Mitchell meeting again where another decision was made that surprisingly was the ending I wanted for all three of them.

The novel closes with a lot of possibilities. When Mitchell threw this question to Madeleine, I found myself nodding—completely satisfied with Jeffrey Eugenides’ marriage plot.

From the books you read for your thesis…was there any novel where the heroine gets married to the wrong guy and then realizes it, and then the other suitor shows up, some guy who’s always been in love with her, and then they get together, but finally the second suitor realizes that the last thing the woman needs is to get married again, that she’s got more important things to do with her life…do you think that would be good, as an ending?

It exhibits reality in its purest form where anything can happen. It takes exceptional talent to weave that kind of plot. It takes a great deal of risk to veer away from happily ever after and settling with allowing the characters work it out for themselves. And as Eugenides aptly puts it,

It took courage to let things fall apart so beautifully.

Are you ready to take on Madeleine’s reading list? 🙂

Of Grammatology by Jacques Derrida

Writing and Difference by Jacques Derrida

A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes

Portrait of a Lady by Henry James

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

Persuasion by Jane Austen

Emma by Jane Austen

Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

Love Story by Erich Segal

The Madwoman in the Attic by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar

H.M. Pulham, Esquire by John Marquand

Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser

The Role of the Reader by Umberto Eco

On Deconstruction by Jonathan Culler

Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Paradise Lost by John Milton

Murakami, We Meet Again

I think Haruki Murakami and I got off on the wrong foot when I read him for the first time. I thought that there was nothing spectacular about the debut Murakami novel I read. Some of my friends like his writing and even encouraged me to try his other novels. Well I guess writing is a hit-and-miss process. Your debut novel may reach number one in the New York Times’ bestsellers list but that doesn’t guarantee that your next book will be received the same way. Consistency is probably difficult to achieve for any writer.

I decided to give Murakami another try by reading his nearly 1,000-page novel “1Q84”. It consists of three parts; each was a separate book released in Japan. When it was translated to English in 2011, the three novels were put together in one hefty book. When I started reading it I wasn’t sure if Murakami’s intent was to create a sci-fi novel or simply integrate Magic Realism in the story. As the story progressed I realized that he was trying to create a very ambitious and complex love story, transcending all norms and realities.

Two Lives

The novel was told in the point of view of the main characters—Tengo and Aomame. In the last part of the book, a third point of view was introduced in the person of Ushikawa. Tengo taught math in a prep school. He also screened novels for an award-giving body while trying to write his own masterpiece. Aomame, on the other hand, was a fitness instructor and physical therapist, working with high-profile clients. They both looked like seemingly ordinary professionals but each of them had covert jobs on the side.

Each chapter was told alternately in Tengo and Aomame’s voice. The first chapter began with Aomame being stuck in a cab in the middle of heavy traffic. The driver told her to take the staircase behind one of the billboards in the expressway so she could get pass the road congestion. Soon after, she reached the hotel where she was scheduled to kill a man. Aomame was a hired assassin, killing men who brutally abused women. She worked for a Dowager who kept a safe house for abused women. After the first incident, Aomame started to notice things that were different from what she used to see. She noticed that the policemen had different uniforms and guns whereas she distinctly remembered that it was never changed. She researched certain events and read some that she never heard of but were apparently big news. At this point, she started to speculate that she might be in a parallel universe. She was certain that it was not the 1984 she knew she was in. To temporarily reconcile these events, she called that year 1Q84—Q for question mark—because she was not sure what year she was in. There was also one major difference in her world and this world—1Q84 had two moons.

Meanwhile, Tengo was commissioned to rewrite a novel that was submitted to their screening committee. When Tengo first read the “Air Chrysalis” he was immediately captivated by its story despite its horrific grammar and style. The novel was about the sinister “little people” making air chrysalis with another version of you.

There was something powerful about the story that he actually lobbied for it to receive the literary prize. That of course was not possible because of the pathetic prose of the 17-year-old author Fuka-Eri. Thus, Tengo was offered by his editor Komatsu to “ghost” rewrite it. Much to his surprise, Fuka-Eri gave him all the leeway he needed to improve the story.  Then, they submitted it to a publishing company who immediately agreed to distribute the novel from this new literary sensation Fuka-Eri. However, a scam like this would never go unnoticed. Things began to become complicated as the success of the book reached its peak. In the midst of all these, Tengo also started to notice something strikingly different in his world—it had two moons.

Where Two Roads Meet

As you read along “1Q84”, you will be taken to the parallel lives of these two characters, wondering what’s their connection to each other and when will they ever meet. At some point in the novel, Tengo and Aomame’s worlds gravitate toward each other. Tengo discovered that Fuka-Eri escaped from a cult community called Sakigake. She was also dyslexic and she didn’t actually write the novel. She dictated it to her guardian’s daughter. Fuka-Eri’s father was close to her guardian Professor Ebisuno and ever since her father established that commune Ebisuno didn’t hear from her father anymore until the day Fuka-Eri appeared at his doorstep. The professor used the publication of the book to stir the hornet’s nest and allow the media to investigate on the literary prodigy’s family, which would inevitably lead him to the whereabouts of Fuka-Eri’s parents. The Sakigake found out about “Air Chrysalis” and was bothered by the truth in that novel. Fuka-Eri also admitted to Tengo that the “little people” were real.

On the other hand, Aomame was commissioned to kill the leader of the Sakigake group who was responsible for the rape and abuse of the newest addition to the Dowager’s safe house—a 10-year-old girl named Tsubasa. When Aomame met the leader who was supposed to be scheduled for a physical therapy session, she found out that he knew that she was there to kill him. He had the power of telekinesis and most of all he was the mouthpiece of the “little people”. They had placed him in so much pain and he wanted to die. Aomame thought that leaving him alive to suffer would be much better than killing him but the leader negotiated that in exchange for her going on as planned, he would protect the man she loved the most, Tengo. Aomame was surprised that he knew about him. Aomame had loved Tengo since the time she tightly held his hand in a classroom. They were classmates 20 years ago. That encounter left an indelible mark in her heart and Tengo’s. Neither forgot that incident—that lasting innocent expression of love in holding each other’s hands. Fearing for Tengo’s life, Aomame proceeded to kill the leader despite the implied retaliation of the “little people”.

The plot thickened as the Sakigake hired a cunning investigator named Ushikawa. His misshapen head and repulsive looks were part of his entire ensemble. He was a master of deductive reasoning which made him more valuable than other investigators. Ushikawa stalked Tengo to find out more about “Air Chrysalis”. He was also tasked to find where the leader’s assassin was. When he found out that Tengo and Aomame were classmates, he used Tengo as his primary lead to find Aomame. Both of them knew that they were in danger. They were both looking for each other, wanting to save each other. The novel ended with Tengo and Aomame finding each other in the world with two moons and finding their way to their own world where 1Q84 exists no more.

Love it or Hate it

Appreciation for “1Q84” can go both ways—you either love it or hate it. The thing I like most about this novel is the character development of Tengo and Aomame. They grew on me like good friends whom I wanted to help. Their lives were rich with back stories and inner conflicts that demand resolution. The thing I didn’t like about it is the fact that there were so many loose ends in the story. I want to know more about the little people, air chrysalis, Sakigake, and even the annoying NHK cable collector who appears repeatedly in the novel. I wished Murakami didn’t end it the way he did, it was too easy after making the search too difficult. There were unnecessary portions that were irrelevant to the story in my opinion. I think it would’ve been better if it was also released here by parts because each part is independently unique and compelling. Reading the entire three books in one go can be really tiring and dragging. However, I must say that this might be the Murakami that my friends love and rave about. His distinct style and raw voice merged with this pseudo-fantasy and quasi-cult story resulted in a literary epic that only Haruki Murakami can deliver.