And The Mountains Echoed

 

and the mountains echoed

 

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Khaled Hosseini’s book, And the Mountains Echoed, opens with this poem by Jelaluddin Rumi. When I finish reading, I think I know what informed his choice. But what do we really know about each other?

Two sisters, Masooma and Parwana, are sitting on a branch high up an oak tree, their feet dangling. Parwana has always lived in the shadow of Masooma’s exceptional beauty. Life is like that, we are not gifted equally. Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift given randomly, stupidly1. Parwana is in love with a boy who is in love with Masooma. Life is like that, the heart often wants what it cannot have. Love isn’t always requited in the measure it is given.

When Parwana discovers that, the boy she secretly loves plans to marry Masooma, she shakes the branch and Masooma slips off it. In those seconds of clarity we all have after we set an impulsive destructive course in motion, Parwana tries to save Masooma. Too late. Masooma loses the use of her legs and becomes an invalid. Parwana’s penance is to care dutifully for her sister in rural Afghanistan in the forties. It is gruelling work. Her devotion is one long unspoken apology.

Betrayals play out in different forms in the book. There are tsunamis of cause and effect sweeping through generations. Hosseini, in my view, shows us what is in the human heart. He shows us that . . . human behaviour is messy and unpredictable and unconcerned with convenient symmetries2. I find myself suspending judgment each time. When I read these words, something clicks.

I have lived a long time, . . . and one thing I have come to see is that one is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart3.

In each scenario, I ask myself what I would have done. Without the pressure of the moment and with the benefit of hindsight, I weigh my options and choose noble actions. This game I play, read and reflect; it is easy. My life has not been a journey of reasonable actions. I understand every character’s dilemma. I understand their choices even when I don’t approve of them.

Eventually Masooma decides to give Parwana a gift, freedom. She decides to die in the desolate endless expanse of sand and mountains, abandoned on the ground under the darkened sky, cold, and drugged out on a potent mixture from the hookah, with Parwana’s help.

I ponder the nature of Masooma’s gift—freedom, at what cost to Parwana’s conscience? Although she presents it as self-sacrifice, I wonder if it is not self-serving. But such is Parwana’s devotion that she leads Masooma to her death. Of course, the man who Parwana loves, who was in love with Masooma, (but married someone else), is now looking for a wife, having been recently widowed. Can unspoken wishes twist the hand of fate or are we master chess players?

After Parwana reluctantly leaves Masooma to die, trudging back home, she hears something, maybe the wind calling, “Don’t leave me, sister. Come back.”

I tell myself I would go back. Parwana does not. She reasons that nobody will know, just as no one knew about the branch of the oak tree. She has lived with secrets all her life.

For nearly 500 pages, Hosseini shows us the subtexts of our hearts, the subplots that drive our actions, like an onion, he peels layer after layer exposing, in my opinion, our capacity for self-deception. Even with a moral compass, anyone can make black white. The characters are achingly familiar to me.

And the Mountains Echoed, is not about Parwana and Masooma alone. If I have made it seem so, I have done a disservice to Hosseini’s masterful story telling. It is about Saboor, Abdullah, Pari, Nabi, Suleiman, Nila, Idris, Timur, Roshi, Markos, Thalia, and many others, including you and me, a collage of stories linked by strong and weak threads. They have had their time. We have ours now. When the mountains echo, I hope we heed its silent meaning.

Out beyond ideas
of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Does such a place even exist?

 

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2015

 

  1. Hosseini, Khaled, And The Mountains Echoed, (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 378.
  2. Ibid., 378.
  3. Ibid., 124.

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

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41 thoughts on “And The Mountains Echoed

  1. Someone should come and gift me books 😩 I promise to read them 😔.

    Ah, this thing called the human heart. Hmmm

    “I have lived a long time, . . . and one thing I have come to see is that one is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart”

    This clicks as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s plenty to read out there. I haven’t exhausted my books-to-read-in-2014 list! Hosseini makes reading ‘sweeter’ than watching your favourite soap. Enjoy, I’m happy to receive the blame 🙂

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  2. I haven’t read this novel, but it appears to challenge our own foibles, as you say. Hosseini never gives readers an easy time, but his journey is rich. Reading The Kite Runner was edgy, like walking along a cliff, for me. Thanks for this, Timi.

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    1. Ah, a want-to-read list; if only there were 27 hours in a day! 🙂
      For its entertainment value and for the meaning I derived from it and the conversations that started because of it, lying down on the sofa on a Saturday, from morning till evening, was worth it.

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  3. Reading this book definitely make me think about how our decisions reverberate… informing our choices even when we don’t know it and creating a ripple effect for generations to come. And how right you are about how we are human that sometimes we know not the choices we make.. even when we do our best and even when we don’t. I enjoyed this novel although his Kite Runner is still one of my all-time favorites.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. . . . how our decisions reverberate, hmmm. So true.
      My choice can affect generations to come. What a sobering thought and a call to responsible decision making.
      Several people have touted Kite Runner as their favourite. I want to read it.

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    1. Yes, there are shades of grey that I cannot explain . . .
      I like what Nabi said, “I have lived a long time, . . . and one thing I have come to see is that one is well served by a degree of both humility and charity when judging the inner workings of another person’s heart.”

      Hosseini crafts beautiful stories. This one held my attention from start to finish.

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  4. I read this in 2013 and a certain GG Marquez was the only reason it wasn’t the best I read that year. Hosseini is one of those writers who would have been amazing story tellers even if we didn’t graduate from listening to tales under moonlight. His stories are like mini encyclopedias of the human condition.

    Used to recommend this as the Hosseini book to read until I read Kite Runner last year. Now, anyone who sees his name on the cover of a book should just buy, not minding the title.

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    1. “Now, anyone who sees his name on the cover of a book should just buy, not minding the title.” He hasn’t disappointed me so far. I concur XD

      @mini encyclopedias of the human condition- this was what hooked me, how he unveiled people’s actions to reveal their motivations, conscious and subconscious. I like his technique. I hope I can copy it.

      I’ve been meaning to read Kite Runner. Maybe this year I will read more novels than autobiographies. Maybe . . . more lazy weekends please 🙂

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  5. Some of my friends tell me, “Uju if you were ever to become a judge, the jails will remain empty.”

    It makes me laugh, but then I realise they think that way because I have a ‘nasty’ habit of extending empathy even towards criminals (something of how you can read each character’s motive and yet understand their choices).

    More of that in the world maybe?

    ***Sounds like a good read. I should look for this in Naija–or at least Amazon.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s an ‘ambitious’ book. A few parts could have been left out. However, he weaves his tale smoothly. I did not find any part boring. He is a very good story teller, in my view.

      I listened to Bryan Stevenson talk about injustice on TED. He said, ” I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”
      I guess one has to place a premium on human life to get to this point. I like to think that empathy helps us along the way.

      Empathy is a powerful tool. Good for you Uju.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. An interesting quote. Some controversy over the translation from the original language. Anyway, here’s the full poem:

      Out beyond ideas
      of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
      there is a field.
      I’ll meet you there.

      When the soul lies down in that grass,
      the world is too full to talk about.
      Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
      doesn’t make any sense.

      Like

  6. This is a good one, it resounds with me right now after the recent French debacle. Thanks, Timi for introducing Rumi’s first name to me, since I have quoted this fine poet before…

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    1. Interesting that you should mention the massacre at Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris ( I assume that’s what you’re referring to?) because it left me in a daze for days and it dominated my mindset as I read and reviewed this book. While some condemned the attack as injustice, others hailed it as justice . . . wrongdoing or rightdoing depending on worldview . . .

      We have Khaled Hosseini to thank for that. I had previously only referred to the poet as Rumi.

      Like

  7. This is a beautiful review of a seemingly great read. I love Khaled Hosseini. He’s just such a great writer. And like Alafia Dauda said- After reading A Thousand Splendid Suns, I’d expect no less.

    Like

    1. I enjoyed A Thousand Splendid Suns as well. Hosseini is a master story teller. It is his treatment of the human condition, the ‘hidden’ motivation(s) of the heart that really struck me. Since you love him, you’ll love this book 😉

      Like

  8. oh wow. sounds like the book is such a lovely one with enormous lessons to learn. After reading a thousand splendid suns, I shouldn’t expect less from this author.
    thank you for this brilliant review. time to go buy myself a copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This book made me scrutinize some of my benevolent actions and the motivations behind them . . . I came to some interesting conclusions.

      Hosseini is ambitious in this novel- large cast of (believable) characters set in 3 continents over a period spanning 50-60 years with flashbacks weaving in and out seamlessly, subtle references to some of the issues of our time- euthanasia and homosexuality, among them. He is good and I suspect his editors are very good. It should be worth your while.

      Like

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