In each of the nine chapters of And the Mountains Echoed, we’re presented with a subtly different kind of family. In the loosest terms, this means a small group of people between whom there exists an intimate, personal bond. Sometimes the family bond is purely biological: a father, a mother, some children, some grandchildren, etc. Other families in the novel are less literal, however. Often a character chooses to belong to a “family” of strangers, with varying degrees of success. Hosseini explores these different kinds of families, and the ways that people attempt to navigate between them.
It’s clear from the opening pages of And the Mountains Echoed that sharing DNA, by itself, is no guarantee of a family bond. The first characters we meet, Saboor and his two children, Abdullah and Pari, are “linked” by blood, but they’re not bound together by it. Abdullah never expresses any feelings of closeness or intimacy with his father, and as he grows up, he seems to forget about his father altogether. By contrast, Abdullah remembers Pari all his life, even after he’s separated from her as an eight-year-old child. Many of the characters in the novel, including Nabi, Abdullah’s step-uncle, point out how remarkably strong the bond between Pari and Abdullah is. The bond is so strong, in fact, that it can’t simply be explained by biological connection alone—in a sense, Abdullah and Pari have chosen to form a family with each other. Likewise, later in the novel we see intimate, familial connections between characters who aren’t related by blood at all. Evidently, people have much more of a choice in their family than it seems.
And yet And the Mountains Echoed makes it clear that family cannot only be a choice. The characters who “choose” their families too quickly, such as Idris and Nila, end up lonely and unhappy. Nila believes that she can create a family for herself by “borrowing” someone else’s family—thus, she buys Pari from Saboor, and treats her as her own daughter. But Nila’s attempts to build her own family collapse as time goes on. She neglects Pari, and Pari responds in kind. In short, Nila has chosen to be a mother too hastily. Conversely, the characters who try the hardest to escape their biological families, such as Dr. Markos, end up feeling more connected to their biological families than ever before. Although And the Mountains Echoed suggests that all human beings are interconnected, and thus all part of the same “family,” the characters in the novel who try to live according to such a belief often end up overextending themselves, hurting others, and becoming deeply disillusioned with their lives.
The novel instead points toward a more balanced view of family, biology, and choice. The strongest and most stable families it depicts aren’t necessarily biological families (in fact, most of the biological families in the novel are heavily fractured), but the most conspicuously “artificial” families (such as the family built by Nila), are usually failures too. Rather, family bonds arise over the course of many years of close connection. For this reason, many of the strongest families in And the Mountains Echoed are both biological and chosen. It’s not until Pari II is a young woman, for instance, that she decides to spend her life taking care of her father, Abdullah. She does so both because Abdullah is her biological father and because she’s come to recognize that he’s a good, loving person. In the end, the novel suggests that a good family—no matter what form it takes—doesn’t emerge overnight: it needs love, attention, and above all, time, to appear.
Family 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
All her life, Parwana had made sure to avoid standing in front of a mirror with her sister. It robbed her of hope to see her face beside Masooma’s, to see so plainly what she had been denied. But in public, every stranger’s eye was a mirror. There was no escape.
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.
Then she pulled close and embraced me, her cheek against mine. My nose filled with the scent of her hair, her perfume. “It was you, Nabi,” she said in my ear. “It was always you. Didn’t you know?”
I said nothing even though he had it wrong. I was not joking that time. My staying was no longer for him. It had been at first. I had stayed initially because Suleiman needed me, because he was wholly dependent on me. I had run once before from someone who needed me, and the remorse I still feel I will take with me to the grave. I could not do it again. But slowly, imperceptibly, my reasons for staying changed. I cannot tell you when or how the change occurred, Mr. Markos, only that I was staying for me now. Suleiman said I should marry. But the fact is, I looked at my life and realized I already had what people sought in marriage. I had comfort, and companionship, and a home where I was always welcomed, loved, and needed. The physical urges I had as a man—and I still had them, of course, though less frequent and less pressing now that I was older—could still be managed, as I explained earlier. As for children, though I had always liked them I had never felt a tug of paternal impulse in myself.
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.
“We leave in a week, bro. You don’t want to get her too attached to you.” Idris nods. He wonders if Timur may not be slightly jealous of his relationship with Roshi, perhaps even resentful that he, Idris, may have robbed him of a spectacular opportunity to play hero. Timur, emerging in slow motion from the blazing building, holding a baby. The crowd exploding in a cheer. Idris is determined not to let Timur parade Roshi in that way.
Well, children are never everything you’d hoped for.
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.
She wonders often what sort of grandmother Maman would have made. Especially with Thierry. Intuitively, Pari thinks Maman would have proved helpful with him. She might have seen something of herself in him.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.