"I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish was not good to that person. You will never think that."
I love Khaled Hosseini's books. This is his third, and I love all three of them.
If you're a reader at all, you've probably read (or at least heard of) The Kite Runner. His second book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, was also pretty fantastic. I read both of these books while teaching junior English, and I had many students in my classes who moved to the US from countries in the Middle East. Several of these awesome kids became my book buddies, letting me ask questions about culture and tradition and religion, even translating Farsi for me when it was used in the book and I wasn't confident in my context-clue-decoding ability. It connected me to them, which made my experience with the books so much richer than just the text.
And the Mountains Echoed is filled with raw humanity, much like the previous two books. Unlike the other books, it ventures outside of the backdrop of Afganistan, following characters to Paris and Greece and the United States. The book starts with a simple, sad story of a brother and sister who are lost from each other, but then Hosseini weaves an intricate story which follows the major and minor characters throughout their lives. We see how a single event changed the course of life for many people -- generations of people.
My only wish is that I had taken notes as I read. I kept thinking I needed a chart to keep track of the characters and how their lives were intertwined. Had I been reading a paper book I likely would have done this in the front cover, but I read it on my Kindle and so only highlighted. A character diagram (like the one I used to draw on my classroom white board when I introduced Gatsby) would have kept me from having to flip back to past chapters to make sure I had things straight.
Perhaps my favorite character was a single mom and teacher, Odie. She cares for a child who has a shocking facial deformity, and when she first enrolled the child in school she stood on a bench and held up the child. "'This is Thalia Gianakos,' Mama cried, 'As of today...' She paused. 'Whoever is crying, shut your mouth before I give you a reason to. Now, as of today, Thalia is a student at this school. I expect all of you to treat her with decency and good manners. If I hear rumors of taunting, I will find you and I will make you sorry. You know I will. I have no more to say about this business.'" Odie is my new hero!
Critics of Hosseini's other books comment that his work can be overly poetic or predictable. I can see where they're coming from, but I find very little of that in Mountains. Honestly, I don't mind these moments of direct life lessons because I find them appropriate in their placement. One such case is when a plastic surgeon explains his calling to correct the deformities that a "disgraceful" world uses to judge people. It's preachy, yes, but it's also a darn good point.
And the Mountains Echoed made my reader's heart happy. As long as Khaled Hosseini keeps writing books, I'll keep reading them.