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 Quotes in And the Mountains Echoed
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.