Damn, And the Mountains Echoed made me cry. I just finished it. Gosh, why did it upset me so much?! And will others react as I have? Is it just stupidDamn, And the Mountains Echoed made me cry. I just finished it. Gosh, why did it upset me so much?! And will others react as I have? Is it just stupid me? I can point at a million things that are wrong with the book....and yet, it has done something right since it has undeniably moved me. Rarely do books make me cry.
OK, here is what I think is going on, in my head and in my heart:
I will start with what is simple, but very important. This is the first book I have listened to where I would advise very strongly that you read the paper book rather than listen to the audio version. There are three narrators: the author (Khaled Hosseini), a woman (Shohreh Aghdashloo) and a second male narrator (Navid Negahban). The latter two slur English words to such an extent that you must decipher what is being said by the context of the words. Cheek sounds like chick; swim sounds like "sweem"; breeze sounds like bees; words sounds like wards; shut sounds like shot; launches sounds like lunches. Must I go on? The woman's voice is so muted that you must increase the volume. I liked Hosseini's reading of the introductory fairy tale, but then later he enunciates every darn letter. Quite simply, the narration is unprofessional. Furthermore, why in the world have they even bothered to use three different narrators? The book shifts to different locations around the world - France, Greece and the US. I would have preferred three narrators: one fluent in French, one in Greek and one in American, or just one narrator that speaks fluent English. They all spoke what I think was meant to be English with an Afghan accent; let's just say poor English. Some of the characters lived in France since their early youth. The narration is so poor that it detracts from one's appreciation of the author's words. Read the paper book!
This book is about an Afghan family, starting at the end of the 40s and ending a decade into the 21st Century. It is about the how the 20th Century has split families. It isn't unusual today to find members of one family spread all over the world. What does this do to us? And what is the essence of family....if we do not live near each other and if we do not have daily contact, hands on contact. Are we still bound to each other? Does family remain family?
The book begins with a bedtime story, which is as I originally thought the central message of the entire book. So pay attention. The beginning is also the best part of the book, because there in the beginning you most intimately rub shoulders with the main characters. These characters will have children and grandchildren and spouses and friends and you never really come to know them as you do the first ones. The central theme of the book IS based on the choices that are made by the first characters we meet. Later chapters deal with one family and then another family or friend. They can almost be seen as separate stories, but yes they do all come together at the end. The problem is that the book does not succeed in bringing all of these diverse stories to life. Neither are all the different places brought to life. Afghanistan was well portrayed, but not Paris, not California, not Greece! The book tries to do too much. Or is it that Hosseini has best captured that which he knows best? I will credit him in his attempt to show what happens to "family" in today's globalized world.
But none of the above is really what brought the tears to my eyes. We love someone, and even if we try our hardest to make the best choices, even if we sacrifice our own personal needs, still one can be left with such emptiness. Sometimes that emptiness simply cannot be filled. Sometimes we try our best, but so much is misunderstood. Life is damn messy. There can be a wonderful blessing in forgetting. I know that sounds crazy, but it is true. The book explains this better than I have....more
On completion: It didn't take me very long to read this book, that is simply because I found it very interesting. In fact it won over brNO SPOILERS!!!
On completion: It didn't take me very long to read this book, that is simply because I found it very interesting. In fact it won over browsing GR! When a book doesn't draw me, I usually find something else to do; I find all sorts of other things that have to be done. I do this unconsciously. This book I read in three days!
What I liked about the book was that it provided a chance to experience life in Kabul under the Muzahideen, the Taliban and the bombing of Kabul after al Quaeda's terrorist attack at the World Trade Center in September 2001. Kamila lived through this all. You are there with her. Reading this book inspires hope for Aghanistan. It shows, through one woman's experiences, the ingenuity and fighting spirit of the people. If she can suceed as she has, so can others.
The prose style is clear and straightforward. This well serves the purpose of the book. Hopefully the excerpts below are adequate for you to judge for yourself.
The questions posed in the prologue are clearly answered. Kamila's life experiences, how she was raised by her father with his strong belief in the value of education, the trust he placed upon her, the hardship endured during these years and her inborn entrepreneurial talents shaped Kamila. All of these factors together made her the strong woman portrayed in this book, a woman fighting for her country. It is very important this book was written. Kamila deserves to be known and admired. What she has done inspires hope.
Through 57% of the book: Typical, the minute I say that the focus of the book is upon the business aspect of Kamila's enterprise, the focus changes. We are know learning about the different girls sewing or attending the sewing school initiated by Kamila. I like learning about their individual circumstances.
When Mahnaz heard through a cousin's friend about Kamila and the girls her age who were sewing together just a block away, she had jumped at the opportunity to join them. Two of her sisters, one of whom was determined to become a doctor when school was allowed again, quickly decided to come along once they heard how Mahnaz was enjoying herself. "It's not even like being in Kabul City," she told her siblings after her first day at Kamila's house. "It feels like a place where there is no Taliban at all, and no fighting. There are just all these women working together and talking and sharing stories. It's wonderful." '57%)
These teenagers who had been free to go out and associate with their friends, go to school and read books were suffocating under the Taliban regime. Wearing chadri was the least of their problems. Kamila's enterprise and school was heaven to them. The Afghan youngsters, both the boys and the girls, were forced into adulthood over night. Their maturity is praiseworthy. You miust read about Kamila's thirteen year-old brother Rahim! He was the sole male left in the house.
56% through the book: This book begins with a prolgue explaining why the book was written. What questions did it aim to answer. This is in fact very important in that these intentions guide the path the book is to follow. The author went to Afghanistan to write a report for the Financial Times to study the new generation of businesswomen who had emerged in the wake of Taliban takeover and to find for the Harvard School of Business a case study focused upn women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Kamila Sidigi was a women who through her own business saved her own sisters, helped many other Afghan women and helped her country. What motivated Kamila to passionately fight for her country? This question too was to be answered. It is very important to keep the purpose of the book in mind when reading the book. The challenges Kamila faced to achieve her goals are revealing. The book is about how Kamila achieved these goals and what actually motivated her. I will again provide an excerpt from the book. These lines are found at the 55-56% marking:
"While we are sitting here, I think we need to talk about space." Saaman said, "I mean the fact that we are running out of it."
Already the work had expanded from the living room to the dining room, and it was threatening to spread further still into the last remaing family room. Dresses now hung from all sorts of unusual spaces, from doorframes and table corners to the backs of chairs. The front rooms of the family home had been transformed into a workshop that regularly ran fifteen hours a day at full capacity. Chairs forming a U filled the living room so that classes could be taught in the center and the girls could see their classmates' work, though some young women still preferred to sew sitting cross-legged on the floor. Hurricane lamps lit the rectangular room from each corner, since sunlight faded out of the sitting area in the late morning. When the dusk arrived, the girls....... I've been thinking about buying a generator from Lycée Myriam.
Sometimes the focus on matters of business are made at the expense of getting to know the trials and tribulations of the girls. I still do not know all the names of Kamila's four sister who live and work with her in the tailoring business. One name has yet to be mentioned! At the same time the book shows both how war intimately shapes women's lives and the resoucefullnes of which they are capable.
ETA: I was wrong, confused or whatever. I DO know the four sisters' names. I didn't think I should count in the older sister Malika! My error, not an omission from the book. There are however nine sisters. The four who do not live at home are not spoken of. I am a nut for keeping all the family members straight. The four unnamed sisters do NOT play a role in the story, so they need not be mentioned. I am just curious where they are and what they are doing..... How do they fit in?
24% through the book:This is intersting, absorbing and at the moment I judge it much, much better than Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns, which by the way I gave 5 stars. Afghan history before and during the Taliban takeover in 1996 is more clearly presented, and yet the story about Kamila Sidiqi and her family is equally engaging. It reads like a story but it is a biography! You learn about different cultural groups predominant in differnt areas of the country, customes, clothing and foods specific to Afghan life. You come to understand how the Taliban arose. After the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, masses of children were left orphans. They were raised under the doctrine of the most strict Islamists. Sharia and purdah was the life they knew. They knew of nothing else. To understand where we stand today with Afghanistan you have to understand its past. You must also know that once in the 1960s and 1970s life was cosmopolitan. Under Mohammad Daoud Khan, Afghanistan was a republic, the king had been overthrown. Soon thereafter came the Soviets, then the Mujahideen, the civil war, the Taliban...... This history is well told. Clearly, precisely and engagingly - with relevance to the Sidigi family. The book is about this family and the women who survived under the Taliban. They were educated women. Several were teachers with diplomas in hand. The book strives to show how they survived and from where they drew their strength to fight for a modern, free Afghanistan. Free for women as well as men. An Afghanistan whers women may go to school, get the jobs they choose and wear the clothes of their choice. The last was actually the least important. Under the Taliban the women were left to their own resources. The men had to leave. Leave or die. I have only read 24% of this egalley. It is fascinating and engaging and it is all true.
Here follows a quote so you can judge for yourself if the subject matter and prose style fits you as much as it does me. This following concerns the women of the Sidigi family. There were nine girls in this family, only two boys. The following excerpt is found 12% through the egalley:
They had grown up in the capital long after Prime Minister Mohammad Daoud Khan had embraced the voluntary unveiling of his countrywomaen in the 1950s. King Amanullah Khan had attempted this reform unsuccessfully thirty years earlier, but it wasn't until 1959, when the prime minister's own wife appeared at a national independence day celebration wearing a headscarf rather than the full chadri, that the change finally took hold. That one gesture stunded the crowd and marked a cultural turning point in the capital. Kabul's next generation of women had gone on to become teachers, factory workers, doctors and civil servants; they went to work with their heads loosely covered and their faces exposed. Before today many had never had reason to wear or even own the full veils of their grandmothers' generation.
NO SPOILERS – but I do relate some historical events!
Through page 70: I am reading another memoir; this time it is about the author and her Afghan fam NO SPOILERS – but I do relate some historical events!
Through page 70: I am reading another memoir; this time it is about the author and her Afghan family. Fascinating! It starts by describing her father's life. To understand why he simply cannot leave Afghanistan when all logical thinking says they must, it is necessary to understand his past. Most books start with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in 1979. The reader is given a completely different perspective on Afghan life if you start years earlier. This is a wealthy, well educated, privileged Afghan family. The mother is a teacher of Dari; the father is a doctor.
Sunnis are more numerous than Shias and thus have a stronger role in the government. The author's family is Shia. The father's political allegiance is to social democracy. The current year is 1978, one year before the Soviet occupation. Here follows a quote about the two servants employed in the household.
Both Aushur and Hussein-dod are in their late twenties and single. Hussein-dod cannot read or write. His parents didn't send him to school, he says, because there was no school in the village where he grew up. Aushur has beautiful handwriting. "Like pearls on paper" is how my parents describe it. He studied up to grade eight, he says, but after failing to pass the entry-tp-high-school exam, he couldn't continue. All students are required to pass a national exam before they can graduate to grade nine. Those who fail become dropouts without the chance of return. "It is totally stupid," my father says in fury. "It is part of President Daoud Khan's new plan for a country that needs more schools, not more entry exams."(page 65)
By reading this book you come to understand the lives of at least one real Afghan family. You are taught about religious and political conflicts, about yearly celebrations, about the physical beauty of Afghanistan and much, much more. This is how I like to learn history:
By the time tea is served, everyone is congratulating each other, cheering the end of Daoud Khan's reign. In 1973, Daoud Khan staged a coup against his cousin Zahir Shah. He ended decades of monarchy and became the first Afghan president. At the time, Daoud Khan was supported by the leftist parties. But after consolidating his power, Daoud declared the republic a one-party state – with no prospect of elections or introduction of a party law. His Marxist allies felt betrayed; they concluded that Daoud had been seduced by Arab and Iranian gold and was distancing himself from the Soviet Union. In April 1977, during a state visit to Moscow, Brezhnev warned Daoud Khan about the increasing number of "Western spies" in Afghanistan. Daoud bluntly replied that Afghanistan would remain free, and that Russia would never be allowed to dictate how the country would be governed. (page 70)
The date is April 27, 1978, just one month after the family's visit to MazarE-Sherif for the celebration of the Afghan New Year at the Shrine of Ali, the first acknowledged caliph of the Shias.. Here the family had looked across the border separating Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. So the new Democratic Republic of Afghanistan has been established. It has stronger communist alliances. What I do know of Afghanistan's history is that the Soviet Union will not trust the competence of the new communist leadership anyhow!
I do wish my atlas had more detailed information on Afghanistan. Maps in ebooks seem to be terrible, so it doesn't matter that I have found no map in this book.
Through page 103: December 1979 the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. During 1978 three presidents were eliminated, none of which were elected by the Afghan people. Then the Soviet invasion finally came….. But how did the Afghans react? Did you know what they did in Kabul:
It is past midnight and everyone is asleep. There is a call in the distance – but it is hard to distinguish the words. Like the dim bluish light that seeps from the corner of the curtain, the sound, too, filters through my window. It is moving, growing closer, and I can now make sense of the words. "Allahu Akbar!" God is great. I walk to the balcony. My father is already there, taking in the experience. "Allahu Akbar!" Now we can hear it clearly. We climb to the roof, where we discover that the entire neighbourhood is awake and that several families, standing on their roofs, are already chanting, "Allahu Akbar." We join in. "Allahu Akbar" – all around us is the echo of one clear voice. ……
We use the cover of darkness to pour our hearts out with these two words, and with it our vexation. What is most potent? Is it the collectivity of the call, enabling the echo of one's own voice to reach so far? Or is it the sense of relief it provides, the feeling that we are doing something to show our discontent?.........
Three nights of Allahu Akbar is our meek response to the nights of planes moving over the Kabul sky, the aircraft that brought the Soviet army here at the end of December. This is our welcome, Afghan style, to the Soviet invasion.(page 103)
This is why it is good to continue reading and reading over and aver again about a given historical event. You always pick up another detail that brings the event to life. I imagine that protests will soon be more violent. Back to the book.
Despite the difficulties of handling visitors, hiding a fugitive, caring for a sick man and trying to find a detainee, the rest of us have to show up at school and work. If we were to miss a few days, our absence would be reported to the authorities. We have to pretend that everything is normal. Just as the war is normal. The pretence of normality is so pervasive that turmoil, physical and mental agony and family rows pass as something quite routine , just as cheating, lying, betrayal, bribery and deception have become normal.(page 173)
In conclusion: The events as they unroll keep you glued to the book. Learning is effortless, and there are so many small details that no fiction novel imparts. How food is prepared in rural villages and in the homes of wealthy Kabulis is described. More than just a clinical description you are confronted with the efforts taken to remain polite and accepting of different routines and manners.
The dilemma for us, of course, is how can we eat? All the dishes in our homes were cleaned several times before they were brought to the table. The utensils were sterilized in a pot of boiling water. Fruit and vegetables were soaked in a potassium mix and rinsed with fresh clean water. Mother Fatema was famous among our relatives for cleanliness and care. She never entered the kitchen without washing her hands, as is the routine in most city homes. But my father always demanded that extra attention be paid to hygiene, nutrition and health. And now, just a day away, here we are – so-called modern, urbanized people – driven out of our clean, tidy houses into a world of which we know nothing. With our city attitudes, we think we are above even the kindest and most generous of people simply because we use knives and forks, eat on separate plates and sit around a dining-room table. In reality, we are lost between the two worlds…….
Our behaviour is embarrassing, but there is nothing else we can do; we are terrified of falling sick. (page 219-220)
I like learning about the potassium mix, but I also like that the author values the kindness and generosity shown to them. I like her humility!
And these are my observations: 1. Occupation of another country will never work, even if the occupier tries to bring freedom. 2; Understanding the mujahidin is no simple matter. This book shows you different perspectives. It shows you the authors own difficulty in grappling with the question of where her affiliation lies. 3. Do not turn away from this book, thinking that it is too politically oriented. 4. Afghanistan's recent history has produced very strong women. If you are interested in feminism, read this book. You should know of Malalai and Naseema and many,many others - and of course the author herself!
Really, I actually am pushing you to read this book. This goes against all my principles!
P.S. The author, Netofer Pazira, is also a journalist and was involved with the filming of the movie Kandahar (director Hassan Tanti). The details of this filming are discussed in the latter part of the book.
P.P.S. There are many photos interspersed throughout the book. ...more
A huge disappointment. Many of my GR friends liked this a lot, but not me. You learn nothing about the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. There is noA huge disappointment. Many of my GR friends liked this a lot, but not me. You learn nothing about the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. There is no history in this book, and on an emotional level it fails to properly evoke the horror, suffering and grief inherent to all war experiences. Perhaps only confusion is expressed, and this incoherently and through bizarre dreams. You can read this in one sitting, but I recommend you spend your time elsewhere. ...more
I finished this last night. Three or four stars? Do I REALLY like it or do I like it. While I was reading it, I REALLY liked it, but with tNO SPOILERS
I finished this last night. Three or four stars? Do I REALLY like it or do I like it. While I was reading it, I REALLY liked it, but with time it is the story that will remain not all the wonderful lines that are so intriguing. I think it will turn into an "I liked it" book. You will thoroughly enjoy the time spent with this book if you enjoyed the quotes below. Don't think three stars means, aacch choose something else. I loved it b/c it was thought provoking. The last third of the book goes off in a different tangent. It has a message that is loud and clear. It is not that a disagree with that message, just that I prefer thinking through these things on my own. The end was to blatant for me. I am usually left wondering a bit about what I think. Where do I stand? This author seems to KNOW exactly what she wanted to say. I THINK I do agree with her,...., but I would rather think and mull over an issure than be given a clear answer. So I am giving the book three stars. Sorry if I am unclear. It is the confidence in the author's own beliefs, her need to send a message, that put me off. She knows exactly where she stands. I don't and rarely ever do. Do read the book!
Through page 256:I don't understand how you cannot like this book. Maybe you have to be a little older to have experienced all the different parts of life.
Here follows a quote about family relationships:
"They both knew what it was to be an easily erased entry in the cluttered schedule of a beloved relative." (page 255)
Here follows a quote about aging:
"I wish I were old, Kim thought, watching the two women. Really old. Old enough to have left everything troublesome behind - careers, lovers, regrets, Fathers, Mothers. Were you never old enough for that?" (page 253)
Here follows a quote about your kids:
"To often around her father, she couldn't stop being a teenager either in adulation or sulleness." (page 253)
This book so well describes the difficulties involved in raising kids. Teen and separation difficulties. No matter what you do, your heart is torn, and yet at the same time you love and go on loving.
And that long book description is not what this book is about. It is not a spoiler. It is the second to the last paragraph of the book description that is most relevant.
hrough page 152: I loved chapter 11 – describing sex while the Burtons repeatedly were asking each other where the twoyoung lovers could possibly have gone.
Through page 116 : I particularly like this book for two reasons The first is the strength with which the reader feels for the central characters. Each are very different, and yet you feel you understand each one’s fears and joys. It is the involvement with the characters’ emotional being that is outstanding. I feel I know these people. I feel I can understand why they make the choices they make. I would not necessarily make the same choices but I do understand their choices. More than understanding, I FEEL what has prompted these choices. This is particularly true of Hiroko and Sajjad. Through Hiroko, you learn about the bombing and its aftermath in Nagasaki . Through Elizabeth and James Burton, you learn about the English living in Delhi right before Partition, right before the formation of independent India and East and West Pakistan. Through Sajjad you learn about the people of the Muslim faith living in India before the creation of Pakistan, the conflicts between Sikhs and Hindus and Muslims. It has definitely been helpful to readIndian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, before reading this novel. It helps to know the background of the Muslim League, Jinnah and all the others who helped create Pakistan and India. There are wonderful myths here that add to the historical facts presented in Indian Summer. Muslim reverence for spiders is but one example.
The second strength of the book is the wonderful writing. It isn’t blatant., but instead thought provoking. I often stop and ask myself: could the author be saying this?! I like the ambiguity. I stop and question what I feel about a given topic. In addition there is humor:
(The memory of) the road leading to the street-car, where she’d responded to his gloomy complaints about rationing (with) ‘Yes, We Have No Bananas’ …” (page 17)
I started singing when I read that line! Growing love is beautifully described through a little jumping fish:
“Megane-Bashi, or Spectacles Bridge, where they had been standing, looking into the water when a small silver fish leapt out of Konrad’s reflected chest and dived into her reflection and she said, ‘Oh,’ and stepped back, almost loosing her balance, so he had to put his arm around her waist to steady her.” (page17)
Well I love the metaphor! The author mentions here “Spectacles Bridge”, and the reader wonders about the peculiar name.. Later this bridge name IS explained, and it is all the more wonderful b/c you had to wait for the explanation! Read the book, and you will smile too when you draw an image of this bridge in your mind.
What else? I love the philosophical questions. After the horrors of WW2 and the bombing in Japan and the riots and killings in India :
“…if these days teach us anything, it’s that all we can do in preparation for tomorrow is nothing. So let’s talk about today…..” (page 115)
Concerning the bombing in Nagasaki:
“…I still don’t understand. Why did they have to do it? Why a second bomb? Even the first is beyond anything I can… but a second? You do that, and see what you’ve done, and then you do it again. How is that…..?” (page 99)
There are so many sentences I could quote. So many interesting thoughts – how people like constancy, how it feels to settle and never really fit into a new country, the ties of family. I could go on and on.
This book is so much more than how the plot develops from point A to Z…… ...more
The author walked across Afghanistan! Yes, all the way on foot. The book covers his travels from Herat to Kabul over the mountains in the winter of 20The author walked across Afghanistan! Yes, all the way on foot. The book covers his travels from Herat to Kabul over the mountains in the winter of 2001, after the US invasion. Rather foolhardy/dangerous, but I enjoyed hearing about his meetings with the Afghans of different ethnic groups. A Afghan mastiff became his companion, which added a heartfelt touch. ...more