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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Revisiting the Cemetery of Forgotten Books

After more than a decade of waiting, my reader radar sounded its deafening alarm, alerting me that Carlos Ruiz Zafón finally released “Prisoner of Heaven,” the sequel to his epic book “Shadow of the Wind!” So I did what every eager beaver bookworm does, I went to the nearest bookshop and grabbed a copy of “Prisoner of Heaven.” I feel like I’m the 10-year-old Daniel Sempere, the protagonist in “Shadow of the Wind,” holding one precious book from the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This time, I’m holding its sequel! I read the book in roughly five hours but divided into two days (had to squeeze it in between my mommy duties). I was actually surprised that the book was only 278 pages long!

Before I move on with my review, let me just say that if you haven’t read “Shadow of the Wind” then you’re missing out on one of the best modern literary books of all time. Zafón has probably mastered the art of Gothic fiction. His three books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series—The Angel’s Game, Shadow of the Wind, and Prisoner of Heaven—are all filled with mystery, intrigue, noir, and unbridled romance.

The Story

“Prisoner of Heaven” follows the life of Daniel Sempere who is now married to Beatriz. He continues to manage the Sempere & Sons bookstore with his father and his close friend Fermin Romero de Torres. It was Christmas time and sales were not picking up in the Sempere bookshop. The seemingly uneventful season became alive when a grim-looking stranger appeared at the store. He bought the most expensive book and left it for Fermin with a strange dedication:

For Fermin Romero de Torres,

who came back from among the dead

and holds the key to the future.

This ominous visit led to a series of discoveries about Fermin’s life at the Montjuïc prison. Zafón’s description of this Spanish version of Alcatraz somewhat reminded me of Christopher Nolan’s “The Pit” in Dark Knight Rises. In this isolated no-escape prison, Fermin’s story intersected with the lives of two mysterious prisoners—the prolific writer David Martin and the guile Sebastian Salgado. He also came face to face with the vile prison governor Mauricio Valls and was even used against his will to extract information from the two inmates. The sinister events at Montjuïc prison later on unveiled the story behind the death of Daniel’s mother Isabella.

The novel ends with a cliff hanger that begs for the fourth and final installment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

Review

You might probably be wondering what it is about Zafón’s novel that’s worth reading. For me, his pervasive storyline that highlights the significance books and the relevance of writers to society is what made me swoon over his books. I believe every bibliophile should read one of his novels!

Now back to my two cents worth. Filled with secrets from the dark alleys of Barcelona, “The Prisoner of Heaven” is a novel of truth and deception, love and lies, corruption and integrity, survival and demise. It’s like peeling off an old wallpaper to find out the original painting behind it and discovering that there’s so much more to the image you exposed.

There are certain authors that have a distinct voice and Zafón is one of them. As I was reading this novel, I knew that I was reading raw Zafón. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be to read his novels in Spanish! His narration and descriptions reminded me so much of “Shadow of the Wind” and “The Angel’s Game.” The way he romanticized the landscape of Barcelona while juxtaposing its lurking darkness was enthralling. The riveting suspense was addicting to the point where you’d feel the urge to eat all the remaining pages of the novel.

The ending was a total prequel to the final installment in the series. My head was screaming for a closure but then that’s what penultimate novels are supposed to do. I don’t know how long I’ll wait again for the sequel but I’m sure it’s worth the last trip to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

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