“And the Mountains Echoed” by Khalid Hosseini
It is the year 1952 and autumn is coming to a fictional village of Afghanistan called Shadbagh. The prospect is sufficiently miserable. Lacking central heating and adequate food, some small child is liable to perish. One of the villagers, Saboor, tells his children a story to this effect. A monster called a div, with horns and tail and shining red eyes, invades the village one day, according to this story “Families would pray that the div would bypass their home, for they knew that if the div taped on their roof, they would have to give it one child.”
The main thread is the story of Saboor and his descendants, with Abdullah ending up in the United States owning a restaurant called Abe’s Kebab House. This last part of the novel is narrated by Abdullah’s American-born daughter, a familiar type in this sort of literature — the child torn between America and the restrictive culture of her parents. In this case Abdullah insists on his daughter learning Farsi and undergoing instruction in the tenets of Islam, much against her inclination.
Abdullah and his wife can hardly be blamed for this. Back in Afghanistan, even the poorest of villages has a mosque and a mullah (Islamic priest) to impart literacy and the teachings of the Quran. While no one in the novel is at all religious, it is clear that such village institutions supply the sinews and backbone of a culture — a culture almost sufficiently powerful to resist the allure of rap music, Madonna, video games, Indian soap operas and Bollywood.
Meanwhile, Pari is taken to Paris by her adoptive mother, Nila Wahdati, when Nila’s husband becomes an invalid. Nila is half-French and a poet of distinction, so there is no problem assimilating. The problem is Nila’s raging narcissism, an implicit demand that her daughter fill in the empty spaces of her soul.
In this portion of the novel, particularly, there seems to be ambivalence about the uses of art. Paris...