I loved both of Khaled Hosseini’s last two books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, but I think I liked this one best of all three (they are not a trilogy, or connected in any way). I love the use of Afghanistan as a setting: for me, his novels bring not just Afghan culture vividly to life, but also the textbook fact that this is a country that has experienced war, one way or another, for almost all of the last 50 years. It’s one thing to know that as a historical fact; it’s another to put faces and names to the kind of people who would have been affected by violence, poverty and massive social upheaval over those years. That’s what this novels does — tells a sweeping story of Afghan life over several decades. Yet it’s also a very intimate story.
Had you told me in advance that structurally, this novel reads more like six novellas than like a single novel, I probably would have been put off — I like to start a story and follow the same group of characters through to the end. Here, the reader doesn’t get to do that. A single heart-wrenching decision by a father — to sell his young daughter to a wealthy family who want to adopt a little girl, in hopes of giving her a better life and saving the rest of the family from crushing poverty — has consequences that ripple through the generations. The initial impact is on the little girl, Pari, who is too young to even remember her family of origin, and the older brother, Abdullah, who adores her and is devastated by the loss. But rather than follow their story immediately, Hosseini turns to the stories of other people tangentially connected to the siblings — their uncle, Pari’s adoptive parents, their stepmother back in the village, even the neighbours who grow up in a house near Pari’s new home. Yet rather than being a jarring break from the story you thought you were following, each new section adds another piece of the puzzles, making this one family’s tragedy a vivid illustration of a country’s brokenness. I found every story absorbing, and by the time we get back — as we eventually do — to Abdullah and Pari’s tale, the story is much richer and more detailed.
I found this novel so emotionally intense and involving that I felt bereft when it was over.