Families in poverty are sometimes forced to make incomprehensibly difficult decisions in order to attempt to improve their respective situations. In the novel And the Mountains Echoed, author Khaled Hosseini makes a concerted effort to highlight the unforgiving nature of living in poverty: “Nothing good came free. Even love. You paid for all things. And if you were poor, suffering was your currency” (Hosseini 24). The novel focuses on the specific difficulties the main characters face: the nine chapters in the novel are narrated by a different character, each with a unique story of difficulty and hardship. None of these stories are more impactful on the general development of the text than the relationship between the main protagonist Pari and her brother Abdullah. The separation of these two seemingly inseparable siblings is the main focus of the novel, and their story incorporates the other main characters as part of an expanding narrative. In Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, Pari is sold to the wealthy Wahdati family when she is three-years-old due to her family’s poverty; this action separates Pari and her brother Abdullah, causing the siblings to experience strong feelings of emptiness and isolation. When Abdullah’s daughter reunites the two estranged siblings decades later, Abdullah’s advanced age prevents him from fully appreciating their reunion; however, Pari finds solace in the company of her beloved brother while simultaneously developing a close relationship with her niece.
Saboor, Pari’s father, reluctantly sells his three-year-old daughter to the wealthy Wahdati family in Kabul, hoping to free her from the life of gruelling labour and poverty that is typical in their village of Shadbagh; she is separated from her dear brother Abdullah in the process. During the journey to Kabul, Saboor tells his children a story that indirectly explains the rationale behind his decision to sell Pari. The story is about a man named Baba Ayub who lives with his wife and children in the village of Maidan Sabz. Baba Ayub, like Saboor, is a poor, hard working labourer who still considers himself fortunate because he lives with his beloved family: “Let’s just say people in Maidan Sabz worked twice as hard to eke out half the living. Still, Baba Ayub counted himself among the fortunate because he had a family that he cherished above all things” (Hosseini 2). Through Baba Ayub’s character, Saboor highlights the difficulty of his own life in Shadbagh, but he also acknowledges how blessed he is to have his family. In the story, a giant, called the div, travels from village to village tapping on the roofs of huts. The family under the tapped roof is required to eventually offer the div a child; the div represents the Wahdati family. One day, like when the Wahdatis approach Saboor, the div taps on Baba Ayub’s hut: “[Baba Ayub] gazed miserably at his five children. A finger had to be cut, to save the hand” (Hosseini 5). Through this story, Saboor emphasizes his strong reluctance to sell Pari, but he also acknowledges it must be done to “save the hand.” By selling Pari, there will be fewer dependents living on Saboor’s minimal income, and Pari will be placed in a richer environment. Baba Ayub elects to offer his three-year-old son Qais, foreshadowing the sale of Pari to the Wahdatis. Upon arriving at the div’s palace, Baba Ayub realizes that it will provide Qais with a more advantageous environment: “In three lifetimes he could not imagine a place so beautiful. But what truly brought Baba Ayub to his knees was the sight of children running and playing happily in the garden” (Hosseini 10). Baba Ayub’s perception of the div’s palace mirrors Saboor’s perception of the Wahdati house, as Hosseini later narrates: “The house proved even more impressive . . . its size big enough to contain at least half the homes in Shadbagh. [Saboor] felt as though he had stepped into the div’s palace” (Hosseini 36). When presented with the opportunity to take Qais home, similar to how Saboor had the opportunity to take Pari home, Baba Ayub realizes that the palace is the best place for Qais to grow up:What sort of life awaited Qais in Maidan Sabz? The hard life of a peasant at best, like his own, and little more. That is, if Qais didn’t die from the droughts like so many of the village’s children had. Could you forgive yourself, then, Baba Ayub asked himself, knowing that you plucked him, for your own selfish reasons, from a life of luxury and opportunity? (Hosseini 12)Baba Ayub’s comparison between life with the div and life in Maidan Sabz is Hosseini’s way of indirectly providing insight into Saboor’s rationale; Saboor understands that living with the Wahdatis will provide Pari with luxuries and opportunities that he cannot provide for her. He also affirms, through the story, that he understands that having Pari remain in Shadbagh will force her to live a difficult life—if she doesn’t first die from thirst like other children in the village. Despite his immense love for his daughter, it is now clear to Saboor that it would be best for Pari to live with the Wahdatis. Nabi, Saboor’s brother-in-law who connected the Wahdatis to Saboor, was the person who took Pari away from her family. Even fifty years later, Nabi vividly recalls the moment he took Pari away from Abdullah: “I took those two helpless children, in whom love of the simplest and purest kind had found expression, and I tore one from the other. I will never forget the sudden emotional mayhem. Pari slung over my shoulder . . . shrieking, Abollah! Abollah! . . . Abdullah, screaming his sister’s name, trying to fight past his father” (Hosseini 102). Half a century later, Nabi still clearly recalls how traumatic and poignant the separation was for both Pari and Abdullah. Both siblings vehemently resisted the separation, but to no avail; Saboor’s decision to sell Pari, despite it being in her best interest, has now separated her from Abdullah.
Both Pari and Abdullah experience strong feelings of emptiness and isolation stemming from their traumatic separation during their childhood. Abdullah, who was only ten at the time of the separation, reflects on his sister’s personality: “Something of her cheerful devotion, her guilelessness, her unabashed hopefulness. Pari was the only person in the world who would never, could never, hurt him. Some days, he felt she was the only true family he had” (Hosseini 24). Abdullah specifically recalls the qualities that made Pari unique, and highlights how dear and important she was to him. Later in the novel, Hosseini further details the effect of the separation on Abdullah: “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 . . . His days in Shadbagh were numbered . . . There was nothing left for him [there]” (Hosseini 49). Living without Pari has created a significant void in Abdullah, an irreplaceable missing piece, and makes Abdullah feel isolated from anything meaningful, even though his father and stepmother are still in Shadbagh. In an attempt to salvage a sense of internal ease, Abdullah names his only daughter after his beloved sister. Pari, contrarily, was only three at the time of the separation, so she is unable to pinpoint the source of her emptiness: “there was in her life the absence of something, or someone, fundamental to her own existence . . . She read a story once about a middle-aged Turkish man who slipped into a deep depression when the twin brother he never knew he had suffered a fatal heart attack . . . It was the closest anyone had ever come to articulating what she felt” (Hosseini 189). Hosseini uses dramatic irony to emphasize Pari’s understanding that something—or someone—significant is missing from her life. She relates this feeling to a story of a man who becomes depressed when his twin brother dies: the man does not know he has a twin brother, and does not know that his twin brother died, but becomes depressed for a reason that to him cannot be articulated. Later in the novel, Pari elaborates on this emptiness: “I sensed only an absence. A vague pain without a source. I was like the patient who cannot explain to the doctor where it hurts, only that it does” (Hosseini 391). Pari cannot identify what is missing from her life, saying it is like being a “patient who cannot explain to the doctor where it hurts.” It is unmistakable to the reader, however, that she is referring specifically to her family: “But [Pari] also remembered feeling this way as a child, living with both her parents at the big house in Kabul” (Hosseini 189). Pari indicates that she felt this same emptiness in her youth while living with the Wahdatis. Although she cannot identify it, Pari’s separation from her biological family, and specifically Abdullah, during her childhood is what creates the emptiness she feels well into adulthood. This emptiness is finally filled when she is reunited with Abdullah decades later.
When Abdullah’s daughter Pari reunites her aunt with her father decades after their separation, Abdullah’s advanced age prevents him from understanding what is happening; he is in his seventies at the time of the reunion. His sister Pari, however, finds solace in the company of her long lost brother while developing a close relationship with her niece. Abdullah’s daughter Pari picks her aunt up from the airport and brings her face to face with Abdullah; the estranged siblings are reunited after more than sixty years apart. Unfortunately, it is too late for Abdullah to truly appreciate the blessing in front of his very eyes, only seeing his sister as “the grey haired woman across from him” (Hosseini 369). Abdullah is unable to recognize his sister and, even after being told her name, he only acknowledges that she has the same name as his daughter. Nothing more. Abdullah later rants to his daughter about an encounter with his sister: “‘I don’t trust that woman,’ Baba says . . . ‘a damn liar too. You know what she said to me, this woman? That she was my sister! My sister!’” (Hosseini 387). Despite being bluntly told that the woman standing before him is his long lost sister, Abdullah adamantly rejects the notion; he is held captive by his advanced age and is incapable of comprehending the situation in front of him. Pari’s niece apologizes to her for reuniting the siblings too late, but Pari disregards the apology. Instead, she chooses to appreciate the reunion, despite Abdullah’s advanced age: “‘But we have found each other, no?’ she says, her voice cracking with emotion. ‘And this is who he is now. It’s all right. I feel happy. I have found a part of myself that was lost.’ She squeezes my hand. ‘And I found you, Pari’” (Hosseini 391). Pari accepts and embraces her brother’s current situation, and she is grateful to be reunited with him in the first place; the reunion with her estranged brother, no matter how many years later, has filled the emptiness within Pari that has plagued her since their childhood separation. Pari also acknowledges how grateful she is to have finally met her niece, who becomes emotional upon hearing her aunt’s response to the apology: “Hearing [aunt Pari] speak my name now, in this living room, it is as though all the years that divided us are rapidly folding over one another again and again . . . I feel a soft lurch in my chest, the muffled thump of another heart kick-starting anew next to my own” (Hosseini 392). Pari’s niece states that she can feels her aunt’s heartbeat, as if they were one person. It is obvious that Pari has developed a genuine relationship with her niece, similar to the one she had with Abdullah as a child; the rapport Pari once had with her brother has developed between her and her niece. Despite Abdullah being unable to understand the significance of her presence, Pari is able to find solace in the company of her brother, and simultaneously develops a close, and healing, relationship with her now dear niece.
In Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, main character Pari is separated from her beloved brother Abdullah during her childhood. Pari’s father Saboor sells her to a wealthy family in Kabul, hoping to prevent her from growing up in the gruelling and difficult conditions typical in their village of Shadbagh. Despite their valiant efforts to prevent it, Pari and Abdullah are separated from each other at the ages of three and ten, respectively. The separation is incredibly traumatic for both siblings, who, despite their young age at the time of the separation, are fully aware that something significant is missing from their lives; the separation causes Pari and Abdullah to experience strong feelings of emptiness and isolation. Abdullah feels abandoned as a child in the wake of his sister’s relocation, and he continues to feel a significant void in his life well into adulthood. Pari, who was too young at the time of the separation to remember her biological family, is constantly burdened by an emptiness within her—one that she is unable to articulate. This changes when she receives a phone call from her niece that she didn’t know existed; Pari is reunited with her estranged brother through the efforts of her niece. Although Abdullah is essentially unaffected by the reunion due to his advanced age, Pari is able to fill the emptiness within her that has plagued her since childhood, and simultaneously develops a close and healing relationship with her niece—and namesake—Pari.
Hosseini, Khaled. And the Mountains Echoed. Penguin Canada, 2013.