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More Musings by a Serious Book Guzzler: Reading two novels, back to back, by the same author

Posted by Didi Gorman on

By Didi Gorman

Didi Gorman, Wise Choice Market's blog writer

A new COVID lockdown is upon us, my fellow book lovers, and public libraries, our sanctuaries, are about to close down again.

No sooner was the edict made than I skedaddled to our local library, ready to assail its shelves.

Too late. When I got there, orange cordons were blocking off access to the aisles.

No browsing until further notice. Alas!

Luckily, you could still request books at the front desk, at least that.

Still, this reading addict here is all about browsing. Nothing more gratifying than meandering through the aisles, opening random books and letting them capture my fancy.

Well, no more. From now on we’ll have to make do with books by familiar authors.

I headed to the front desk, reciting names of favorite authors, as if in a silent prayer. Whom shall I invoke today? Who’s at the pinnacle of my list? A-ha! No other than Afghan-American writer, Khaled Hosseini, whose unforgettable novel A Thousand Splendid Suns I had the immense pleasure of reading only a few weeks prior.

A couple of minutes later, I was leafing through Hosseini’s latest novel And the Mountains Echoed (2013), which I decided to take home with me.

Thing is, as much as I enjoyed Mr. Hosseini’s previous novel, I would have preferred to wait a little longer before reading another book by him. Sounds counter-intuitive? It shouldn’t. A Thousand Splendid Suns had been so powerful that I was still in its grip. I was still ‘recovering’ (Yes, it was THAT mesmerizingly haunting. My review here).

Anyway, at 8:00 p.m. that night, from the comfort of my couch, I opened And the Mountains Echoed, intending to read the first couple of pages.

When I lifted my eyes from the book, in what I thought were a few minutes later, I was on page 68 and the entire family had gone to bed. Upon this, I took the book to bed and kept reading until 1:30 a.m. (which resulted in some grogginess on my part the following morning. I can only imagine I share this affliction with other bookworms chancing upon one of Mr. Hosseini’s novels, and I hold Mr. Hosseini accountable for these periodic bouts of sleep-deprivation…)

I completed the 400-page book in 5 days. That’s right, eighty pages a day on average. (Just in case you wondered, I’m denying any allegations of having sneaked the book to work and reading it while no one noticed. The idea of hiding a book in-between nondescript documents and stealing secret peeks at it, is not something that would have ever crossed my mind.)

As for reading it right after A Thousand Splendid Suns, I do have to concede, it somehow compromised the ‘freshness’ of the experience.

Although completely different in terms of plot and technique, the two novels clearly shared some similarities, both in style and in voice, as well as in the themes explored – family bonds, fate, wretched circumstances, hard choices, sacrifice, loss, the condition of women in Afghanistan. So, there. That was my comparison in a nutshell.

Now let me tell you a bit more about And the Mountains Echoed, in case you’re still hesitating.

The book is a mosaic of nine non-chronological sub-stories, combining into one collective storyline spanning multiple generations, three continents, and different sub-characters – all connected by the pivotal event at the beginning of the story: The selling of a toddler villager Afghan girl by her father, to a rich couple in the big city, for adoption.

The novel pulled me in from the get-go and it never slacked. This included several twists that your unsuspecting reader here, couldn’t have, for the life of her, seen coming.

Another strong point was authenticity. Many of the scenes felt incredibly realistic, leaning towards the ambiguous rather than a black-and-white conclusion, much like in real life. Equally – and skillfully refreshing– was the novel’s shunning predictable formulas of Hollywood-style dramatic epiphanies, happily-ever-afters, and all-consuming tragedies.

The characters, the scenarios, the stakes – they lingered in my thoughts for a long time. It was anything but a passive reading.

All this to say, I think you’ll love this book.

If by the time you read this post the libraries have magically re-opened, or if you have a kindle or any other reading app (I don’t. I’m old school. Paper books are my thing), I say, go for it. The several sleepless nights that await you while you naively think, ‘only a few more pages and I’m switching the lights off’ (yeah, right), are totally worth it.

In the meantime, I will probably be reading another novel or two and have more insights and recommendations.

Until then, my reading enthusiast, keep reading!