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Review: ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ by Khaled Hosseini

This book cover image released by Riverhead Books shows 'And Mountains Echoed' by Khaled Hosseini. (AP Photo/Riverhead Books) ORG XMIT:

This book cover image released by Riverhead Books shows "And the Mountains Echoed," by Khaled Hosseini. (AP Photo/Riverhead Books) ORG XMIT: NYET411

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Local Appearance

Khaled Hosseini will discuss and sign “And the Mountains Echoed,” 7 p.m. Tuesday at Barnes & Noble, 55 Old Orchard Center, Skokie. Special event rules will apply. Call for details: (847) 676-2230.

Updated: June 27, 2013 6:16AM

The genius of Khaled Hosseini’s novels is that they pull off the neat trick of embodying and transcending the essence of a place.

That place, the author’s home country of Afghanistan, has a way of being both integral and oddly irrelevant in his latest, “And the Mountains Echoed” (Riverhead, $28.95), a multigenerational saga with roots in a small Afghan village — roots that tunnel and spread to the city of Kabul, then to Paris and beyond.

The story, about the disruption of family ties and its implications for the affected parties over more than six decades, could happen nowhere else. Yet its psychology and emotions are universal, entirely untethered to the setting; Hosseini’s territory is first and foremost the geography of the heart.

He maps it carefully, paying special attention to its most treacherous byways, and ends up providing one of the most satisfyingly complete documents of human connection and disconnection in recent literature.

Even in its earliest stages, the plot — ingeniously prefigured by the novel’s opening folk tale about a man who is forced to decide which of his children to offer up as a sacrifice to a div, or ogre, who would otherwise destroy the entire family — is difficult to discuss without spoilers. It must suffice to say that the tale is an allegory told by Saboor, a poor man who uses the story to explain his own impending actions to his young son, Abdullah.

The real-life implications of the tale, which leave Abdullah parted from his beloved sister, Pari, are devastating, both to the characters and the reader. Almost equally harrowing are the parallel, intertwining stories of Abdullah’s stepmother, Parwana, and her brother, Nabi.

Parwana is the unattractive sister of the village beauty, Masooma, who ends up crippled as a result of events that will ring bells for fans of the Hollywood shocker “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (Hosseini is not above melodrama, using it judiciously and even nobly.)

Handsome Nabi escapes the village to find work as the cook and chauffeur of a wealthy but troubled family in Kabul, a nest of unhappiness into which he stumbles for life.

The surprise in both cases is that even the messiest human entanglements can yield unexpected emotional rewards; love alloyed with resentment and repulsion is still love.

If “And the Mountains Echoed” has a flaw, it’s a familiar one for books of its time-spanning, globe-trotting genre: a surplus of characters, including some introduced fairly late in the proceedings, when the reader just wants to return to the core cast.

But in the overall picture, this amounts to little more than a quibble. This is an exquisite novel, a must-read for anyone with an interest in what it means to be alive, anywhere and everywhere.

Gannett News Service

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