And the Mountains Echoed

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Themes and Colors
Interconnectedness Theme Icon
Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Icon
Compassion and Selfishness Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Power and Wealth Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in And the Mountains Echoed, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Interconnectedness Theme Icon

Perhaps the most obvious theme of And the Mountains Echoed is interconnectedness. The novel consists of nine chapters, each written from the perspective of a different character. Instead of unfolding like a conventional novel—with a small number of characters interacting with each other for the entire book—Hosseini’s book cuts back and forth between many different characters, many of whom don’t know each other, or are only dimly aware of each other’s existence—and all this takes place over the course of many decades. It’s worth thinking about why Hosseini structures his novel in this way.

One way to define interconnectedness is to talk about how small actions have huge consequences. The characters in And the Mountains Echoed make decisions that they only see as affecting themselves or the people around them, yet their decisions have huge effects on other people, and even affect future generations to come. There’s a famous “thought experiment” that suggests that the flapping of a butterfly’s wing could trigger a chain of events that causes a hurricane on the other side of the world. Hosseini’s novel, one could say, is about some of these “hurricanes.” For example, Saboor, an impoverished father working in Afghanistan, makes the difficult decision to sell his daughter, Pari, to the Wahdatis, a wealthy family living in Kabul. At first, the decision seems to affect only a small number of people: Saboor, his son Abdullah, Pari herself, and the couple who adopt her. But in fact, Hosseini shows how the decision ends up changing the lives of many dozens of people: Abdullah’s own child (whom he also gives them name Pari), Mrs. Wahdati’s future boyfriends and lovers, the European doctors who take over the Wahdati’s house years later, etc.

The theme of interconnectedness has enormous moral implications in the novel. One could almost say it’s a good thing that the characters in And the Mountains Echoed aren’t aware of the effects of their decisions on the world—if there were aware, they might collapse under the crushing weight of their choices. There seems to be no winning option: if the characters in the novel knew exactly what effects their actions were causing, they would be paralyzed, but because the characters don’t know what they’re doing, they cause all kinds of pain and discomfort to others, naively assuming that their decisions influence only a few people.

And yet And the Mountains Echoed doesn’t simply paint a picture of a chaotic world where there’s no strictly “right” or “wrong” thing to do. Even if we can’t be sure exactly what the consequences of our actions will be, we can still try to ensure that these consequences will be positive, not negative, by following simple rules of kindness, respect, and love. The novel is full of examples of how small, kind actions get “multiplied” into enormous, positive effects. The lifelong friendship between Nabi (Saboor’s brother-in-law) and his employer, Mr. Wahdati, a crippled invalid, ends up benefitting hundreds of people throughout the city of Kabul: because Nabi helps Wahdati take care of his house and keep it safe from vandals, the house is still in excellent condition in the early 2000s, when doctors arrive in Afghanistan, looking for places where they can treat the sick and dying. Nabi, who has inherited the house from Wahdati, offers it to the doctors, and as a result hundreds of young children are given the best medical care possible. In the end, Hosseini suggests that interconnectedness is a “neutral multiplier”—small good actions end up having large good effects, and the inverse is true as well. Even if we can’t be sure what effects our actions have, the novel suggests, we should try to behave well and treat others with respect, as our actions are always more consequential than we think.

Interconnectedness ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Interconnectedness appears in each chapter of And the Mountains Echoed. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Interconnectedness Quotes in And the Mountains Echoed

Below you will find the important quotes in And the Mountains Echoed related to the theme of Interconnectedness.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Your son does not remember you, the div continued. This is his life now, and you saw for yourself his happiness. He is provided here with the finest food and clothes, with friendship and affection. He receives tutoring in the arts and languages and in the sciences, and in the ways of wisdom and charity. He wants for nothing. Someday, when he is a man, he may choose to leave, and he shall be free to do so. I suspect he will touch many lives with his kindness and bring happiness to those trapped in sorrow.

Related Characters: Baba Ayub (speaker), The div (speaker), Qais
Related Symbols: The Div
Page Number: 11-12
Explanation and Analysis:

In the first chapter of the novel, an unnamed man (later revealed as Saboor, the father of Abdullah and Pari) tells a fairy tale about a loving father whose favorite child, Qais, is stolen away by a demon called a div. The father, Baba Ayub, goes to find Qais, only to see that Qais has magically forgotten his old life and now lives with luxuries and education that Baba Ayub never could have provided for him. Baba Ayub then faces an impossible choice: he can either be selfish and reclaim his child (in which case Qais will live a poor, threadbare life), or he can allow Qais to continue living with the div (in which case Qais will be well-fed, well-educated, and have a wonderful life). In short, Baba Ayub must choose between his own happiness and the happiness of his child.

Right away, the novel draws a contrast between one's own happiness and that of other people. The essence of being a thinking human being, it's implied, is having to make such a choice. In each of the successive stories in the book, the characters will face a moral dilemma comparable with the one Baba Ayub deals with in this passage—most notably Saboor himself, who has the opportunity to give one of his children (Pari) a "better" life, and decides to do so. The question lingers, however—is Qais really "better off" without his true father? Can wealth and education replace the bond of family?


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“You are a cruel beast,” Baba Ayub said.
When you have lived as long as I have, the div replied, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same color.

Related Characters: Baba Ayub (speaker), The div (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Div
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Baba Ayub has been given an impossible choice: he can either allow his kidnapped son, Qais, to continue living a luxurious life with his kidnapper, the Div, or he can reclaim his child. Baba Ayub faces the tremendous stress of choosing between his own happiness and that of his child--a choice that's too great for any human being to make without pain.

As Baba Ayub puts it, the div is cruel simply for making him choose at all. The div's reply--that cruelty and kindness are just two sides of the same coin--suggests something universal about the story of Baba Ayub. In life, it's suggested, humans are often forced to make impossible moral choices--choices for which there's no perfect solution. In this case, as Baba Ayub implies, it may be that "ignorance is bliss."

He didn’t understand why he should hear such a noise, alone in the dark, all the sheep and goats sleeping. Sometimes he told himself he had heard no such thing, and sometimes he was so convinced to the contrary that he called out into the darkness, “Is someone out there? Who is there? Show yourself.” But no reply ever came. Baba Ayub didn’t understand. Just as he didn’t understand why a wave of something, something like the tail end of a sad dream, always swept through him whenever he heard the jingling, surprising him each time like an unexpected gust of wind. But then it passed, as all things do. It passed.

Related Characters: Baba Ayub (speaker), Qais
Page Number: 16
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final part of the first short story in the book, Baba Ayub--who's chosen to allow his beloved son to continue living with his kidnapper, the div--is an old man. Baba Ayub has been haunted by his choice--as a result, the div has blessed Baba Ayub with the gift of forgetfulness. Baba Ayub doesn't remember having to choose to abandon his son. And yet he continues to hear the faint sound of a bell--the sound that his son would make when he played with his friends. In short, the sound of the bell reminds Baba Ayub of something he used to know, but he can't remember exactly what this was.

The story's teller insists that all things pass--in other words, Baba Ayub eventually forgets about his son. In a broader sense, the story could symbolize the way that all memories fade away over time. But as we'll see, the successive stories in the book interrogate the theory that "all things pass." The characters forget many things, whether intentionally or not--and to differing degrees of success. Thus, the story of Baba Ayub foreshadows the themes of memory and forgetting that haunt the entire novel.

Chapter 2 Quotes

But there was no forgetting. Pari hovered, unbidden, at the edge of Abdullah’s vision everywhere he went. She was like the dust that clung to his shirt. She was in the silences that had become so frequent at the house, silences that welled up between their words, sometimes cold and hollow, sometimes pregnant with things that went unsaid, like a cloud filled with rain that never fell. Some nights he dreamed that he was in the desert again, alone, surrounded by the mountains, and in the distance a single tiny glint of light flickering on, off, on, off, like a message. He opened the tea box. They were all there, Pari’s feathers, shed from roosters, ducks, pigeons; the peacock feather too. He tossed the yellow feather into the box. One day, he thought.

Related Characters: Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Related Symbols: The Yellow Feather
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, we're reminded of the connection between Abdullah and Pari, who has just been adopted by a wealthy family in nearby Kabul. Abdullah's love and closeness with Pari is symbolized by a small yellow feather, which Abdullah shared with Pari recently. Abdullah hangs onto the yellow feather as a way of remembering his vanished sister: by keeping the feather, he's preserving his preserving memories of his sister, and perhaps ensuring that one day they'll be reunited.

The passage shows how humans go about remembering other humans. Although our memories of our loved ones are powerful, they often fade over time. With the aid of concrete objects--books, photographs, and even feathers, we try to stave off the deterioration of memory, grounding our recollections in a literal, ageless object.

Chapter 4 Quotes

A story is like a moving train: no matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later. But I suppose I ought to begin this tale with the same thing that ends it.

Related Characters: Uncle Nabi (speaker)
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Nabi--the man who first suggests that Pari go to live with the wealthy family in Kabul--explains the history of his employment with the family. Nabi begins his long letter by explaining that even if his story has no real beginning, it'll inevitably reach its conclusion.

Nabi's introduction is intriguing for a number of reasons. First, it mirrors the content of And the Mountains Echoed itself. In each of the nine stories in the book, we move a little bit forward, eventually reaching the inevitable conclusion: the reunion between Pari and Abdullah, decades after their separation. Nabi's explanation also suggests that stories are fundamentally about interconnection: lurking behind any story lie hundreds of others. We've already seen such a principle in action, as the first three stories in the book explain and in some ways support Nabi's.

Now, I knew from the start that the marriage was an unhappy one. Rarely did I see a tender look pass between the couple or hear an affectionate word uttered. They were two people occupying the same house whose paths rarely seemed to intersect at all.

Related Characters: Uncle Nabi (speaker), Mr. Suleiman Wahdati , Mrs. Nila Wahdati
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

Nabi, who's been hired to work as a chauffeur at the Wahdati house, talks about the dynamic between Mr. and Mrs. Wahdati. Right away, it's apparent to him that the happy couple isn't so happy. It's interesting that Nabi describes his employers as people whose paths never intersect, considering that And the Mountains Echoed is a book that's all about paths intersecting. Paradoxically, two people who are a "family" and live in the same house--i.e., people whose lives should be interconnected on every level--can have less of an influence on one another than two strangers. As we'll see, a person on another side of the world can have an enormous influence over another person, even if they're not related and have never met before.

As you can see enclosed in the envelope along with this letter is my will, in which I leave the house, the money, and my few belongings to her. I ask that you give her both this letter and the will. And please tell her, tell her that I cannot know the myriad consequences of what I set into motion. Tell her I took solace only in hope. Hope that perhaps, wherever she is now, she has found as much peace, grace, love, and happiness as this world allows.

Related Characters: Uncle Nabi (speaker), Pari Wahdati , Dr. Markos Varvaris (“Mr. Markos”)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Nabi bequeaths his house and possessions to Pari, the niece whom, years ago, Nabi allowed to be adopted by Nila Wahdati. Nabi has addressed his letter to Dr. Markos Varvaris, with the instructions that Markos must find Pari and tell her that her brother Abdullah is still alive.

Perhaps the key word in this passage is "consequences." It is Nabi who first puts the events of the book in motion by suggesting that Pari be sent to live with the Wahdati family. Nabi eventually comes to realize the core truth of the book--that the world is too complicated and interconnected for any one man to control. Nabi thinks that he's correcting a simple problem by sending Pari to live with the Wahdatis; in the end, though, he realizes that there's no such thing as a "simple" problem. Nabi ultimately embodies a cautious optimism about the universe: life is imperfect and unsatisfying, and yet he hopes that one day Pari and Abdullah will reunite and find the happiness and love they deserve.

Chapter 5 Quotes

It’s true. Timur has embarrassed him. He has behaved like the quintessential ugly Afghan-American, Idris thinks. Tearing through the war-torn city like he belongs here, backslapping locals with great bonhomie and calling them brother, sister, uncle, making a show of handing money to beggars from what he calls the Bakhsheesh bundle, joking with old women he calls mother and talking them into telling their story into his camcorder as he strikes a woebegone expression, pretending he is one of them, like he’s been here all along, like he wasn’t lifting at Gold’s in San Jose, working on his pecs and abs, when these people were getting shelled, murdered, raped. It is hypocritical, and distasteful. And it astonishes Idris that no one seems to see through this act.

Related Characters: Dr. Idris Bashiri , Timur Bashiri
Page Number: 153-154
Explanation and Analysis:

In the fifth chapter of the book, we meet Idris and Timur, two cousins who've returned to Kabul to reclaim their family's property in the city. Idris dislikes Timur for being extravagant and arrogant--Idris is a quiet, introverted sort, and doesn't like it when Timur makes a show of giving money to beggars or treating strangers like family.

The strange thing about the passage is that nothing Idris describes Timur doing sounds all that bad: Timur gives money to beggars, befriends strangers, and generally tries to improve the lives of people he doesn't know. The only reason Idris offers to dislike Timur is that Timur is "showy," an impression that, for all we know, could be exaggerated or wrong. Idris seems to resent Timur for caring about Afghanistan to an extent that Idris himself can never match. Idris wasn't any more involved with the war in Afghanistan than Timur--part of the reason that Idris dislikes Timur is that Timur reminds him of his own indifference to his own country.

Chapter 7 Quotes

Adel knew he would not love his father again as he had before, when he would sleep happily curled in the bay of his thick arms. That was inconceivable now. But he would learn to love him again even if now it was a different, more complicated, messier business. Adel could almost feel himself leapfrogging over childhood. Soon, he would land as an adult. And when he did, there would be no going back because adulthood was akin to what his father had once said about being a war hero: once you became one, you died one.

Related Characters: Adel (speaker), Baba Jan / The Commander / Commander Sahib
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Adel finds out the truth about his father: his father is a dangerous, violent man who's caused the deaths of innocent people. The boundless, worshipful love that Adel feels for his father evaporates the instant he learns the truth--and in the process, Adel senses that he's become an adult. As Adel sees is, childhood is defined by unconditional love, like the love he felt for his father (or, we might add, the love that Abdullah felt for Pari). Adulthood, by contrast, is defined by a cautious, cynical, self-deluding love. The only way that Adel can continue to love his father is to lie to himself, just as Adel's mother seems to lie to herself. In short, the passage paints a deeply cynical portrait of adult life: it's only possible to truly love people when you're too young and naive to know the truth about them--the second you learn the facts, you love in a "messier" way and become an adult.

Chapter 9 Quotes

And so Baba’s little sister, Pari, was my secret companion, invisible to everyone but me. She was my sister, the one I’d always wished my parents had given me. I saw her in the bathroom mirror when we brushed our teeth side by side in the morning. We dressed together. She followed me to school and sat close to me in class—looking straight ahead at the board, I could always spot the black of her hair and the white of her profile out of the corner of my eye.

Related Characters: Pari II (daughter) (speaker), Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, we meet Pari II, the daughter of Abdullah (whom we first met at the very beginning of the book). Pari II has never met Pari, her namesake, before, but she's grown up hearing about her from Abdullah, her father. Strangely, the memory of Pari is so powerful that Pari II comes to think of Pari as her own imaginary friend--a constant companion when Pari II brushes her teeth, gets ready for school, etc.

The fact that Pari's memory lives on in Abdullah's children suggests, optimistically, that love and compassion can continue on even after memory and people themselves are gone. No matter whether or not Abdullah and Pari themselves reunite (and they will, as we'll see), the memory of their tender love lives on in Abdullah's family. By the same token, we could argue that the "memory" of the characters in And the Mountains Echoed lives on in readers' minds--even though we've never met these people before (and even though they're presumably not real), they attain a certain measure of reality because of their emotional impact.

She turns her face to look at him, her big brother, her ally in all things, but his face is too close and she can’t see the whole of it. Only the dip of his brow, the rise of his nose, the curve of his eyelashes. But she doesn’t mind. She is happy enough to be near him, with him—her brother—and as a nap slowly steals her away, she feels herself engulfed in a wave of absolute calm.

Related Characters: Pari II (daughter) (speaker), Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Page Number: 421
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final passage of the book, Pari II has a strange and vivid dream. In the dream, she imagines Pari reuniting with Abdullah. In real life, Pari tried to reunite with Abdullah, only to find that she was almost too late: Abdullah was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, meaning that soon after their reunion, he could no longer remember his beloved little sister. But if Pari and Abdullah can't reunite in reality, Pari II's dream allows them to reunite in her own mind.

Notably, Pari and Abdullah's reunion isn't perfect, even in Pari II's dream. Pari and Abdullah can't actually see eye-to-eye, symbolizing the fact that humans can never truly connect with or understand one another, except for a brief moment. And yet even if Pari and Abdullah's reunion is imperfect and fictional, it attains a kind of emotional truth in the minds of readers. And the Mountains Echoed is a work of fiction, obviously, but because it inspires such an intense emotional reaction in its audience, it itself exists like the yellow feather or Pari II's dream--a fragile reminder of interconnectedness, love, and the lost past.