Hosseini’s muse sings, again: A sweeping saga of love and betrayal

khaled-book1Stories are what Khaled Hosseini, the publishing world’s biggest sensation, loves to tell and tells them rather well. His first novel, The Kite Runner (2003), a heart-breaking story of two young Afghani boys in Kabul, was a proof of his exemplary storytelling skill, as the novel busted the bestseller charts and catapulted the shy California-based doctor to the status of a literary rock star.

The novel was later made into a critically acclaimed movie. Hosseini soon followed this up with a second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns (2007), a heart-wrenching tale of two women whose lives are strangely interconnected. The novel, like his previous one, was also set in his homeland, Afghanistan. Now, six years later, he returns with a much-awaited new book, And the Mountains Echoed, once again bringing alive the world of Afghans, innocence, human frailty and political turmoil.

And the Mountains Echoed is Hosseini’s most ambitious novel and unlike his previous ones, explores the conflicted world of sibling relationship. This multi-generational sweeping saga tells the tale of Abdullah and his little sister Pari who are separated when their father sells his daughter to a wealthy couple in Kabul. Like in his previous works, Hosseini, who till some time back was a doctor, has drawn heavily from his personal experience to create his characters. Abdullah and Pari are drawn upon the two sisters he met in an isolated region of Afghanistan in 2009 when he was travelling there as a goodwill envoy for the United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). He remembers them as the “most beautiful two little creatures” he had ever seen. The image chased him back home and didn’t leave him as he wrote his novel, making him return to it again and again.

The story begins in 1952, in pre-Taliban era and ends with the fall of the Taliban. Spanning nearly five decades, the novel recreates the tumultuous journey that the nation has traversed as well as the emotional upheaval that individual characters go through in the story. Through his works, Hosseini, whose family left Afghanistan when he was just 11 years old – they became exiles after the Afghan coup in 1978 and were granted political asylum in the United States –  has provided a window to the real world of Afghanistan and its people.

Till the Kite Runner arrived on the literary scene, Afghanistan was a montage of stereotypes in the television-saturated public imagination: a treacherous mountainous region inhabited by thugs, warring tribal groups and Osama bin Laden. But the celebrated novel radically smashed that perception and awakened the world to the existence of normal people like us, and the haunting blend of beauty, love and despair in the ruggedly beautiful country.

In a pre-release statement before the book, the author had said, “I am forever drawn to family as a recurring central theme of my writing. My earlier novels were at heart tales of fatherhood and motherhood. My new novel is a multi-generational family story as well, this time revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for each other.”

In his latest novel, he recreates an entire microcosm of human emotions and the tangled web of relationships with exquisite narrative skill. As he said in a recent interview: “They were characters that grappled with things that didn’t play out in a large political war, dealing with things far more personal, intimate – loss of home, loss of parents or a child, trying to reconnect with your family, wanting to belong somewhere. These are the kind of things that these characters are struggling with.”

The tug of emotions in his novels, including the latest, has made them bestsellers. The last two novels sold 38 million copies worldwide – no mean feat indeed! The other thing that happened with the success of Hosseini’s first novel was that it kindled an interest in Afghanistan so much that books on the country, fiction and non-fiction, started flooding the market. The western world discovered a new Afghanistan, beyond the daily dance of mayhem and destruction that saturate the reportage coming in from the chronically violence-torn country.

As an expat Afghan, Hosseini would find himself swept by conflicting emotions every time he visited Afghanistan. He was an outsider as much as he was an insider. Yet, to the locals, he was more an outsider. In an interview, he has said, “I was never quite sure how to approach people.” He didn’t know if he was entitled to ask questions. It’s this intense longing and deeply-felt feeling of uprootedness that makes him write so passionately about his homeland, and transfigures a country and its people who have been fractured by history and distorted by newspaper headlines.