Saga of Afghan Displacement

by CHARLES R. LARSON

Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed—easily his best—follows its main characters from rural to urban, village to city, country to country, continent to continent as the writer addresses one of the most ubiquitous and disturbing issues of our time: displacement.  True, for several of the characters in this richly textured and complex narrative, the transference from one geography to the next is by choice.  Yet, since the background is Afghanistan, this displacement is not a matter of choice for many of the country’s peoples.  Rather, it is loss in the most debilitating manner, loss of identity.  As one of Hosseini’s characters states, referring to her father’s insistence that she learn Farsi when she was a child, “He said that if culture was a house, then language was the key to the front door, to all the rooms inside.  Without it, he said, you ended up wayward, without a proper home or a legitimate identity.”

No surprise, then, that there is a house in Kabul that is central to much of the narrative.  Nabi works there (as cook and chauffeur) for a wealthy and childless Afghan couple, Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati.  As early as 1952, he brings his young nephew and niece, Abdullah and Pari, from Shadbagh to visit his employers, a journey that will alter their lives. The boy instinctively knows that the visit has changed his life, though it will be some time before he understands precisely how.  When he looks at Mrs. Wahdati, he detects something alarming about her, “something deeply splintered.”  Perhaps it is because of her remark, “It will be good to have a child around the house.  A little noise, for a change.  A little life.”

All the boy can think about is home.  “He found himself thinking of the smoke of Parwana’s cooking, the kitchen shelf cluttered with her jars and mismatched plates and smudged pots.  He missed the mattress he shared with Pari, though it was dirty, and the jumbles of springs forever threatened to poke through.  He missed all of it.  He had never before ached so badly for home.”  Abdullah returns home, but shortly thereafter Pari is sold to Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati and the two are separated forever.  Pari is not quite four years old; Abdullah is ten.  Their mother died bearing Pari; their father needed the money.  We are lead to conclude that such business transactions were not unusual.

Thus Pari begins her new life in the home in Kabul, pampered in a way she has never known before. After Mr. Wahdati has a stroke, Nila, takes Pari with her to Paris.  As readers, we have figured out that there was something never quite right about the Wahdatis’ marriage.  Nila is much younger than her husband, and there was something far from proper about her background.  Years and years pass, and Nabi takes care of his employer, who becomes increasingly frail.  The two of them rattle around in the large house in Kabul, while Nila and Pari remain in Paris, as the child grows up believing that Nila is her biological mother.

Afghanistan is controlled by the Russians, then the Taliban, finally the Americans.  The wars are endless.  So much time passes that minor characters in the story (also from Shadbagh) flee the country during bad times and return during better times. When Whadati dies, he leaves the house to Nabi, not simply because the younger man took care of him for so many years but also because he was in love with him.  It was unspoken love, incapable of being expressed during the years described.  Nabi may not even have realized the extent of Whadati’s affection until he inherits the house and a cache of the older man’s paintings—all of Nabi.  That revelation makes it clear why Nila left her husband (in name only) years ago.

Perhaps to atone for the part he had to do with Mr. and Mrs. Whadati’s “purchase” of Pari all those years ago, when the Americans arrive in Afghanistan and a Greek doctor needs a place to live, Nabi lets him move into the house in Kabul at no charge for rent.  Ironically, Nabi retreats into the shed he lived in many years earlier when he first lived in Kabul, before he moved into the house to take care of his employer.  The house, thus, undergoes additional changes with its newest occupant, Markos, the Greek doctor.

What this review has intentionally failed to mention is how imaginatively And the Mountains Echoed is structured, looping back and forth in time, following generations from setting to setting (Afghanistan, Europe, the United States), recording years of pain and suffering and displacement.  The story is full of surprises; the minor characters are minor only in the space devoted to them, since many of them (such as Dr. Markos) are as carefully drawn as the major ones.  And, yes, the sorry also moves through generations (Pari’s daughter, for example, and Abdullah’s eventual family in California).  I wasn’t taken by  Hosseini’s The Kite Runner as were so many of his readers; A Thousand Splendid Suns didn’t interest me at all; but And the Mountains Echoed takes what was best in those two earlier novels, builds upon it, and leaves us with a story that will often take your breath away.

Khaled Hosseini: And the Mountains Echoed

Riverhead, 416 pp., $28.95

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.  Email: clarson@american.edu.

 

 

 

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future