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.

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This book is FRAGILE: Handle with Care

What will you do if your child is so fragile she can break her bones while she’s sleeping? How will you take care of your little one who can suffer fractures due to a mere sneeze? These are the everyday dilemmas that Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe face about their daughter Willow. In “Handle with Care,” Jodi Picoult, one of my favorite authors, took me once again into a journey involving sensitive and moral issues that can make or break a family.

After reading this book, I had to pause and psych myself to detach my emotions from the characters I’ve grown to love. It had that rare grip on me as a reader. I have to agree with Stephen King on this. This is Picoult’s best novel by far since “My Sister’s Keeper.” Here’s what he has to say:

“You men out there who think Ms. Picoult is a chick thing need to get with the program. Her books are an everyone thing, and the current offering — about a little girl whose bones are so brittle that they break almost at a puff of wind — is her best since My Sister’s Keeper. It’s a legal/medical thriller, but at bottom it’s a story about the American heart of darkness: a small-town marriage under stress. Picoult writes with unassuming brilliance and never descends into soap opera.”

—Stephen King

The Story

Willow was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta (OI) or the brittle bone disease. Despite being extremely fragile, Willow was a genius. She loves blurting out trivia every now and then. She reads during her recovery period after a bone break. Her personality more than compensates for her sickness.

To give you an idea on how fragile Willow is, here’s an excerpt from Charlotte’s narration:

Your first seven breaks happened before you entered this world. The next four happened minutes after you were born, as a nurse lifted you out of me. Another nine, when you were being resuscitated in the hospital, after you coded. The tenth: when you were lying across my lap and suddenly I heard a pop. Eleven was when you rolled over and your arm hit the edge of the crib. Twelve and thirteen where femur fractures; fourteen a tibia; fifteen a compression fracture of the spine…twenty-three happened in your sleep; twenty-four and twenty-five were a fall forward in the snow that snapped both forearms at once…twenty-eight happened during a sneeze; twenty-nine and thirty were ribs you broke on the edge of the kitchen table.

(quote shortened)

Charlotte and Sean O’ Keefe were the most dutiful parents Willow could ever have. Charlotte had to give up being a pastry chef just to take care of her while Sean had to work double shifts as a police officer to pay for their insurmountable medical bills. Aside from her parents, Willow had a stepsister Amanda, who despite being helpful, had secret struggles of her own.

Their trip to Disney World was the turning point of the story. Willow slipped inside an ice-cream parlor and broke both her femurs severely which could lead to internal bleeding. The family didn’t even make it inside Disney World, they all went to the hospital to rush Willow. Upon arriving at the emergency room, Charlotte asked Amelia if she brought the letter. Whenever the O’ Keefes go out they bring the letter from Willow’s doctor saying that she had OI. Unfortunately, Amelia forgot. She got overwhelmed with excitement that she forgot to get the letter Charlotte asked for. This mistake led to the arrest of their parents for being suspects of child abuse.

A lot of people are not aware of OI which is the very reason why they had to bring the letter all the time. Willow’s doctor could not be reached by the hospital and so the social welfare had no choice but to put Amelia in protective custody and Willow in hospital arrest while their parents were in jail. They were eventually released and the family went home but Willow was placed in a spica cast for four months which made it impossible for her to move on her own.

Coming back from Florida, Charlotte consulted a law firm so they could sue the people who harassed them and took their kids in custody. Basically, all she wanted was to be paid financially for the damages they incurred during their stay there not to mention the embarrassment they experienced. After much interrogation, the lawyer said they have no case against the people in Disney World or the hospital. However, they can have another case that can give them huge financial gain. They can file for a wrongful birth lawsuit.

A wrongful birth lawsuit implies that if the mother had known during her pregnancy that her child was going to be significantly impaired, she would have chosen to abort the fetus. It’s a medical malpractice suit that can be filed against the ob-gyn for failing to disclose the condition of the child. Winning this whopping $8-million lawsuit would mean a lifetime of comfortable living for Willow. This would’ve been easy for Charlotte if this did not entail two things: declaring publicly that she would’ve aborted Willow had she known her condition AND suing her ob-gyn who was her best friend.

Review

This novel is a web of questionable medical ethics, conflict of interests, moral obligations, unspoken truths, and dubious motives held together by a mother’s unwavering love for her child. Every part of this novel is believable. I understand how enticing it is to have the future of your child secure and I also know how gut wrenching it is to lie in front of your own child. You’ll discover in this novel how this situation affected all the members of the O’ Keefe family as it was told by each member of the family including Piper, Charlotte’s best friend. Big decisions such as this can make or break a marriage, a friendship, and an entire family.

I love the way Jodi Picoult made the tension so gripping and the emotions of the characters so riveting without coming across as sappy. I wanted to jump inside the pages of the book and scream at Charlotte. I wanted to shield Willow from all the pain. I wanted to tell Sean to control his wife. I wanted to tell Piper to just loan Charlotte money. A good novel makes you want to meddle with the story and be involved in the conflicts set before you.

This book has its shortcomings, too. The recipes in some of Charlotte’s chapters were distracting for me. Although I understand that she’s a pastry chef, I was more eager to move on with the story instead of reading recipes. However, I know that readers who love to cook will love those parts. I had mixed emotions about the ending. It got me thinking for a while and so many questions lingered in my head.

Overall, this is a book that has the right amount of everything. Picoult knows when to pull back when the plot thickens too much. She can put your emotions in a situation that you find yourself becoming so fragile like Willow who can break at any given time. It’s too good to put down once you started it. So if you’re looking for a book that will shake you to the core, then open your doors to the O’ Keefe family…but you have to handle them with care.

Keeping THE VOW

Vows are more than just lip service. These are commitments you made to your spouse that you should live out every single day. Kim and Krickitt Carpenter made the same vow—for better or for worse, till death do us part—not knowing that keeping it will be extremely difficult. I’ve read a lot of love stories but nothing came close to the unwavering commitment that this couple had for each other. This memoir is the story that inspired the movie “The Vow” starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum.

The Love Story

A simple phone inquiry about baseball jackets was Kim’s first encounter with Krickitt. She was the bubbly telephone sales personnel of Jammin Sportswear. Kim, who was a baseball coach for Highland Cowboys, found himself fascinated by Krickitt’s refreshing friendliness. He felt that she was the most helpful person that customers could talk to every day. The usual business chit chats led to longer conversations, to exchanging of phone numbers at home, and to finally meeting each other.

In their getting-to-know process, Kim found out that Krickitt was a Christian. He wasn’t like her, though. Krickitt lived the Christian life—you could see it in her countenance and the way she related to people. They both knew Christ around the same time during their teen years but went off different paths along the way. Krickitt remained strong in her faith while Kim fully committed his life to Christ later on in his adult life. It’s amazing how she prayed for their relationship early on. One of her journal entry reads:

“Lord, I really need your wisdom and Spirit to guide me with Kimmer. Part of me wants to meet him—I think it would be fun. Part of me doesn’t because I don’t want to begin to have feelings for him if this is not of you. If it is, I pray you would show me that. I want to be led by you. I see so many ways on which we relate, but you must be the center.” (Krickitt wrote this before she decided to meet Kim in person.)

That first meeting led to more dates up until May of 1993 when Kim proposed marriage to Krickitt. They got married on September 18, 1993 and exchanged their vows before God, their family, and their friends. They went to Maui for their honeymoon and settled in Las Vegas, New Mexico when they returned. It was a fairy tale story, indeed.

The Accident

The newlyweds decided to celebrate their first Thanksgiving weekend at Krickitt’s parents in Phoenix. It was a long ride but an easy one, passing different interstate highways. During the long drive, Kim noticed that he was coming down with a cold. Krickitt then offered to drive so he could rest. He didn’t even argue because he really was not feeling well.  Around 6:30pm, their car was hit by a pick-up truck on the driver’s side, leaving a wreck that no one could possibly survive. Kim didn’t expect that his two-month marriage would end just like that.

Kim suffered terrible injuries—broken ribs, a broken nose, and lacerations that were too many to count. Krickitt fought a worse battle. She was comatose for almost four months and suffered severe head trauma. The trauma was so debilitating that she had to relearn basic movements such as brushing her teeth, dressing up, and even walking. This also resulted in short-term memory loss that meant all her memories two years prior to the accident were completely erased, including the time she met Kim up to their marriage. Krickitt had no idea who Kim was and when she was asked who her husband was she stated matter-of-factly that she was not married.

The Recovery and Restoration

Krickitt underwent therapy for a long time. Kim acted as her coach, pushing her during rehab sessions. He knew that Krickitt could do better because she was athletic by nature and a gymnast. This pushed her away because she hated how he was being so pushy about her improvement. For Kim, he was just doing his job as a coach, motivating his wife to full recovery. Conflicts intensified with Krickitt’s change in personality and inability to recognize Kim as her husband. Kim, on the other hand, felt broken to pieces each day with his wife’s wild mood swings and hurtful words.

These challenges didn’t stop them from working out their marriage. Krickitt knew that her faith in God was crucial to her recovery and so one day she started to journal again. In one of her entries she wrote:

“Dear Lord…I really want to be back with Kimmer and get our new life going again. I am relying on you to restore all of my feelings for our relationship…Thank you for sparing our lives in the accident, and I ask you would use us for your glory. Please strengthen our marriage and make it even stronger than it was in the beginning. Help us to grow closer together. We give you our trust and thanks…May I become the girl I was and the one you want me to be.”

Both of them went through counselling and sought guidance from their families. Kim fully surrendered to God his control over Krickitt and their marriage. He started to court Krickitt again and built new memories with her. They beat the odds and weathered the storm together. They refused to be part of the statistic that says the odds of divorce for a married person with debilitating head injury are 80-90%. Three years after the accident, Kim and Krickitt decided to get married for the second time. During the ceremony, Kim repeated the same vows he made to her in their first wedding. They went to Maui again for their honeymoon. Eleven years after the accident, they decided to have children.  And after 20 years of marriage, their relationship is stronger than ever. They may have made a lot of mistakes but they did one thing right—they kept their vows.

My Thoughts

Kim and Krickitt’s story just blew me away. Reading their painful and traumatizing journey in detail was heart wrenching. I learned so many things from them. As a married woman, I know that it’s not every day that you stare dreamily into your husband’s eyes. It’s not every day that you feel blissful in your marriage. And it’s okay. After all, loving someone is a decision. It’s a choice not based on my moods or feelings. I love what Krickitt said in the book,

“When I lost my memory, I lost my feelings for Kim. I had to re-discover what it was about Kim I had fallen in love with before. I can’t remember what it was like the first time, but I’m guessing that this time my love has grown in a different way—not that ‘fluffy’ romantic love, but more of a conscious choice. The fact was, I was married to this man. The feelings came later, and by God’s grace I’ve grown to love him again.”

I also appreciated the effort that Kim put into their marriage. When he stopped looking for the old Krickitt or expecting her to return that’s when things started to change for them. He decided to pursue and love the new Krickitt and build new memories with her. It’s tough to have your spouse and lose her at the same time. It’s one of the cruelest ironies I’ve heard of. This didn’t faze Kim Carpenter. He remained by her side regardless if she wanted him there or not. Krickitt stayed with him even if she didn’t know him nor felt any connection to him. With God being the center of their marriage, Kim and Krickitt held on to their vows more than life itself. As they continue inspiring people all over the world, I realized that stories like these should be a great reminder to all of us that marriage is worth fighting for and it always deserves a second chance. 🙂