And the Mountains Echoed

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Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Analysis

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Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Theme Icon

In the first chapter of And the Mountains Echoed, an impoverished Afghan worker, Saboor, tells his two children, Abdullah and Pari, a story about a farmer, Baba Ayub, who’s forced to sacrifice his beloved child, Qais, to a monster called the div. Baba Ayub does so, and then is horrified by his own callous choice to murder his own son. Yet the div gives him a way of fighting his own guilt and pain: a small bottle that allows him to forget Qais altogether. Even after Baba Ayub drinks from the bottle, however, he has brief, fleeting memories of his son.

As the opening chapter suggests, And the Mountains Echoed is a book about the relationship between time, memory, and forgetting. To be human is to make decisions—some of which are extremely difficult. The power to forget is thus one of humanity’s most powerful survival mechanisms. If we didn’t have the power to slowly forget our actions over time, we would spend our entire lives full of grief and self-hatred. And yet, as the story of Baba Ayub indicates, forgetting isn’t always totally effective: we will always remember bits and pieces of the past, particularly about the people we love most. The novel asks then asks if it’s ever really possible to forget the people we love most. When is it better to remember, and when is it useful to forget? Is forgetting ever a choice?

In a sense, And the Mountains Echoed is a novel about the conflict between love and forgetfulness. Although there are many different characters and stories in the book, arguably the “central” story (the story Hosseini begins with, and to which he returns at the end) is that of Pari and her brother Abdullah, who are separated at a young age. Abdullah spends most of his life remembering his beloved younger sister—he even names his child after her. While Pari’s memories of Abdullah are less clear (she was only four years old when they were separated), she remembers him decades later. The siblings’ love for one another is so powerful that time and forgetfulness can’t destroy it.

It’s tempting to think of forgetfulness as the “villain” of the novel: the force that threatens and sometimes destroys love. Yet it’s important to keep in mind that, sometimes, forgetting can be a force for good. The characters in the novel endure enormous pain and tragedy, and if they didn’t have the power to forget, they’d have no way of healing and moving on with their lives. Thalia, a young woman who’s attacked by a dog as a young girl and sustains a horrible facial injury for most of her life, experiences bullying and cruelty for most of her adolescence. And yet as she grows up, she manages to move beyond this cruelty, even befriending some of the people who once bullied her. Although time doesn’t permit Thalia to forget her past entirely, it does allow her to forget some of the intensity of her pain, and gives her an opportunity to grow into a mature, happy adult.

In the end, And the Mountains Echoed offers a nuanced theory of time, memory, and forgetting. Sometimes it’s important to remember things—indeed, memory is often what gives life meaning, as in Abdullah’s case—but sometimes it’s also necessary to forget. In the end, for better or worse, forgetting often wins out. Even Abdullah, who faithfully remembers his little sister for decades, eventually succumbs to Alzheimer’s disease, and forgets who Pari is.

Because memory is both flawed and extremely important, the novel concludes that art is especially vital to humanity. Many of the characters in the novel turn to some kind of art as a way of remembering the past: Mr. Markos with his photography, Abdullah with the yellow feather he keeps in memory of his sister, and perhaps even Hosseini with the novel itself. Humans don’t have perfect memories, but they do have the ability to preserve their memories in other ways: through conversation, art, and, above all, writing.

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Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art ThemeTracker

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Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art Quotes in And the Mountains Echoed

Below you will find the important quotes in And the Mountains Echoed related to the theme of Time, Memory, Forgetting, and Art.
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

He wished he could love his new mother in the same way. And perhaps Parwana, he thought, secretly wished the same, that she could love him. The way she did Iqbal, her one-year-old son, whose face she always kissed, whose every cough and sneeze she fretted over. Or the way she had loved her first baby, Omar. She had adored him.

Related Characters: Abdullah , Parwana , Iqbal , Omar
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

In the second chapter of the book, we meet Abdullah, the son of the man who narrated the story from the previous chapter. Abdullah's biological mother has died recently, and following her death, Abdullah's father has married a new woman, Parwana. Parwana simply doesn't offer Abdullah the same affection that she gives her biological children from another marriage--Iqbal and Omar (who died young).

The passage brings up one of the recurring themes of the book--the importance of family and blood ties. The strongest families in the novel are usually literal, biological families--when an adult tries to adopt another child, or when a couple remarries, it's hard for them to muster genuine love for their adopted kids. (Of course this isn't always the case in life.)

Father sat down by the remains of the fire. “Where did you go?” “Go to sleep, boy.” “You wouldn’t leave us. You wouldn’t do that, Father.” Father looked at him, but in the dark his face dissolved into an expression Abdullah couldn’t make out. “You’re going to wake your sister.” “Don’t leave us.” “That’s enough of that now.”

Related Characters: Abdullah (speaker), Father / Saboor (speaker), Pari Wahdati
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Abdullah is traveling with his father and his sister, Pari. In the middle of the desert, Abdullah wakes up to find that his father has gone. When his father eventually returns, Abdullah claims that he'd thought his father has been murdered--since there's no way his father would ever leave his family behind voluntarily.

Although we don't know it yet, Abdullah's father has planned to leave his family behind: he's going to leave Pari in the care of a wealthy family (paralleling the way Baba Ayub left Qais in the care of the div). Unable to make ends meet, Abdullah's father Saboor has betrayed his own children, yet in a way also sacrificed his own happiness to give one child a "better" life--and so here, Saboor doesn't want to hear Abdullah's plea, "don't leave us."

She hunkered down beside him now, her glasses pushed up on her hair. There was wetness in her eyes too, and when she dabbed at them with the handkerchief, it came away with black smudges. “I don’t blame you if you hate me. It’s your right. But—and I don’t expect you to understand, not now—this is for the best. It really is, Abdullah. It’s for the best. One day you’ll see.”

Related Characters: Mrs. Nila Wahdati (speaker), Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Abdullah meets Nila, the young wealthy woman who's asked to adopt Pari from Abdullah's family. Nila is heartbroken to meet Abdullah--the brother from whom Nila is going to "steal" Pari. Nila, clearly overcome with guilt, tells Abdullah that "this" is for the best. Although Abdullah doesn't realize it right away, Nila is referring to Pari's adoption: Nila believes that by adopting Pari, Pari will get a great education, a loving family, and a stable life that Abdullah's family simply can't match.

Nila's insistence that her actions are for the best convince no one--not even Nila herself. Deep down, Nila knows that she's not acting out of magnanimity--she just wants a child of her own. Her final words to Abdullah, "one day you'll see," foreshadow the book's conclusion in which, decades later, Abdullah and Pari are reunited with one another.

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

He is not a criminal. Everything he owns he has earned. In the nineties, while half the guys he knew were out clubbing and chasing women, he had been buried in study, dragging himself through hospital corridors at two in the morning, forgoing leisure, comfort, sleep. He had given his twenties to medicine. He has paid his dues. Why should he feel badly? This is his family. This is his life.
In the last month, Roshi has become something abstract to him, like a character in a play. Their connection has frayed. The unexpected intimacy he had stumbled upon in that hospital, so urgent and acute, has eroded into something dull. The experience has lost its power. He recognizes the fierce determination that had seized him for what it really was, an illusion, a mirage.

Related Characters: Dr. Amra Ademovic (speaker), Dr. Idris Bashiri (speaker), Roshana (speaker)
Page Number: 178
Explanation and Analysis:

Idris had befriended a child named Roshi during his time in Afghanistan. After promising to take care of the child, Idris has returned to the United States, and is in the process of forgetting about Roshi altogether amidst all his other responsibilities. Hosseini describes the ways that Idris tries to justify his own apathy: Idris tells himself that he's "earned" the right to be selfish by working hard at medical school for many years (even though the link between studying and being compassionate is by no means obvious).

In this passage Hosseini shows another example of the way memory and forgetfulness affect people's lives. Idris had felt genuine compassion for Roshi at first, but as her memory fades, so too does his resolve, and in the end he turns out to have acted callously and selfishly.

Chapter 6 Quotes

Well, it’s hardly a mystery, mon amour, Maman had said. You miss your father. He is gone from your life. It’s natural that you should feel this way. Of course that’s what it is. Come here. Give Maman a kiss. Her mother’s answer had been perfectly reasonable but also unsatisfactory. Pari did believe that she would feel more whole if her father was still living, if he were here with her. But she also remembered feeling this way even as a child, living with both her parents at the big house in Kabul.

Related Characters: Mrs. Nila Wahdati (speaker), Pari Wahdati
Page Number: 197
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're told that Pari--now living with her adopted mother in Paris--feels a vague sense of unhappiness. Pari has no idea that Nila isn't her biological mother--as far as she's concerned, she's a Wahdati, and always has been. And yet Nila feels a strange, deep unhappiness, which she's unable to put into words. Nila claims that Pari's dissatisfaction comes from missing her father, i.e., Mr. Wahdati. But as readers recognize, Pari is clearly missing her beloved brother Abdullah, whom she now no longer consciously remembers. Like Baba Ayub in the first chapter of the book, Pari can remember the emotional fallout of leaving her family, but not the specific incident that prompted the fallout.

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 8 Quotes

“You’ve made me proud, Markos.”
I am fifty-five years old. I have waited all my life to hear those words. Is it too late now for this? For us? Have we squandered too much for too long, Mamá and I? Part of me thinks it is better to go on as we have, to act as though we don’t know how ill suited we have been for each other. Less painful that way. Perhaps better than this belated offering. This fragile, trembling little glimpse of how it could have been between us. All it will beget is regret, I tell myself, and what good is regret? It brings back nothing. What we have lost is irretrievable.

Related Characters: Dr. Markos Varvaris (“Mr. Markos”) (speaker), Odelia Varvaris (speaker)
Page Number: 358-359
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Markos--the doctor we first met in Nabi's letter--talks to his aged mother, Odelia Varvaris. Markos has always had a strange relationship with Odelia--while he knows that Odelia is a good mother, he's always felt that Odelia is too disapproving and cold with him, as if she doesn't really love him. Now, after decades of coldness between the two of them, Markos learns the truth: Odelia has always loved Markos, and is enormously proud of his achievement as a doctor and a human being.

It's important to notice the fine line between joy and sorrow in this passage. Markos is of course pleased to hear the words he's always craved from his mother. And yet his mother's words also sadden him, because they remind him of the years of happiness he could have had with his mother, and now can't get back.

In short, Hosseini uses Chapter 8 to question the notion of a happy reunion. On paper, Markos and Odelia's reunion is perfectly happy: they say all the right things to one another. And yet no amount of kind words can make up for the intervening years. A tearful reunion isn't always enough for a happy ending, because of the constant power of memory and the past.

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.

I hold the note tightly against the blustering wind. I read for Pari the three scribbled sentences. They tell me I must wade into waters, where I will soon drown. Before I march in, I leave this on the shore for you. I pray you find it, sister, so you will know what was in my heart as I went under. There is a date too. August 2007.
“August of 2007,” I say. “That’s when he was first diagnosed.” Three years before I had even heard from Pari.

Related Characters: Pari II (daughter) (speaker), Abdullah , Pari Wahdati
Related Symbols: The Yellow Feather
Page Number: 418
Explanation and Analysis:

Pari II discovers a note that her father, Abdullah, left immediately after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. Knowing that his disease would destroy his memory--and therefore his ability to remember his beloved sister, Pari--Abdullah wrote Pari a short letter, in which he bid her a touching goodbye. (As we'll see, the letter is attached to a box containing the one concrete reminder of Abdullah and Pari's love: the yellow feather).

The passage is important for a number of reasons. Above all, it reiterates that Abdullah continues to love his sister deeply, even after a long life spent apart. After decades of remembering his sister with nothing but love, Abdullah has finally hit against the finite limits of his own memory: his brain itself will soon deteriorate. And yet Abdullah doesn't give up hope entirely: he uses the power of writing and mnemonic aids (like the feather) to preserve some memory of his love for his sister. In a poignant irony, the memory of Pari will live on in Pari II and the yellow feather, even after Abdullah himself grows too old to remember Pari at all.

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.