And the Mountains Echoed in Greece

“All my life I have lived like an Aquarium fish in the safety of a glass tank, behind a barrier as impenetrable as it has been transparent. I have been free to observe the glimmering world on the other side, to picture myself in it, if I like. But I have always been contained, hemmed in, by the hard, unyielding confines of the existence that Baba has constructed for me, at first knowingly, when I was young, and now guilelessly, now that he is fading day by day. I think I have grown accustomed to the glass and am terrified that when it breaks, when I am alone, I will spill out into the wide open unknown and flop around, helpless, lost, gasping for breath.”

Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed

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Each of us are weighed down, burdened by our own particular set of responsibilities, a brand unique to ourselves, our situations and our lives. My own responsibilities I have worn as a heavy chain around my neck for too long. This is not to state that I choose to be free of my responsibilities, a choice that is too reckless, too heartless and remote a decision I could ever make. But I do have a choice to live with my burdens. A choice that is not to accept a weight that encumbers our lives, but a choice to accommodate that weight, shift it a little on your back so that the weight is less cumbersome.

This is a new skill I feel I will have to practice to get right, and yet a skill that is essential to not just survive in life, but to be happy. I must learn to enjoy the days when the weight of responsibility grounds me, but make sure I have the days when I am free to move, to explore. If I am careful to plan for those days, it is easier to enjoy the days I am forced to be still.

reading

In Khaled Hosseini’s third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, the stories move the reader constantly along Afghanistan, France and Greece, through sixty years of relationships, often so close that their lives are a burden to each other, others remote, but all touching and shaping their lives in amazing ways. This is life; inescapable and alluring.

Towards the end of the book is a touching story of the little girl Thalia, who was mauled by a dog at 5 just years old. Her story is set in an island in Greece, and I read this part of the book while staying at Aegina, another island in Greece, thinking about the people who have touched my life, wondering if those people who seemed so remote at the time may have had the biggest influence.

A Thousand Splendid Suns Under One Sky?

Good writers like Khaled Hosseini always explain the motivations of the antagonists in the story. No one is purely evil or purely good and the antagonists actions are always postulated with a bit of back history. Rasheed the main antagonist in A Thousand Splendid Suns, is violent and cruel but we come to understand his actions through the death of his son and the frustration of being unable to father another son as he grows old.

“Every street of Kabul is enthralling to the eye.
Through the bazaar, caravans of Egypt pass.
One could not count the moons that shimmer on her roofs,
and the thousand splendid suns that hide behind her walls”

The title of Khaled Hosseini’s book, A Thousand Splendid Suns, comes from a line in the Josephine Davis translation of the poem ‘Kabul’ by the 17th century Iranian poet Saib Tabrizi.

The startling brutality and oppression of the Taliban Afghanistan, especially against women, can be regarded as another antagonist of the book, which can also be said of Khaled Hosseini’s debut novel, The Kite Runner. But Hosseini has the ability to portray this time in Afghanistan history with a depth of understanding and warmth for his home country and it’s people.

As a strong independent woman the concept of life hidden under a Burqa in Afghanistan under the Taliban regime seems completely unreal and intolerable. This is also true for the two protagonist’s of Hosseni’s novel, Mariam and Laila, two strong women who live in a society of few choices but through each other find strength and courage to change their lives. Under the Taliban regime they are not allowed to work and are forced to stay with a violent husband (Rasheed). When Rasheed loses his job Laila has no choice but to put her young daughter into an orphange, a common act for widows who are not allowed to work even when their children are starving! Laila is beaten daily as she has the audacity to walk outside without a man as she attempts, often in vain, to visit her daughter at the orphanage. After a lifetime of decisions taken away from her, Mariam chooses to sacrifice her life for her friend Laila and her children.

I will never forget sitting outside a cafe in Egypt next door to an open slaughter-house. I was travelling with a few of the guys I had been working with on the dive boat, The Sun Boat, taking tourists on diving holidays along the Red Sea. I looked up and noticed a young woman staring at me under a loose black gown, called a niqab, that only showed her eyes. It suddenly dawned on me how few women I had actually seen on my short travels so far in Egypt. What I remember most is the way she looked at me. Her eyes held no malice just a sense of awe and incomprehension as she looked at me. What must I have looked like to her; a Western woman uncovered, free to make my own choices in life, a life she understood that would always be out of her reach.

As I sat alone at the back of the Sun Boat watching the sun set on the Red Sea as it sailed away from the port of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt, I had learnt that the world is more open than we think it is, and that sometimes the only bars around us are the ones we create for ourselves.