My beloved book club gathered this past Thursday for the first time since May. We didn’t necessarily plan to, but we ended up taking the summer off. One of our founding members has moved out of town (sniff, sniff), but the two people she invited to join us have stayed on, which is great! I love that this group has given me an outlet to talk books AND given me a great way to get some female company. We have yet another newcomer who has expressed interest in joining us next month, which is exactly what I hoped would happen when I started this group: that we would grow organically and build relationships within the group that helped use feel comfortable bringing other friends into the fold.
For August we read And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
You’ve probably at least heard of (if not read) one or both of his other books: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. As for me, I read The Kite Runner a couple of years ago and found it far too graphic for my taste. It was very well-written, but I just remember feeling stunned at the end of it and swearing I would never read another book by Khaled Hosseini again.
A fellow book club member who loves his books convinced me that this one would be different enough that I should give it a try, and in the name of keeping an open mind, I dove in.
Here’s the Amazon synopsis in case you’re not familiar with it:
Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.
My experience with the novel was that it felt a bit choppy. With so many characters and settings, each chapter left me wanting more about that particular storyline (which you might argue means it was doing its job), so I felt a little unsatisfied. All of us in the book club found it nearly impossible to keep up with all the names, especially since they were unfamiliar ones to our Anglo ears. That made discussion rather interesting! :-) I was emotionally involved enough to feel twinges of sadness for various characters, but not to the extent that I cried. All in all I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. One book club member did, though, so I think we would all recommend giving it a read.
One thing that I found interesting was that I printed out some discussion questions before we met and highlighted a few that I particularly wanted to touch on, but in trying to skip around we ended up inadvertently addressing most of the other questions in the reading guide, as well. I guess those question-writers were on to something!
The epigraph to the book is a from a Rumi poem, and it reads, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing / there is a field. / I’ll meet you there.” We talked about how this related to actions taken by characters in the book and whether it is possible to be all good or all bad. Several of the characters in the book made choices that could be read as “bad,” but in the context, it’s much more grey. This question of intent is central to the reading of this novel.
Each of the characters in this book is connected to another in some way, and it was fascinating to make my way through and start to untangle the threads. Some connections were explicitly drawn and were major plot elements. Others were softer; discovering them just made the reading a little bit richer. We had mixed feelings about whether or not it worked that Hosseini included so many different characters, so if you don’t like complexity in a novel this one may not be for you.
Finally, we talked about the William Blake poem that evidently inspired the title.
I’ll leave you with it here and just say that reading this poem in light of having read the novel was quite poignant.
WHEN the voices of children are heard on the green, And laughing is heard on the hill, My heart is at rest within my breast, And everything else is still. ‘Then come home, my children, the sun is gone down, And the dews of night arise; Come, come, leave off play, and let us away Till the morning appears in the skies.’ ‘No, no, let us play, for it is yet day, And we cannot go to sleep; Besides, in the sky the little birds fly, And the hills are all cover’d with sheep.’ ‘Well, well, go and play till the light fades away, And then go home to bed.’ The little ones leapèd and shoutèd and laugh’d And all the hills echoèd.
Have you read And the Mountains Echoed? Meet me out in that field (er, in the comments) and let’s chat!