I read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini over an entire night and day spent at the hospital waiting for Snubnose to be operated upon. Wait, what!
Yeah, Snubnose has had some health issues for a while now. She has always been a delicate child succumbing to coughs and colds and fevers almost every other week.
She seemed to get better when she turned five, but last year she took a turn for the worse, staying on medication for almost the whole year. It was her adenoids that were huge and swollen up causing a lot of problems for her – sleep apnea, permanently stuffy nose, and general lowness of spirits.
We had been medicating her all of last year in the hope that the adenoids would shrink. However, things took a turn for the worse when she started getting frequent headaches. We spoke to the doctor, decided waiting for a turnaround was totally counter-productive, and we scheduled an operation to get the adenoids out.
Everything worked super, and Snubnose was a total champ throughout the entire hospital stay and operation.
She was actually super-thrilled with all the attention and fuss. This was her first hospital stay and instead of being scared, she was excited about the novelty of it all – quizzing the nurses about all the devices around her, posing for photos with the nurses (there was a Woman’s Day function at the hospital), and generally being a great patient.
Here she is all excited to be wearing the hospital dress 😀 .
She had to be put under general anesthesia, and though I didn’t show it, I was super-apprehensive. There has been a rash of newspaper accounts recently about anesthesia gone wrong with children’s surgeries. Even now, there is a child in a coma fighting permanent brain damage.
So yeah, I was extremely tense throughout the time she was in hospital, before, during, and after the operation when she was still sleeping.
To while away the time and distract myself (I couldn’t sleep the entire night before the surgery), I picked up this book to read. In one way, this was a great hospital read as the story moves fast and it’s easy reading. On the other hand, it’s tough because of the story – so many sad things happen in the book that it was hard to read during an already stressful time.
The book starts wonderfully with a story within a story. A father telling his two young children a story:
So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just one. Don’t either of you ask me for more. It’s late, and we have a long day of travel ahead of us.
He then proceeds to tell a story of a man’s grief after he’s forced to give up his beloved son for the sake of the family.
The story told has a deep impact. It is a foreshadowing of this father’s own actions where he is forced to sell his daughter to a rich family so that he can protect and care for the rest of his children.
Pari who is 3 soon forgets her birth family and acclimatizes herself to her new parents, but her brother Abdullah is heart-broken and carries the scars of this separation throughout his life.
However, this book is not just about the story of Pari and Abdullah. It’s actually a story of all the people around them and how they deal with the various wars in Afghanistan. Pari and Abdullah form the crux of the story, but the others around them are just as important and just as interesting.
I loved the story of Pari’s uncle Nabi and the story of Nila Wahdati (the woman who adopts Pari). Their stories are very nuanced and complex, and I think Hosseini captured them beautifully – neither all good nor all bad.
Nila Wahdati is especially enigmatic – rich, spoilt (some might say), and willful – she is not the traditional image of an Afghani woman. Her bold sexuality, selfishness, and bad mothering was startling and off-putting at first, but I could relate to some of the things she said.
When asked why she removed Pari from Afghanistan and brought her to France she says:
I didn’t want her turned, against both her will and nature, into one of those diligent, sad women who are bent on a lifelong course of quiet servitude, forever in fear of showing, saying, or doing the wrong thing.
Women who are admired by some in the West — here in France, for instance — turned into heroines for their hard lives, admired from a distance by those who couldn’t bear even one day of walking in their shoes.
Women who see their desires doused and their dreams renounced, and yet — and this is the worst of it, Monsieur Boustouler — if you meet them, they smile and pretend they have no misgivings at all. As though they lead enviable lives.
The moment I read the above paragraph, I knew I couldn’t hate Nila like I wanted to.
And that’s what’s great about this book. All the characters are written very well and in a way that you can empathize with their situation.
Even minor characters like Idris and Timur, and the Greek plastic surgeon are written very well. Some people might feel they are a bit superfluous, and yes, they are when you see the minimal impact they have on the main story, but I enjoyed reading these sections just the same.
If I have a complaint, then it must be the repetitive references to mercy killing. I don’t believe in it, and I don’t not believe in it either, but there was just too much of it in my book, and if you have read my previous review, you’d know my dislike for plot points that repeat themselves.
In The Casual Vacancy, this repetition at least had a function, in And the Mountains Echoed, there wasn’t even that excuse to defend it. Also, the book has a tendency to veer into overly sentimental territory. Thankfully, it doesn’t linger long there.
In spite of these two issues, I liked the book a lot. The ending was perfectly bitter-sweet and ties up the plot quite nicely.
All in all, I highly recommend this book. If you are already a fan of Hosseini’s style of writing, you will love this one also.
Update on Snubnose
Snubnose is doing fine after the operation. Apart from a slight temperature for a couple of days, she has bounced back sharp, even attending (and winning) a Gold medal for basketball in her school’s annual Sports Day.
However, I do feel that she has taxed her health quite a bit, and I can’t wait for the summer holidays to roll around so that she can rest and recoup from a rather hectic year all round.