Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Many Splendid Women of Khaled Hosseini

By John Cheeran

There is more to Afghanistan than Taliban. Although not a late discovery, it is important to state this after reading Khaled Hosseini’s ‘And The Mountains Echoed’ (Published by Bloomsbury, Rs599). Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, writes with a striking absence of rage but with deep understanding of quotidian desires. You agree with Nabi, the chauffer, who plays a pivotal role in this generational saga, when he says: “I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.”

And most often, such waiting is futile. And The Mountains Echoed is not about Afghanistan. It is after all, about you and me. As Markos Varvaris, the Greek plastic surgeon who pitches camp in Kabul tending to the war victims, ruminates about a mother who disowned her disfigured child in pursuit of happiness: “We are not even that different, she and I. Hadn’t we each, in the end, unmoored ourselves by cutting loose the anchors that weighed us down?”

Sometimes, you have to admit that the comeuppance never comes.You cannot think about Afghanistan, without women coming into focus. Hosseini tears open the purdah, writes with rare understanding about women, and in fact, And The Mountains echo with deep thoughts of the women characters—all of them carrying a deep sense of loss and tragedy, with them, including the beautiful actress Madaline Gianakos, even though her obituary attests to her success.

All Hosseini’s women are strong and troubled but have a sense of dignity to them. This is in stark contrast to most of Hosseini’s male characters, except Markos, the plastic surgeon, who through his deep bond with Thalia, the inventive, spunky woman, who keeps him going at many levels, rises above the helplessness of Wahdati, Nabi, Saboor, Abdullah (all of them Afghanis, men of the mountain).

The unapologetic Nila Wahdati, the poet who cannot bear a child but gets married to a gay, and her troubled relationship with adopted child Pari leaves you unsettled. In an interview Hosseini has Wahdati saying this about her daughter Pari – “Everything I have done, I have done for my daughter. Not that she understands, or appreciates, the full measure of what I have done for her. She can be breathtakingly thoughtless, my daughter. If she knew the life she would have had to endure, if not for me….

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