I’m sitting here looking at my most recent read, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, and trying not to resent it.
It’s a beautifully written book. An excellent book. Hosseini is one of those writers who doesn’t just write a good story (and he really writes a good story), he has that rare and shining ability to craft prose like poetry.
This book will break your heart.
And the Mountains Echoed is an overarching story, spanning 60+ years. Each chapter is a different vignette, a tile in the mosaic. You never go back to the same character’s point of view – you bounce from one decade to thirty years later, then back twenty, from Afghanistan, to Paris, to California, and back again. He even switches unpredictably from first to third person, from present to past tense. You would think that this would make the story feel disconnected, like a jumble of pieces. You’d think you’d get disinterested, or get so involved in one vignette that you can’t move on to the next. But you don’t – with just a couple of sentences, you’re invested. All of the jumping around doesn’t feel awkward, like when you’re dreaming and it’s completely natural to walk out your kitchen door into the Tower of London.
It’s poignant and engrossing. It would have been a quick read, if I didn’t have to keep putting it down to grieve.
The tragedy of ATME is not doomed lovers or terrible battles. Those kinds of things, you can read as an observer. “Oh, so sad,” you say, you sniffle and blow your nose and get on with your life. ATME does not allow such safe reading. Every story within the story is a tragedy of everyday brokenness. There are nine chapters: there are at least nine griefs. At least nine times that I had to put it down and say, “Later.” And there will be a chapter, a character that you identify so strongly with that you have to watch reruns of “30 Rock” to distract yourself.
(Side note: TV may not be the best coping mechanism.)
The characters of ATME are not heroes, they’re normal people, like us. They experience terrible tragedies or maybe just the sad brokenness of time’s inevitable march, missed opportunities, or disillusionment. That’s what makes this book so gripping and so effective. The stories might be fictional but the truth (and the sorrow) in them is not.
I bet you’re getting on Amazon right now to buy it, right?
If I were to recommend this book based on how good of a book it is – how well-written, how powerful, how relevant – I’d say, yes, you should read it. But, with that recommendation comes a big huge caveat. It’s sad. It’s really really sad. It’s all the different kinds of sad. Even the bad kinds of sad. It’s a book of sad, written beautifully.