I have read Hosseini’s two previous novels and had thoroughly enjoyed both, so I anticipated enjoying this novel, as well, and happily, I can say I was not disappointed.
The book begins with an opening Afghan folk story that is a parable that the opening character tells his son and daughter, and this parable sets the tone for the rest of the book. The parable describes a father whose must sacrifice his son to a monster, only to discover when he hunts the monster down, that the child is actually better cared for and happier than he would ever be had he remained with his family. The choice then becomes one of guilt if he if he retrieves his son just to fill the void in his own heart, or guilt and sorrow at leaving him behind. The so-called monster recognizes the difficulty of his choice and gives him a day to decide; when he chooses the selfless decision to leave his son there, he is then rewarded with a loss of memory so that he does not remember what he has done nor remembers his son; even so, however, he feels a hole in his heart that he never understands.
This parable is reflected throughout the novel, sometimes obviously, sometimes more subtly, and particularly in the story that follows the three “main” characters, Soboor (the father), Abdullah (the son) and Pari (the daughter). The novel itself begins in the early 1950s in Afghanistan and ends in contemporary times in Afghanistan, France, and the United States. These three characters are walking from their village to Kabul, where, unknown to the children, the daughter will be left behind with a couple whose wife desperately wants a child. Being four years old, Pari quickly adapts to her new life, but Abdullah is so much older that he desperately feels the horrible tear in the fabric of their relationship and he never forgets her, always hoping to find her. Gradually, other characters are introduced and developed, some within their interactions with the three original characters, some individually and among each other. As generations pass, the predominant theme is this broken bond of relationships and the their effects on everyone who experiences them as lives go on.
The characters’ stories are formed around each other, the events of numerous historical significance (i.e., the war with Russia, the Taliban, the U.S. arrival after 9/11), and the U.S.’s gradual winding down. This is not a story about the wars, but rather, the conflicts and upheavals from them that contribute to the characters’ development and decisions. Some escape literally to other countries, the U.S. and France; others remain; others return; and some of the more peripheral characters who end up being involved with the Afghan characters, come for humanitarian reasons, often on a temporary basis that turns into a permanent one. All have an impact on each other and sometimes it is not clear what their relationships with Abdullah and Pari are or will be.
Hosseini’s characters develop in ways that are remarkably realistic and are clearly formed by their families, their experiences, their environments. Two can face the same experience and/or issue and each has a believable reaction that can be totally different from each others’ and both are understood and easily accepted by the reader. The emotion within the various stories is at times heart-wrenching and unbelievably sad and yet, watching the characters endure and continue on despite this is a statement of the determination and malleability of the human mind.
There is hope interspersed at times and the story line was occasionally a bit difficult to follow, but in the end, it all tied together very nicely and understandably in a way that demonstrated the good and the bad of the human race, and, as well, demonstrated how everyone in the world really is like everyone else, particularly when family is involved. I highly recommend this book.