And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter begins with an unnamed narrator discussing the nightly ritual she had with her father, whom she called Baba. He would tell her about a memory he had of his little sister—a memory which took place decades ago. The narrator grew up an only child, and was often lonely as a result. She always wanted to have a sibling, but never got one. Because her father spoke about his own little sister, Pari, so often, the narrator—whose name is also Pari—began to think of Pari as her own companion and imaginary friend. The narrator knows that her father (who we know is Abdullah) lost his sister when he was a child—his own father (Saboor) sold Pari to a wealthy family. From a young age, the narrator can tell that her father is still deeply sad about losing his sister. [NOTE: For the purposes of this summary, we’ll refer to the narrator of this chapter, whose name is Pari, as Pari II.]
For the final chapter of And the Mountains Echoed, Hosseini gets to the point right away, rather than drawing out our introductions to the characters. We recognize almost right away that we’re dealing with Abdullah and his daughter—precisely the people it seemed the novel ought to finish with (as long as the original Pari shows up too). It’s instructive to compare the “two Paris”—Pari and her niece. Pari II seems utterly devoted to Abdullah, much as Pari herself was as a child. Pari II is also intelligent and perceptive enough to recognize that her father still misses his sister enormously, despite having been separated from her for decades.
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The chapter cuts ahead several years. Pari II, now a young woman, is driving on the freeway. Her mother has passed away recently, causing Abdullah to grieve. Pari II drives to Abdullah’s house—the house where she still lives. There, she finds Abdullah talking on the phone with her friend, Hector Juarez, a soldier who’s recently come home from the Middle East, and is now confined to a wheelchair. Hector is cheerful, despite his condition, and often drops by Abdullah’s house to say hello and make sure he’s in good health.
Pari II’s mother, like many of the characters in the novel, is “dead on arrival”—the second that we learn of the character’s existence, we also learn that the character has died (this was the case with Eric, and also Nila, for the most part). We also see Hosseini echoing his motif of someone in a wheelchair needing assistance and care from others.
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The chapter cuts ahead several days. Pari II is reuniting with Pari, who has traveled to the United States. Pari II explains that she’s always pictured Pari, her aunt, as a young girl—the girl Abdullah talked about in his bedtime stories. Instead, Pari is gray-haired, well-dressed, and elegant in a European way. Pari II can barely believe that she’s meeting Pari after so many years. She explains to Pari that she hasn’t told Abdullah that Pari is coming. Pari II drives Pari to Abdullah’s house, and as she does so, Pari tells Pari II about her three children. Pari II tells Pari that Abdullah used to own a restaurant, but that she had to sell it several years ago, when Abdullah became sickly. Pari II explains that she works as an artist, but makes money working as a transcriptionist: she writes up receipts, emails, and other documents for a large company. She does this to make money to support Abdullah.
Hosseini is an economical writer, and he cuts ahead to the part of the novel he knows we want to read most: the reunion of Abdullah and Pari. Yet this “economy” of style also means many tragic anticlimaxes and heartbreaking twists of fate, as Hosseini tries to echo the actions of the uncaring universe, which has no sense of dramatic timing or happy endings. We also learn much more about Pari II’s life in this section: she’s so devoted to her father that she’s willing to take on menial, unfulfilling work to support him, effectively giving up (for the present) her ambitions to be an artist.
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As Pari II approaches Abdullah’s house, Pari confesses that she’s very nervous—she hasn’t seen her brother in 58 years. Pari II remembers something that Idris Bashiri, Abdullah’s doctor, told her: Abdullah needs stability in his life, rather than sudden surprises.
Idris’s chapter of the novel was the closest to being a self contained short story, so it’s appropriate that Hosseini mentions Idris here, reminding us that all the characters are interconnected. Hosseini also forces us to recognize that there’s no way of predicting how Abdullah will react to meeting his sister.
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Pari II thinks back to her youth. When she was 11, Abdullah drove her to the aquarium in Monterey. Although Pari II had been looking forward to the visit for weeks, she found the actual spectacle of the aquarium underwhelming and disappointing. As she grew older, Pari II also became unsatisfied with her body: she was “big-boned” and plain looking. Abdullah would take Pari II to special schools where she studied the Quran and learned Farsi. Pari II embraced Islam—something that often alienated her from her American classmates.
Many of the characters in the novel are dissatisfied with their physical appearances, and Pari II is hardly an exception. Here Hosseini alludes to his own childhood in the United States. When he was fifteen, he moved to California from Afghanistan, speaking no English whatsoever. Hosseini still speaks of his time in the U.S. as extremely uncomfortable and alienating, so it’s no surprise that his characters speak of their adolescences in America in the same terms.
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In high school, Pari II developed considerable skills as a painter. She applied to go to a prestigious art school in Baltimore, and was awarded a generous scholarship to attend. When Abdullah heard this news, he was a little disappointed that Pari II would be leaving him. As Pari II prepared to leave, she came to realize that her father loved her with a love “as permanent as the sky.” Shortly before Pari II was scheduled to fly to Baltimore, her mother discovered that she had cancer.
At first it seems rather selfish for Abdullah to expect his daughter put aside her dreams to spend more time with him, but it’s almost epiphanic when Pari II realizes that her father loves her unconditionally, and that she should then return this love. One could say that Pari II, now a mature adult, chooses to sacrifice her freedom and happiness for her father’s sake, rather than being coerced into doing so.
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Back in 2010, Pari II lets Pari into the house. She calls to Abdullah, and tells him he has a visitor. Pari walks into the room, and focuses her eyes on Abdullah, the brother she hasn’t seen in more than half a century. Pari II tells her father that the woman she’s brought to his home is Pari, his sister. Abdullah can’t speak at first. Then, he asks Pari where she lives. They talk about Pari’s life in Paris. Eventually, Abdullah shrugs irritably and says, “So your name is Pari. So there you have it.”
And the Mountains Echoed may be an “ensemble novel” (with many different characters), but this still feels like the dramatic climax of the book. We’ve been following Pari and Abdullah’s lives for three hundred pages now, and Hosseini has been preparing us for a scene of reconciliation. And yet the scene he gives us here is anything but reconciliation, as Abdullah stubbornly refuses to believe that the woman standing next to him is his sister. This is also, frankly, a quite rational response to such a strange situation.
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As Abdullah sits in his chair, stubbornly refusing to speak to Pari any further, he begins absent-mindedly singing a song—the nursery rhyme he sang to Pari II when she was a child. Slowly and quietly, Pari begins to sing the song as well—it is the nursery rhyme that Abdullah used to sing to her when she was a small child, years and years ago. Pari sings the entire song—even the words that Abdullah has long since forgotten. Pari and Abdullah both begin to weep. Pari can see that she’s “broken through”—she’s summoned her brother back to her.
For the last and most important time in the novel, art helps people come together. By singing the same children’s song, Abdullah and Pari realize—to a certainty—that they’re siblings, not strangers. This process is a little more complicated than it looks. By remembering their nursery rhyme, the two siblings not only confirm who they are in a literal, straightforward way, but they also “unlock” other memories of each other, of which they’d previously been only dimly aware. Art is a powerful force for uniting strangers partly because it can summon such unexpected memories and emotions.
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The chapter cuts back to Pari II’s early twenties. Shortly before her mother (whose name, we know, was Sultana) died of cancer, Pari II and her mother traveled to Santa Cruz for a weekend. Her mother had been going through chemotherapy, and she enjoyed observing nature, especially trees and animals. Pari II’s mother is at this point confined to a wheelchair, and Pari II wheels her through a path overlooking a beautiful forest. Suddenly, Pari II’s mother tells Pari II the truth: Abdullah has a half-brother in Pakistan, whose name is Iqbal. Abdullah has been sending Iqbal money for many years, she explains. Pari II’s mother is telling Pari II this news because one day, Pari II herself will be responsible for sending Iqbal money. Pari II’s mother tells Pari II that Abdullah needs people in his life—especially Pari II.
Instead of lingering on the encounter between Abdullah and Pari, Hosseini cuts away from it, leaving it up to our imaginations what they say to each other (what could they say to each other after all this time?) In general, Hosseini keeps the pace of his novel extremely brisk—as soon as one problem or mystery is solved, he throws another one in our way. Here, the new problem becomes how Pari II will take care of her family. The implicit message here is that the universe knows no happy endings—there are long-awaited, tearful reunions, but no story ever ends without a new one beginning.
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Back in 2010, Abdullah has fallen sleep, with Pari sitting next to him. Pari turns to Pari II, and explains that she’s brought photographs. Some of the photographs show the town where Pari and Abdullah were born. Pari explains that this town, Shadbagh, is now the home of a notorious “criminal of war,” who has planted enormous orchards across their family’s old property. Pari also shows Pari II photographs of her own children, and even her grandchildren. Pari asks Pari II if she’s married, and Pari II replies that she’s never been married—but she “almost” married someone.
The “criminal of war” who Pari mentions is clearly Baba jan, Adel’s father, from the seventh chapter. This confirms what we’d already surmised about “The Commander”—he’s a murderer who pretends to be a hero to the people of New Shadbagh and to his family. It’s not clear who Pari II “almost” married—if this is another story (one which we’re not going to hear), or if Pari II is speaking figuratively.
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Pari stays with Abdullah and Pari II for the next month. They spend their time laughing and catching up. Pari also takes care of Abdullah, leaving Pari II with more time to herself. One evening, Pari II is working in her room when she hears a loud sound. She rushes out to find Abdullah on his feet, screaming at Pari. He claims that she’s stolen his pain medication, and shouts that she must leave his house immediately. While Pari II insists that Abdullah is wrong—Pari has pills of her own—Abdullah maintains that Pari is a thief, and yells that he’s incapable of trusting her. He adds that he’ll tell his wife about Pari very soon. This makes both Pari II and Pari teary-eyed.
It’s clear in this moment that Abdullah is suffering from dementia brought on by old age. This is heartbreaking for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that Abdullah has always been able to remember Pari, his little sister, no matter how many decades elapsed. Now, he forgets Pari, not because he doesn’t care about her (this was the case with Idris and Roshana) but because his body and mind simply aren’t strong enough. Just as when Odelia was near death when reconciling with Markos, so Pari and Abdullah have a heartbreakingly short amount of time to be truly together again.
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Alone, Pari II and Pari talk about Abdullah’s deteriorating mental state. Pari suggests that Pari II find medical attention for Abdullah, but Pari II insists that she wants to take care of her father for as long as possible, rather than turn him over to someone else. While Pari II doesn’t admit it, she secretly thinks that she needs Abdullah in her life. Pari II tells Pari that as a child, she always fantasized about being friends with Pari. She tells Pari she’s sorry that Pari and Abdullah found one another too late in their lives.
By agreeing to take care of Abdullah year after year, Pari II has structured her entire life around her father, to the point where she feels aimless unless she is sacrificing her own happiness and creativity for his sake. The major lesson of this chapter—and, we might say, of the book as a whole—is that reunions never work out as neatly as we’d expect. Time always interferes with people’s feelings and memories.
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A short time later, Pari and Pari II sit on a wooden park bench, exchanging poetry in French, English, and Farsi. They’re in Paris, having put Abdullah in a nursing home. Abdullah has had a stroke, meaning that he needs a wheelchair at all times, and can barely talk. Before she traveled to Paris, Pari II told Abdullah that she was going to visit Abdullah’s own niece, Isabelle. Abdullah smiled, but remained silent. Pari II has been in Paris for two weeks—the longest she’s ever been away from her father.
It’s remarkable that Pari II has never spent more than fourteen days away from Abdullah before. This reminds us of how much her life had revolved around her father. There’s something both impressive and horrifying about this level of devotion to a family member: a father’s job is to help his children grow up and become independent—not require them to stay at home, doing chores.
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As they sit on the bench, Pari II gives Pari a package. Pari II found the package while she was packing for her trip to France. It’s labeled “To my sister Pari.” Pari opens the package, and finds that it contains a note, which reads: “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.” The note is dated 2007—the year Abdullah was first “diagnosed,” Pari II explains.
In this crucial section, we learn that Abdullah did remember Pari for as long as he was mentally capable of doing so. When he recognized that his mind was slipping away, he turned to art—just like Markos with his photo—as a tool to help him remember the person he cared about most. Abdullah’s note is a tragic encapsulation of the heartlessness of time—it keeps moving on, erasing memories of loved ones and the loved ones themselves, no matter how hard we try to cling to them.
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Pari finds another item inside the package—a small yellow feather. Pari II asks her if she knows what this item means, and Pari confesses that she doesn’t. At the same time, she recognizes that the pain Abdullah experienced when they were separated as children far exceeded the pain she felt, because she was younger—only four years old. Now, she barely remembers her life before being adopted by Mrs. Wahdati.
Hosseini throws another wrench into the neatness of Pari and Abdullah’s reunion, with the fact that for the majority of her life, Pari didn’t remember Abdullah at all. Only recently has there been a tragically ironic reversal of roles, so that Pari remembers Abdullah and Abdullah forgets Pari.
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The night after Pari receives her package from Abdullah, Pari II finds it difficult to sleep. Eventually, she falls asleep, and has a strange, vivid dream. In the dream, Pari II sees Pari sleeping next to Abdullah. They are both young children. Pari turns to look at Abdullah, her big brother, but Abdullah’s face is too close to her own, meaning that she can’t see the whole of it. Nevertheless, Pari is satisfied to be so close to Abdullah. Slowly, she and Abdullah fall asleep in one another’s arms.
In the final paragraphs of the chapter, Hosseini steers the reader toward a frustrating, moving, but ultimately peaceful conclusion. Pari and Abdullah can’t ever know each other perfectly—there will always be things separating them (age, time, distance, etc.). But the image of Abdullah and Pari pressed close together implies that perhaps it’s enough that they were together for a short time—perhaps we shouldn’t expect a “happily ever after.” Hosseini brings his book to an end, and yet he’s also attacking the very concept of an ending. Even if this particular story—the story of Pari and Abdullah—is ending, a legion of other stories continue on: the stories of Pari II, her relatives back in Afghanistan, etc. Books are finite, meaning that the stories they tell are only a small portion of the truth. Pari can see only a portion of Abdullah’s face, but the fact that she is close to him is enough.
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