Although his first instinct is to take his child home, the div asks him to pause and think where the boy will have a better life. “You are a cruel beast,” says the man. “When you have lived as long as I have,” replies the div, “you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.” Within pages, the storytelling father hands his three-year-old daughter to a wealthy couple in Kabul.
The long arc of Nabi’s narrative stretches from their impoverished village to Kabul, through his journey from rich man’s chauffeur to humble host of Western aid workers. His story aches with unspoken feelings, regrets, releases, made tangible by tender details: the lapis tiles looted from a bathroom, the creases in an olive suit, the soft heel of a beautiful woman with no nang nor namoos, no honour.
Nabi’s is such a moving, human story that you can forgive Hosseini for including lines like: “A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop on-board, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later”, which sound wise if you take them in atmospherically, but become irritating if you think about them any longer than it takes to read them.
At other times, Hosseini writes a quiet line that does stay with you. Nabi is a character who slips beneath the notice of many of the novel’s noisier characters. But when he makes a decision that changes all the lives around him, in the hope that a woman out of his league will become his lover, he realises in retrospect that he has been foolish. But he says: “I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.” All the characters in this novel are waiting for the startling twist of fate that will quell the ache and make sense of their narrative.
The stories set in the present day – the warlord, the Greek doctor – are less convincing although I can understand why Hosseini doesn’t want to abandon Afghanistan to its past. He even writes in a character much like himself: an Afghan-born, California-based doctor, who struggles for the appropriate response on a visit to his birth land. He wants to treat the survivors of “a thousand tragedies a square mile” with respect, but he ultimately shuts them out. Hosseini, by contrast, effectively continues to bring the human faces of Afghanistan to the West.
Even if some characters have less emotional resonance than others, and the pace slouches in the centre, when the echoes of the original story return in the closing section Hosseini pulls off his usual – impressive – trick of breaking your heart and leaving you smiling.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
416pp, Bloomsbury, t £16.99 (PLUS £1.35 p&p) 0844 871 1515
(RRP £18.99, ebook £10.25)
Follow Telegraph Books on Twitter
And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
What is it about?
A multi-generational novel about an Afghan family, the plot is hard to summarize as it moves across continents and decades.
Why are we talking about it?
Khaled Hosseini is the bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. This book will be hard to miss - its initial print run in the U.S. is 1.5 million.
Who wrote it?
Hosseini was born in Kabul to a high school teacher and an Afghan diplomat. His family were granted political asylum in the United States in 1980, where Khaled went to school. He trained as a doctor, and while practicing medicine he wrote The Kite Runner, published in 2003, which become an international bestseller. Following a visit to Afghanistan with the UN, he founded the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to provide humanitarian assistance to refugee families and economic and education opportunities for women and children in the country of his birth.
Who will read it?
Almost everyone, if the print run is anything to go by. Hosseini's work manages to be admired by fans of literary novels and popular fiction alike, and glowing reviews suggest this one could even top Dan Brown's recent novel as being the beach read to be seen with this summer.
What do the reviewers say?
Washington Post: "[The plot twists] made me lie to friends and family in order to spend more time devouring Hosseini’s book... It’s hard to do justice to a novel this rich in a short review."
The Spectator: "I’m not sure how seriously to take And the Mountains Echoed as literature — but, let’s face it, Hosseini is a master storyteller."
National Post: "Some intensity of conflict is lacking in the stories, some intensity of desire that lends an almost heroic dimension to a character."
Impress your friends:
According to the CIA Factbook, 64% of Afghanis are under 24 years old. The proportion of the American population aged under 24 is 33%.
So, then. You want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one. Don't either of you ask me for more. It's late, and we have a long day of travel ahead of us, Pari, you and I. You will need your sleep tonight.
As he and Timur are led inside by an armed guard, Idris sees that, like many things he has seen in Kabul, the house has a whiff of past splendor beneath the ruin that has been visited upon it - of which there is ample evidence: bullet holes and zig-zagging cracks in the sooty walls, exposed bricks beneath wide missing patches of plaster, dead bushes in the driveway, leafless trees in the garden, yellowed lawn. More than half of the veranda that overlooks the backyard is missing. But also like many things in Kabul, there is evidence of slow, hesitant rebirth.