AUGUST 2013

And The Mountains Echoed 
Khaled Hosseini
May 2013

Contributed by Cortnie Rosenhaft

The Kite Runner and its female perspective follow-upA Thousand Splendid Suns, spent a staggering amount of weeks on bestseller lists, have been translated into numerous languages, and have sold over 10 million copies worldwide. The accolades go on and on. So, the burning question is, could Khaled Hosseini have a “three-peat” with his May 2013 debut of And the Mountains Echoed?

And the Mountains Echoed centers on the lives of Pari, her older brother, Abdullah, and her step uncle, Nabi. It is through the course of their lives, that the plot is unfurled. Like all of Hosseini’s novels, the primary backdrop is Afghanistan, which is defined by Soviet occupation and war. And the Mountains Echoed spans sixty years of history in which the plethora of characters are woven together by an artful and calculated plotline. The structure of the novel is certainly not linear.  Rather the chapters in And the Mountains Echoed are soap-opera like, organized in a way to keep the reader’s sense of mystery and intrigue engaged.  Chapters bounce from family to family, generation to generation, and country to country – there’s even a sprinkle of inner monologue (in the form of personal letters and interviews) thrown in.

Once again, Hosseini manages to make Afghanistan accessible, beautiful, and unique through his relaying of customs and vivid descriptions of nature: “He breathed in the coppery smell of desert dust and looked up at a sky thick with stars and ice crystals, flashing and flickering. A delicate crescent moon cradled the dim ghostly outline of its full self” (29). In true Hosseini fashion, the pages are peppered with rich metaphors and precise diction. This, I think, is Hosseini’s most successful accomplishment in his third novel. There is no disputing what a poetic and heartfelt writer he is.

With And the Mountain Echoes, Hosseini refashions themes that are based on the human experience. Karma, although not specifically referenced in its pages, is obviously relevant; how we treat others is of the utmost importance in how a life plays out. Children, in this novel, are loving, kind, and gentle. However, once they grow up, their naiveté and innocence is robbed by from them by the selfishness of others. The message is clear (and somewhat brooding): once you become an adult, you die one. Don’t be confused - a “coming of age” novel this is not. Hosseini exposes that we all can love, err, feel regret, and can harbor deep-rooted pain for hurting the ones we love, especially family.  For me, I’ve taken away that we can have the best of intentions, but at our core we are people that are fallible, selfish, vulnerable, and sometimes immoral: “A spectacularly foolish and baseless faith, against enormous odds, that a world you do not control will not take from you the one thing you cannot bear to lose” (225). Uplifting? No. Honest? Yes

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan and eventually moved to the United States when his family sought political asylum in the 1980s. While in the U.S., Hosseini earned a medical degree and while he was a practicing internist began penning his first novel, The Kite Runner (2001). Hosseini lives in California and has since established a non-profit organization which provides humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.

Contributing Reviewer:
Cortnie Rosenhaft left the NYC corporate world in 2004 to become a high school English teacher. She currently teaches ninth and tenth grades at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, NY.

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    Maddie on Things: A Super Serious Project About Dogs and Physics
    Theron Humphrey

    2013

    Dogs are quite often the most popular member of any family.  Generally speaking, they always are happy to see you are up for most anything - if they think it'll make you happy.  Maddie, a sweet-tempered 45-pound rescue coonhound  is no exception.  She accompanied her owner, Theron, on a yearlong, cross-country trip while he worked on a photojournalism project. In his spare time, Theron took photos of Maddie doing what she does best: standing on things. From bicycles to giant watermelons to horses to people, there really isn't anything that Maddie won't stand on with grace and patience. The poignant Instagram photos of this beautiful dog and her offbeat poses have captured the imagination of all those who long for a road trip with a good dog for company.  Maddie on Things celebrates the strange talent of one special dog and will resonate with any dog lover who appreciates the quirky hearts (and extraordinary balance) of canines.

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    Pigs in Heaven 
    Barbara Kingsolver
    Harper Perennial
    1993

    She got her name--Turtle--because of her grip.  She latches on to her mother's hand (or whatever is available) tightly. In fact, it's questionable if circulation can continue. But she's holding on for good reason. Her birth mother died, she was abused and then given away in a parking lot. And as if this isn't enough trauma for  a six-year-old, the Cherokee nation is staking a claim on her and threatening to take her away from her adoptive mother, Taylor.

    Does this sound like something off "The Oprah Winfrey Show?"  Well, in a way it is.  You see, Turtle witnesses a freak accident at the Hoover Dam and is subsequently responsible for the rescue.  As a result, she is a guest on "Oprah." Then everything changes.

    After the "Oprah" appearance, Taylor is visited by Annawake Fourkiller, an Indian rights lawyer.  Taylor fears the worst, which that the tribe may try to take Turtle away from her. In desperation and fear, Taylor and Turtle hit the road.  And, along the way to no where in particular, they meet a cast of eccentric characters and have the occasional crisis of faith.

    But above all else, Pigs in Heaven is about faith and family. The novel explores the many definitions of family--not passing judgement but asking thoughtful questions.  The story, like of all Kingsolver's works, is written simply, with a touch of wit.

     

    A personal read

    Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955, and grew up in rural Kentucky. She has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. At various times in her adult life she has lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands, and has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America. She spent two decades in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to southwestern Virginia where she currently resides.  Her latest novel is Flight Behavior.

    Same shelf:
    The Bean Trees
    Barbara Kingsolver

    Animal Dreams
    Barbara Kingsolver

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    Tenth of December
    George Saunders
    2013

    The best way to introduce you to George Saunders is by allowing him to do this himself. So, before reading on, I encourage you to click on the link that follows for his philosophy on life - truly inspirational:  Saunders Syracuse Commencement Speech.

    Saunders has wonderful insight into the human condition.  Tenth of December is a dressed up take on life and the crisis and pressures it can bring.  Some of the stories are absurd but the themes are well-known to all.   Trying to keep up with the Jones in "The Semplica Girl Diaries", the pressured state of a soldier returning from war in "Home," the disparate points-of-view in "Puppy."

    Metaphorically, Tenth of December, is like driving through a sub-division where all the houses look the same and behind closed doors people are dealing with the real complexities of the human condition.  One of our contributors summed it up this way:

    "The first short story in this collection had me laughing out loud.  It was witty, relatable and Saunders’ observations about people were spot on.  However, I can’t say that I enjoyed some of the other stories, due to their subject matter.  The story about prisoners who were being used as human guinea pigs in experiments to manipulate feelings and interactions was deeply disturbing. The New York Times Magazine  (1/6/13) called this book the “best book you’ll read this year”.  The writing is worthy of that accolade, but the subject matter of some of the stories left me feeling sad and depressed," wrote Diane Pollack of Arlington, VA.

    George Saunders is a New York Times best-selling author.  He currently teaches in the MFA program at Syracuse University.  His literary career took off after a published story in The New Yorker.  He has been awarded a MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowship.  His 2013 commencement speech is scheduled to be made into a book.  

     

    Same Shelf: 
    A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olin Butler
    Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri