Tales woven across nations and generations by Khaled Hosseini ’88
In one of the most affecting byways of Khaled Hosseini’s superb third novel, And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead, 2013), Dr. Idris Bashiri returns to Afghanistan with his cousin Timur in 2003, shortly after American-led forces have expelled the Taliban. The cousins have come to reclaim property abandoned when the family went into exile in America years before.
Idris thinks of Timur as “the closest thing he has to a brother.” But like so many of the siblings in this novel, the cousins’ relationship is torn by rivalry. The doctor is reflective, quiet, serious. His cousin is charming, brash, and self-promoting. Wearying of his cousin’s antics while they wait out the long legal process of restoration, Idris begins visiting the local hospital, where he develops a relationship with a young girl who has been horribly disfigured in an ax attack, collateral damage in a land dispute between her father and her uncle. By the time the cousins have completed their business and are preparing to return to California, the girl is calling Idris “Uncle,” and the good doctor has promised to bring her to the United States for reconstructive surgery.
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But Hosseini’s moral imagination and his ability to craft characters with psychological complexity don’t give in to the happy ending his doctor desires. Idris returns home and is at first repelled by the grasping materialism of his family, but then is overwhelmed by the demands of his medical practice and family life, and gradually, guiltily he abandons his communications with the wounded girl far away in Afghanistan and settles back into his comfortable American life. But this is not the end of the story. The chapter ends with an unexpected act of grace.
Idris’ story is one of several parallel stories about complicated, loving, competitive, guilt-ridden, envious relationships among siblings that cast sunlight and shadow over the central story of And the Mountains Echoed. That story begins in 1952 in a rural Afghan village, where the impoverished laborer Saboor sets off for Kabul towing his 3-year-old daughter Pari in a red wagon. They are trailed by Abdullah, Saboor’s 10-year-old son, who has cared for and doted upon his sister since their mother died giving birth to her. Then, in one of the most shocking scenes in the novel, Pari is sold to wealthy, childless Suleiman and Nila Wahdati in a transaction facilitated by the children’s step-uncle, Nabi, the Wahdatis’ cook and chauffeur and an increasingly important character as the story moves forward.
The separation of brother and sister is cataclysmic. Pari winds up in France with Nila, an alcoholic, self-absorbed poet, after her adoptive father, Suleiman, has a stroke and is left behind in the care of Uncle Nabi. Growing up, Pari has no real memory of her brother or her previous life, only a gnawing lifelong sense of “the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence.” Abdullah disappears almost entirely from the story until we meet him many years later as owner of Abe’s Kabob House in the South Bay, one of Idris’ favorite eateries. Abdullah is assisted by his daughter Pari, named after his long-lost sister. The self-sacrificing younger Pari dreams of reuniting her father with his sister.
Khaled Hosseini has always been recognized as a gifted storyteller with a seemingly innate ability to wrench emotion from a scene. Here his characters are by far fuller and his prose more engaging, and he takes the storytelling to new levels of complexity: through fairy tale, varying points of view, letters, emails, and, in the case of Nila Wahdati, a vivid, dispiriting literary interview. Hosseini masterfully brings the threads of his narrative together. In the end we understand how these characters and their stories connect. We understand and empathize with the very difficult choices many of the characters have made. And we puzzle over the disturbing truth of the observation one of Hosseini’s characters articulates: “When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color.” Alden Mudge
THICKER THAN WATER
This guy’s a lawyer? That’s what a number of the meth addicts, petty criminals, prostitutes, and porn stars involved with the gruesome 2003 murder of Christopher Walsh wondered about his relentless, tough-talking brother Dennis.
But, indeed, Dennis Walsh J.D. ’82, oldest son of a Cleveland cop-turned-Los Angeles-mobster, is a long-practicing criminal defense attorney. And much of the tension early in Nobody Walks (Thomas Dunne Books, 2013)—a gritty, hard-boiled account of his efforts to keep the case from going cold and bring Christopher’s killers to justice—derives from just how close Walsh came to stepping outside the limits of the law.
“Nobody walks” was the mantra—or threat—that Dennis Walsh repeated endlessly to a dizzying parade of fearful, low-life potential witnesses he hoped to convince to come forward and testify against the self-styled criminal mastermind who murdered Christopher when the two shared an apartment in Studio City, Calif. Walsh’s other brothers, some with criminal pasts like their father’s, wanted to dispense with legal niceties and exact vengeance on their own. Luckily, the police and prosecutors were just about as dedicated as the Walsh brothers themselves.
At the time of Christopher’s murder, Walsh was estranged from his youngest brother—whom the reader surmises was an addict and not a particularly nice guy. Still, Walsh makes it clear that he believes—rightly—that justice is for everyone, not just upright citizens. He also makes it clear that for the Walsh family blood is much thicker than water. Alden Mudge
Missionary Bishop: Jean-Marie Odin in Galveston and New Orleans (Texas A&M University Press, 2013) traces the history of frontier missionary Jean-Marie Odin and his years in Texas, as it transitioned from republic to state, and in New Orleans during the Civil War. The book is the fruit of more than 20 years of research and writing by Patrick Foley ’69, professor emeritus of history at Tarrant County College in Texas.
Federico Moreno Torroba: A Musical Life in Three Acts (Oxford University Press, 2013) is co-authored by Bill Krause ’75. Krause earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California and a doctorate from Washington University, St. Louis. He currently serves on the faculty of Hollins University in Roanoke, Va.
The Peculiars (Amulet Books, 2012), the latest by Maureen Doyle McQuerry ’78, takes readers and heroine Lena Mattacascar on a journey to Scree, home to criminals and outcasts. The steampunk 19th century is the backdrop for a mystery that’s also a quest for truth, identity, and the meaning of family.
#MOVING OUT tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Help You Move to College(Thinkaha, 2013), an e-book published by four Santa Clara students just before they graduated in May, offers honest, practical advice for high school seniors about to flee the nest. Authors Gabrielle Jasinski ’13, Eliza Lamson ’13, Liz Wassmann ’13, and Hannah Miller ’13 give firsthand tips on everything from visiting college campuses (“Try out the food in the cafeteria”) to setting up a new dorm room (“Don’t bring everything you own”). Beyond the practical, they also advise newly moved-in freshmen, “Give your parents big hugs, regardless of who is watching. They’ll appreciate it, and chances are it will make you feel good, too.”
When Kelly Estes ’12 was a freshman, she became one of the youngest-ever commissioners on the Santa Clara County Human Relations Commission. Since then she has begun working with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, with efforts that yielded a county task force. And during her senior year, she published a novel, The Cost of Courage (Valor Media, 2012), that draws on her uncles’ tragic experiences in World War II: One was shot down over Germany but survived as a POW; his brother was part of the Doolittle raid on Tokyo but didn’t live to tell his own story. Estes’ fictional account, as well as her work with veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, brought her back to campus to speak and work with students in Don Riccomini’s literature course on the theme “War, Individuals, State.” As Riccomini notes, “The emotional reality of Kelly’s experience with veterans helped the students understand that the consequences of doing the right thing make life morally meaningful, but they can also come at a great personal and existential cost.”