I must be a glutton for tragedy—at least in the literary sense. Why else would I subject myself to a book capable of eliciting such emotional strain…and love every excruciating page?
I am nearly three-fourths of the way through Khaled Hosseini’s latest book, And the Mountains Echoed. This is the point along any literary adventure where I am best able to gauge how much I am enjoying the journey. The end is nigh, and I am at once hurtling toward it—anxious to see how each plotline will resolve—but also feeling the pull to slow down—not wanting to leave this fictional world (or its characters) come the turn of the last page and the reading of the final word.
Hosseini is a master modern tragedian. He captures and captivates me almost immediately. Within the first few pages I have already fallen in love with his characters. I feel a sense of loyalty and protectiveness towards each one of them—like an abused puppy or kitten. I want to bring them joy and safety, but I know that simply by virtue of being in one of Hosseini’s books, they will know more sorrow than happiness. And the deeper he compels me to fall in love with his characters, the more agony I expect them to experience.
In And the Mountains Echoed, the reader is taken on a non-linear trip through time. There is a consistent narrative voice, but it bends and adapts to show us varied points of view from several different characters. As the book progresses, we see different protagonists experience separation, unrequited love, loss, disease, and war—some up close, some from afar. Some characters are connected to each other directly; some have parallel or symmetrical experiences—albeit separated by continents and/or decades. Slipping back and forth through time as if in and out of consciousness and dreams, Hosseini weaves multiple stories together into a beautiful quilt of disillusionment, disappointment, and suffering. And while I know I hope in vain for a happy ending, I still hope for it as I read.
This is one of the reasons I love Hosseini and his manner of crafting tragedy. He is at once able to make me feel misery and hope. He adeptly intertwines the ominous and the joyful. He writes with an almost lyrical voice, and even finds moments to insert a taste of the humorous. But the humor has sharp edges, and the joy is gravely dampened. It grows like a frail plant in the dessert—straining for life although its death is certain. And so, with just under 100 pages left, I am hurtling forward with tempered hope, and hanging back with dread. And I am enjoying every word of it—savoring the bitter and the sweet of every page. Hoping for a happy ending, while expecting to be gratifyingly disappointed.