And the mountains echoed – A book review

AndtheMountainsEchoed_OriginalHC_9781594631764About the author: Peymana Assad was born in Kabul and grew up in London. She has a Masters of Arts from Kings College London in Conflict, Security and Development and currently works in Local Government in London. She advises on government relations for Women for Peace and Participation, a non-profit organisation working on getting young female voices in the peace process in Afghanistan.

Khaled Hosseini’s And the mountains echoed was different from Hosseini’s previous two books. This was more honest and realistic, and maybe that is why I liked it so much. The book is comprised of different stories but the characters are all interconnected.

After reading the first chapter, I was practically left in awe. It was a fantasy story, I find the spaces in fantasy stories one that soothes souls, and it was about kind “divs” or demons, gardens of fruit and beautiful flowers. My soul felt calmed by it, like it was telling me something, that people my age tend to forget, that time passes and things pass. The story of the div pardoning Baba Ayub with his potion to forget a-certain sadness in his life, made me so badly crave that potion too. It made me feel like all bad things have an end, they can be forgotten.

When I flipped the page into chapter two, I sighed and thought this is going to thrust me back into reality, where sadness isn’t forgotten so easily. The next chapters covered the reality of harsh truths of life as an Afghan; filled with heartbreak, emotional turmoil and betrayal. Chapter five was about the Kabul of today (or recent yesterday), about the expat life, the parties, the returnee western English-speaking Afghans who held themselves in high moral and glory because they were back again to “help.” It describes the dilemma that Idris Bashiris goes through, about how charm and boasting gets you far in democratic Kabul. The simple fact was, Afghans had changed, the nature of their characters changed forever by war, displacement and exile. It was heart-breaking at how true and honest this account of Afghans today was. This is what I liked, it was an honest account, and there was no sugar coating.

The first truth was that the Afghanistan, of the 1960s onwards, was described as the one where mini skirt wearing Afghan women smoked, drank and mingled with the opposite gender. The one where the simple order of things, such as the crisply paved roads or the educated professionals there by merit and hard work not simply by family name, is an Afghanistan that is very likely not going to come back any time soon. An Afghanistan I never experienced, or to put it quite bluntly, that was robbed from my generation and the generations to come.

But what I liked about these chapters was that Hosseini made sure to describe the other face of the country in those days, the one outside of big cities like Kabul or Kandahar. The ordinary village life, with the livestock, the mud-built homes where people had to fetch water from the well. Although that life was simple, it had sharp reminders of the financial difficulties Afghans face and what some resort to – the selling of daughters, an action out of desperation to survive – a harsh reality for some Afghans today. This harsh reality is one that I have tried hard to remove from my mind all the time but in the story when Saboor sells his daughter Pari, my heart breaks a little. Most of the time when I’ve heard of such real life scenarios I tend to blame the father, not really thinking of how he feels or even thinking of the other family members. That book really shines bright on the loving relationship and strong bond that brothers and sisters share in Afghanistan, something hardly spoken about.

I was thrilled when the pages started filling with Nila Wahdati. This was a woman after my own heart, living her life without a care for what people said or thought (something very hard to do when you’re Afghan), wearing the clothes she wanted and having the relationships she liked. I think Hosseini picked on a soft spot here, many Afghan females, in the west or inside Afghanistan, live the lives their family members want them to most of the time, not wanting to be bound by the guilt and the emotional rollercoaster that goes with fighting the norm. All the other females in the book that he writes about are also facing this same challenge but in different contexts. But in the end, each one of these females, one way or another, sacrifice what they want for their families, hitting a spot about Afghan culture we tend to love and hate – family is always first.

Another soft spot Hosseini hits in the book is the relationship with parents, he covers that love and hate relationship so many Afghans have. Whilst most of us want to do the things we want, we are still in the back of our mind wanting to be accepted and loved by our parents, we don’t just dismiss them because their traditions are old or they think differently. We also feel the struggles they’ve gone through in life but at the same time want to take hold of all the opportunities in front of us, especially living in the western world. This is covered so well by Hosseini’s outline of Abdullah’s daughter Pari, who wants to do things any ordinary American teenager does – like go to a football game with her friends or to the school dance failing to realise how important Farsi language lessons are for the future.

But what I loved most about this book was the ability to describe the truth about warlords in Afghanistan. In that chapter he describes the relationship between the son of a warlord and an ordinary Afghan, how different their worlds are. How the ordinary Afghan feels pain at the injustice and has absolutely no power to fight against it. How land is grabbed, how money is stolen, how the warlord is made to look but what his true face is. And instead of these warlords being held accountable, they are praised for becoming democratic since the fall of the Taliban.

I cried at the end of that chapter because that pain and powerless feeling is so real. Ordinary Afghans who struggle to feed their families are killed by these warlords, manipulated by them and injustice unfolds everywhere in Afghanistan because of them. All these scenarios that the book describes are real. Afghans can’t even raise their voice against it, because if they do, death awaits them at the hands of the warlord’s militia just like the book states.

I’d recommend the book to those who are interested in finally reading some truths about Afghanistan, even if Hosseini lets his ethnic bias shine. In the end, the book doesn’t give you a conclusion to the life stories Hosseini has written about, but rather ends with this one message: “Life goes on…”