Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Book of the Month Discussion: And the Mountains Echoed September 27, 2013

Thanks to everyone who participated in our virtual book club about And the Mountains Echoed, which I introduced here.

Housseini2

 

Here’s how it works: I’ll throw out a few topics for discussion, and you can write your responses about these topics (or others you’d like to discuss) in the comment section.

 

Discussion #1: Family Relationships

This book is stitched together with the best and worst of family relationships—both profound love and the worst kinds of betrayal. It was fascinating to explore what happens to families under extreme circumstances—how some parents gave a child away in hopes of a better life for her and how others sacrificed everything to give their children a better life; how one mother left her daughter to fend for herself while other parental figures stepped in to love children who weren’t their own; how tragedy drew some siblings closer than ever and pushed others apart.

 

I also noted a recurring theme of children being separated from their families (Pari being split up from her biological family and particularly her brother, Abdullah; Pari losing her adoptive mother to suicide; the injured girl Roshi being torn from her murdered family; Talia being left by her mother, Madeleine). The book says that Pari has always felt “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence. . . . Sometimes it was vague, like a message sent across shadowy byways and vast distances, a weak signal on a radio dial, remote, warbled. Other times it felt so clear, this absence, so intimately close it made her heart lurch.”

 

This book seems to claim that families can love us the best and hurt us the most. Do you agree or disagree? Do you think there are situations where it’s best for a child is to be separated from his or her family?

 

Discussion #2: A Peek into a Different World

I read Hosseini’s first book, Kite Runner, on a plane ride to Thailand, and when I returned home, I remember feeling like I’d traveled to two different countries on that trip. The author painted such a clear picture of Afghanistan that I felt like I’d been transported to that world. I felt the same way with And the Mountains Echoed. Hosseini has a gift for bringing places to life, and I enjoyed reading about Kabul through the eyes of story and characters rather than just the lens of the news.

 

What did you think of this book’s portrayal of Afghanistan? Did it make you want to visit?

 

Discussion #3: Overlapping Stories

It took me a while to figure out how all the characters and stories tied together. This might have been especially problematic for me because I listened to it and couldn’t flip back to be reminded about certain characters, but at any rate, it took me a while to get my bearings. Once I figured out that the stories were all satellites from Abdullah and Pari, I was able to piece things together, but I wish the author had made it clearer from the beginning.

 

What did you think of the author’s style? Did you like the approach to tell multiple stories, or do you wish he’d focused more on one character’s story?

 

Discussion #4: Right and Wrong

The book opens with Saboor’s bedtime story to his children about the div (which I gathered to be something of an ogre). It seemed like an odd place to start at first, but as the book went on, I decided it was a perfect setup for the difficult decisions the characters (and especially the parents in the stories) had to make. The father in the tale did the unthinkable—he sacrificed his son for the sake of the rest of his family—but the father came to believe that was the safest thing for him. Saboor himself had to make a similar decision to let Pari be raised by the Nila. Throughout the book, other characters are forced to make similar decisions that have no clear black-and-white answers.

 

I discovered that this book’s title is taken from a poem by William Blake called “Nurse’s Song: Innocence,” which refers to hills echoing with the sound of children’s voices. The last stanza has a haunting feel that’s reflected in Hosseini’s book. The children he writes about who grew up on the tumultuous playground of Afghanistan—they were just children, but they had to see so much.

 

Well well go & play till the light fades away
And then go home to bed
The little ones leaped & shouted & laugh’d
And all the hills echoed

 

Were there any characters you were angry with for making wrong choices for their children? Were there any characters you admired for their willingness to do the right thing?

 

Rating

I would give And the Mountains Echoed 4 stars for the emotive storytelling and the vivid way it brought an unfamiliar culture to life.

 4 stars

How many stars would you give this book?

 

{Remember: There will be a free book giveaway for one lucky commenter!}

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6 Responses to “Book of the Month Discussion: And the Mountains Echoed”

  1. Marilyn Kitchell Says:

    sounds fascinating!!!

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  2. Nancy Rische Says:

    I finally finished a book club book early. I couldn’t put down this book once I started. It was definately not an escape from my life because of the hard topic but it held me. I was able to connect the characters throughout (I could search on Kindle) but I thought they would all come together somehow at the end. Some of the stories felt like they were not completed to me. The only other problem that I had with the book was the feathers. How could Pari not remember them but remember the wagon and the tree?
    #1 I do think there are situations where it is better for a child to be seperated. While it seems hard for me to fathom “giving away” a child I can concieve of times when it would be best. There is no doubt that families see the worst and best of us and can hurt the most and love us the best too.
    #2 I don’t necessarily want to visit Afganistan but it did paint a compelling picture of the country. I loved learning some of the love and the hardships that they experienced.
    #3 I liked the multiple stories but I wanted to have a tie at the end.
    #4 The guy who went with his brother and wanted to help Roshi was a dissapointment to me. But in retrospect we all get caught up in the feelings and once removed from the moment by moment reality it is easy to ‘forget” and move on. I believe God has us touch other’s lives for a reason and sometimes it is only for a short time. We were in Romania with a beautiful young couple who were pregnant. She lost the baby while we were there and God used me to share my experiece of a miscarriage with them. We need to ask God if we should continue a relationship if we aren’t sure or if we feel like maybe we should but don’t see how it will happen. God can make it happen if it is supposed to. But I don’t believe all relationships should go on forever.
    I loved both of the Pari’s. They survived and overcame difficult circumstances and in my opinion were better people for it.
    Overall I would give the book 4 1/2 stars. I loved reading it (as I did Kite Runner). He is a compelling and fascinating writer.

    • Thanks for your great thoughts, Nancy! Congrats on finishing early…it was a long one! I agree with you…I wish there would have been more of a reason for the different characters’ stories to come together at the end. And I’m with you…I’m not sure I’m ready to hop on a plane for Afghanistan, but I was glad to get my armchair view. 🙂 I love your story about helping the couple in Romania–God truly put you there “for such a time as this.”

  3. […] Congratulations to Marie, the winner of the book giveaway for September! You can catch our discussion about And the Mountains Echoed here. […]

  4. nate Says:

    Yeah…I didn’t like it. Ok, that’s not true, not at all. I certainly didn’t dislike it. Housseini is clearly a gifted writer and character artist, but I wanted a plot! It felt like a collection of related short stories to me. I didn’t have any trouble following the connections (probably because I read it in like 3 1/2 days, so it all stayed pretty fresh). Not only that, but they weren’t really different stories; each individual tale was a reflection of the same proto-story. Most of them had the same main themes: the trapped introvert caretaker of a sick/crippled/elderly who does it because of guilt or love (and they aren’t really sure what the difference is); the beautiful, artistic, cigarette-smoking (cigarettes being one of the main metaphors and markers for characters representing the negative sides) absentee mother who abandons her child; the stoic parental figure who speaks quietly with hard edges, carries an iron rod, and doesn’t know how to express their love to their children.

    Also of note, many of the familial relations are not actually related at all, many being adopted (both literal and figurative). It also seems to have a rather ho-hum view of romantic love, largely dismissing it. The characters who do get married tend to treat it more as duty, loyalty, or responsibility, and those who pursue romantic love never find success or happiness (and often end up the caretaker for their parental figure)

    His descriptions of Kabul reminded me more of Macondo (from 100 Years of Solitude) or Mexico than what I’ve pictured Afghanistan to be like. I don’t know that I have a strong internal view of what I think Afghanistan is like, so maybe I just associate it with the closest thing I do know.

    My favorite story was Nasib (probably because most of the themes were probably still pretty new). it’s also probably the only story where nearly everyone is presented in a favorable light. My least favorite was the son of the drug lord.

    I did really like the opening fairy tale. that was quality.

    i’ve not read any of his other books, though I’m sure someday I’ll at least get around to the Kite Runner. I think what much of my dissatisfaction boiled down to was an expectation going into the story for more of a plot.

    If I must star-rate it, I’d probably go for 2 1/2. But you gotta hand it to him; that man can build a sentence and sculpt a paragraph.

    • Great reflections, Nate! I love having you as part of this group…you always give me something new to think about. That’s a good description that this feels more like a collection of stories that echo the others thematically. And you’re right that Housseini can sure put words together. Maybe he was trying too hard to do something different with this book?


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