The most important line of I Am Malala arrives on page 111, nearly halfway in:
“I was ten when the Taliban came to our valley. Moniba and I had been reading the Twilight books and longed to be vampires. It seemed to us that the Taliban arrived in the night just like vampires.”
Moniba is Malala’s best friend, classmate and fellow over-achiever, and together they are the one thing that much of the Malala coverage in the last week has failed to keep in mind: regular teenagers.
Like most of the world, I have a touch of Malala Fever. It’s hard not to. When I was 16, I could barely drag myself to school in time for first period, let alone be bothered to defend my right to attend at all. Surely if someone had stopped my bus (or 1993 Dodge Neon) mid-commute and shot me in the face over the matter, I’d have given up education entirely. Sorry pre-calculus — shot in the face. So long gym requirement — shot in the face. And so on.
But Malala, as we all know, did no such thing. After being shot in the eye socket over her (and her father’s) advocation of girl’s education, she became a global activist. At 16, the girl has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, and appeared on The Daily Show. Oh and right: [co]-written a book.
And the Mountains Echoed is arguably Hosseini’s finest novel to date, a sweeping saga that extends beyond the confines of his native Afghanistan and touches on the universal issues surrounding parental and sibling relationships under the strain of economic hardship, geographic dislocation, and sacrifice. Hosseini’s novel begins with a poor father telling his son and daughter a beautiful folk tale about a man forced to sacrifice one of his children to a demon for the good of his village. That tale has a happy ending, but the next day, the father gives up his daughter to a wealthy family in the city of Kabul in order to ensure that his own family will survive the winter, threatening a unique bond between sister and brother which somehow manages to endure—almost mystically–over space and time.
Hosseini follows both families—the original one and the adoptive one—over generations, with multiple spin-offs as more and more fascinating characters and their backstories are introduced. We skip backwards and forwards across time; we skip across oceans to Greece, France, and the U.S., and back again to Afghanistan; and we hear—in first and third person, sometimes as narration, sometimes as journal entries, sometimes as an epistolary—how both men and women have been affected by the dramatic changes in their home country.
Once again, the plight of Afghani women is treated by author Hosseini with tremendous sympathy and, more importantly, with genuine authenticity, but in this novel, unlike in his awesome A Thousand Splendid Suns, Hosseini gives the reader a more nuanced reading into the minds and souls of his characters, male as well as female. They are neither victims nor perpetrators, but real people with choices to make and consequences to face. Yes, there is tragedy on both a large and small scale, but Hosseini’s exquisite writing enables his readers to profoundly share in the lives of his characters and come out the stronger for it.