So I’m sitting on a bench overlooking this beautiful white village where I’m lucky to live. There are some pedals in front of me, in case I feel like playing at exercising. I’ve just finished my next book ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Hosseini. It was another illicit London purchase, but I assume it’s only to be expected that the most recent purchases are the first to be read. Saying that, I think if I hadn’t bought it just before my ban I would have found another reason to include it. A present perhaps? Or then again, as my sister examined my selection she did say ‘Oh I’ve bought that one already.’ Still, we do live in different countries, it might have been some time before she’d see it again. In any case I might have broken a rule for this one, as I really enjoyed his last two books. There are a few authors I’d feel would deserve the breaking of my rule. I’m not going to list them out here as I can’t really think of them all; it’s more a case of knowing when I hear them. Jeffrey Eugenides would be one for example.
I tried to approach this book with low expectations. Yes, I’d really enjoyed the books I’d previously read, but what were the chances of this one standing up?
At first I thought I might have been right, because it didn’t grab me (not that I should expect the best ones to do so) and I didn’t really understand the structure. I’ve delved into this one person’s life and got to know them and now you’re talking about another person I’ve never heard of before, or somebody who was just mentioned by name? I used to like the idea of books of interweaving stories but never really enjoyed them so much in practice. If there’s going to be a thin string holding the stories together why not call it a selection of short stories rather than a novel? One other book on my shelf has been abandoned because of this, though I’ll talk some more about it when/if I do finish it. I’ve also never read the novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ because I read another by the same author, ‘Ghostwritten’, which I did not enjoy very much.
But I do have to say that once I got used to it I did feel it worked. Some of the stories are more connected with the central story (the separation of brother and sister at a very young age) than others. The one that I felt really seemed a bit out of place was the chapter toldl from the point of view of Markos, the Greek doctor. That’s not to say that Markos was not an important character, or that I did not enjoy that chapter it just felt like it belonged in a different book. I suppose it’s a good sign though when you feel that each chapter itself could be the basis of a good standalone book. Also, I don’t want people to get the idea that I cry a lot when reading books, I don’t really! But I did know that there was a danger of this happening, as it had with the other two. As I was reading on and on, despite the sad situations I just felt it wasn’t going to happen. But I did end up tearing up at three points. The first was not really a typical one and despite the misgivings mentioned before it did happen in the Greek chapter.
‘You’ve turned out good’. Another was a piece of advice that I think I should apply to my everyday life: ‘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 I was not good to that person.” I suppose you have to take it in the context but maybe it is so simple and so true. And I
know I won’t keep to it….or then there is the adage of ‘being cruel to be kind’. Sometimes it can be true, but how often do you look back and regret those things?
The last part was ‘I leave this on the shore for you.’ I’m not going to comment any further on that one. The book just needs to be read.
Another theme I took from the book was the futility of good intentions. I am very guilty of good intentions. I think ‘something must be done’ and even in thinking this I feel I am doing something. Or now it’s very easy with Facebook shares to feel we are spreading awareness, maybe making a difference. Of course maybe it’s easier to make a difference when you have more money to contribute and if that money comes from less than clean means it helps assuage the guilt. To be honest I don’t really know where I’m going with this but with one character where distance and time helped his guilt at not following through on his good intentions I guess I felt bad because I know how easy that can happen. He was not a hero, but how many of us are?
At another point there is the statement ‘I never saw any of them again’. Such a stark sentence. I think when I get to the age of the person that says this I could probably say that about plenty of people. But I’m still at that stage of not-quite-youth where I think of people as ‘I haven’t seen that person in 5 years’. Or that 5 becomes 10, but there is always an idea that you may see them again in the future. And then some people you’ve friended on Facebook, giving you the feeling that you keep in touch, though in reality you don’t. I think I am only recently remembering some people I have been friends with in the past and thinking ‘God, I actually might never see that person again’. Not that we have fallen out, but that life has just taken us in different directions.
To return to the book, the separation of siblings is always a tragedy and when it is told well it should be a good story. (I also enjoyed ‘The God of Small Things’ and I bawled my way through the musical Blood Brothers.) This one has such a wide scope. It’s a story of Afghanistan and its people. The wars are there, but serve as a backdrop to the individual stories everybody can empathise with as human beings.