I started reading And the Mountains Echoed by the talented Khaled Hosseini over a month ago, and I just finished it yesterday. A good novel, a good book takes me less than four days to finish - this one took forever because I was not hooked to it. But I was also not going to abandon it in the middle. I still wanted to know what happens in the bigger, main story.
My sister sent me a PDF of the book with the message, "This is the best novel I've ever read; I read it in one night." And I went, "OMG! I've been DYING to get my hands on this book! Thank you, thank you, thank you so much!" And got started but could barely hang on to the first few pages after the first chapter, which is deceivingly catchy, by the way. A good book should have a catchy beginning. Only the first couple of pages in this one did, when the father (right? I think it was the father) is telling his children a story of some dev, the huge ugly dude who crushes villages to come take kids away from their families every once in a while.
The main problem with the book, besides just not being told as movingly as A Thousand Splendid Suns is, was that there are too many characters to keep up with and too many stories. When you begin exploring that many stories, the difficulty you (and your readers in turn) face is that you cannot tell each one in depth and in its completion. You cannot satisfy your readers enough to give them what they're now craving and expecting. Still, it was only in the middle that I got so hooked to the book that I couldn't put it down. I looked forward to every break and every chance I got to continue reading. That's just not how a good book in my mind is supposed to be like.
The stories themselves were interesting. Then again, I think every story is has some interesting elements to it. But there were far too many stories being told in one major story. I was interested in two of them: the main one and then the story of Iqbal/Gholam and Adel. The last scene in which Adel and Gholam are the center, Gholam tells him that "I'll give you a hint: it's not a factory." I would have loved to know what Adel's reaction to the truth was once he found out from his own family, especially from his father. I would've loved to know how he came to see the truth for himself as well. Highly disappointed that this was not the case. This is why I think it's a mistake to attempt to tell every character's story - you just can't. Oh, and also, OH MY GOD how could I forget Roshi! Seriously?!
I also don't like some authors' habit to go off on unnecessary, un-exciting tangents. I like tangents when they're exciting, but when they're not so, it's frustrating.
The book had an unexpected ending. * momentary spoiler alert * When the expected and craved reunification of the most important characters finally takes place, which is presumably the main reason the reader is still suffering through the book, it's not even what the reader was looking forward to. It finally takes place, after many irrelevant stories and events and descriptions, and it's so brief; it's over as suddenly as it hits the reader. And then the reader turns the page, and lo befalls her/him the Acknowledgment section. I cried because it was a terrible ending, a terrible book, a terrible telling. I now have to imagine myself what the endings must really be like because they were all incomplete.
Of course, as is Hosseini's style, the book is built on deep relationships, on losses and tragedies, on heartbreaks. Some of the stories are powerful enough to make you cry. Others won't move you one bit, and you may feel like you wasted your time reading those ones.
This isn't to imply that I cannot appreciate what one of the book's main purposes might have been in trying to tell every relevant story possible. I appreciate that it is about the multiple ways that so multiple generations of people are affected by poverty, war, tragedies. I get that it's about the intricacies of relationships, between immediate family members and non-immediate ones as well as between friends; I get that it's also about humans' trying to reach out to each other, being invested in each other's happiness and joy, some making every effort to ensure that the life of another individual is made better because of her/his existence, and so on. And I think it's very ambitious that Hosseini set out to do something as beautiful as this. I admire the effort, and I appreciate it. But it didn't flow the way he probably intended for it to, or as the reader expected and imagined it to. I feel like he could have done a better job with the reunification scene, the last few scenes, the way that the * spoiler alter * brother and sister are finally reunited. I was expecting to cry when that happened, but none of it moved me in any way at all. I wanted to cry at that moment when the two looked at each other and recognized each other. I cannot figure out why Hosseini chose to tell this another way instead such that the younger sibling is left as heartbroken as ever. If it had been a moving heartbreak, I would've been cool with it. But it absolutely sucked.
I'm now reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez (may he rest in peace and may God be pleased with him). I'll let you know how that goes, but so far, I've heard amazing things about it. Also, I'm hooked to it.