Because And the Mountains Echoed takes place in multiple countries at multiple points in time, its characters differ from one another in nearly every way. Perhaps the most obvious kind of difference between the characters is monetary: some are wealthy, while others struggle just to survive. Even in the earliest pages of the novel, we’re forced to notice the differences between the “have-nots”—such as Saboor, who’s traveling through the desert to do construction work on a mansion—and the “haves”—like Mr. Wahdati, who owns the mansion. It’s worth understanding how power and wealth influence people’s relationships with each other in the novel, and specifically whether they serve to bring people closer together or further isolate them.
From the beginning, Hosseini makes it clear that wealth can be a barrier between different kinds of people. Indeed, as the novel begins, Mr. Wahdati is paying Saboor to build a literal wall between his own family and the rest of the city. Understood in a slightly different sense, wealth is a distraction as well as a barrier. Idris, an Afghan immigrant to the United States, often notes that his children seem uninterested in the rest of the world—they’ve grown so accustomed to their luxurious lifestyle in the United States that they’ve lost all interest in the lives of others. Idris himself is no better. While he expresses an interest in helping Roshana, a young girl who was wounded during war in Afghanistan, the elements of his life in America (a nice house, a home theater, etc.) “drown out” his innate concern for other people.
And yet wealth is also used for good in And the Mountains Echoed. Idris’s cousin, Timur, arranges for Roshana to have an operation, using the money he’s earned as a used car dealer in the United States. There are many other instances of powerful, elite characters using their power to help others, rather than ignore them: Nabi, who donates his house to the foreign doctors who’ve come to Kabul to treat the sick and dying; Dr. Markos, who uses his first-rate medical training to care for people who are too poor to pay, etc. Wealth gives people a way to reach across the world, passing on their gifts to those who need them most.
Power and wealth, much like interconnectedness, are portrayed as “neutral multipliers.” (Indeed, the interconnectedness that we see in And the Mountains Echoed couldn’t exist without money and influence enabling it.) On its own, money is neither a curse nor a blessing. Rather, it’s an invitation for the money-holder to use his or her power with great responsibility—an invitation that’s all the more important, considering that Hosseini is writing during an era that has seen tremendous inequality between the very rich and the very poor.
Power and Wealth ThemeTracker
Power and Wealth Quotes in And the Mountains Echoed
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.
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.
“My father is not a thief!” Adel shot back. “Ask anyone in Shadbagh-e-Nau, ask them what he’s done for this town.” He thought of how Baba jan received people at the town mosque, reclined on the floor, teacup before him, prayer beads in hand. A solemn line of people, stretching from his cushion to the front entrance, men with muddy hands, toothless old women, young widows with children, every one of them in need, each waiting for his or her turn to ask for a favor, a job, a small loan to repair a roof or an irrigation ditch or buy milk formula.