And The Mountains Echoed

Our brothers and sisters are there with us from the dawn of our personal stories to the inevitable dusk. ~Susan Scarf Merrell

And The Mountains Echoed, much like Khalid Hosseini’s earlier novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Sun begins, and draws its roots from Afghanistan and its tumultuous history, following on from the upheaval of the country in the 70s to emigration to America. Unlike his other two novels, however,  there is also a layering of characters from other cultures – Markos, a Greek surgeon, photographer and philanthropist, Nila, a part-French, part-Afghan artist who embodies the glamorous, detached Parisienne lifestyle, and Iqbal and his family, who have come home from emigration to Pakistan to find his family are unable to claim their home, or even Amra, a Bosnian nurse caring for the wounded in war-torn Kabul.

Although there is plenty of diversity in this story, at the heart of it all is the focus on the two primary characters, Abdullah and Pari, siblings whose close bond is ripped apart when they are separated at childhood, sold by a desperate father. So begins a ripple which resounds over the next 60 years, in which each sibling feeling incomplete without the other, affecting their families and friends around them.

There are several themes throughout the novel, which reverberate through each generation of siblings, lovers and friends – each of them having their own forms of abandonment and reconciliation, and each of them finding the true meaning of love and relationships over the years.

Normally a large number characters in a novel may overwhelm the story, but in this case, each character contributes, reinforcing a theme which subtly leads back to Abdullah and Pari. Each sibling carrying their own sense of incompleteness and abandonment; Abdullah growing up in Afghanistan and having his own family, emigrating to America in an attempt to find stability, and Pari, taken to France by her adoptive Mother, learning French culture and never understanding her identity and what is missing.

While this story is a little depressing in it’s telling, it’s beautifully written – there are parts of it which read like an old story being told, and indeed each character does tell his tale in order to contribute to this strange myth-like story.

If you’re looking for something full of culture, history and beauty, this has plenty of all three, and gives more besides. While it does show the characters and their yearning – to be elsewhere, to be with family or to be simply accepted – the characters are beautifully rendered, invoking a feeling of amity and the idea that you can step forward, and be a part of their lives.

Why…

…do most people not celebrate any internationally recognised and fixed Brother’s Day or Sister’s Day? Or even a general Siblings Day? We have Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, heck, there’s even an Uncle and Aunt’s Day, not to mention Grandparent’s Day. In this midst of all these candy hearts, balloons and Hallmark cards, siblings appear to be drowned out. According to research from the internet (i.e. Google) , Sister’s Day is on the first Sunday of August, and Brother’s Day is on the last Sunday of March. Not to be confused with, of course, Brother’s and Sister’s Day on 2nd of May every year, and there’s still Siblings Day, which occurs on April 10th. With all these different dates in the year, it’s no wonder some of us are confused. Also, many of these celebrations seem to be more publicised in America, which more people seem to be aware of these celebrations, while I’m pretty certain that most of us in England haven’t the first inkling about when these days take place and what we’re meant to do.

If there was a generally fixed Celebration Day for this, we could celebrate those members of our family who have teased us and nurtured us as we grew up. And of course, this doesn’t exclude those people who are the only child in their family – they can always celebrate with cousins or close friends whom they regard as like siblings. The closest celebration which comes to my mind in this respect is the Hindu Festival of “Raksha Bandhan”, in which girls tie on a ‘rakhi’ or sacred thread onto wrists of the boys in their families, and in return receives gifts, sweets and money (I’ve been gleefully told by some of my Hindu friends that they look forward to this festival as they make quite a profit for one day).  In China, the Miao ethnic group dance to celebrate their “Sister’s Festival” which falls on March 15th each year. In ancient Egypt, the pharaohs treasured their siblings so much, they married them! (yes okay, this is off the mark, and I am in no way suggesting you go off and propose to your brother or something. Most likely he’d answer by pushing you in a pond or something).

My point isn’t to create another money-making Hallmark patented event which would just fall into the fogs of other commercialised holidays that just ends up being a TV holiday where we all sit around our LCDs and gorge ourselves. I also do not want to emphasise this celebration as being too much about religion, as this is a universal concept, and what better way to  find out about other people’s culture and celebrate diversity than to find a common cause? What I’d like to advocate here is the idea of celebrating the people who you’ve grown up with, to emphasise the idea of close bonds and relationship. I’ve read about many small gatherings and groups (mostly in America) who collect their children and family together to organise games, to educate and to read stories about their family trees, which I think is a brilliant idea. One of the most important things in my family has always been our roots: recognising how hard our parents and grandparents worked for us, and what potential our future generations of children hold in carry forward our ideals.  My sisters’ and I often get together with some neighbourhood women and hold a Sister’s Circle to talk about how to hep our family members and how to be better members of both family and community, which I find quite a helpful way to share ideas with others and get advice from older women.

Not to become too serious, I’d like to put forward that at some point in the year, we all get together with our brothers and sisters and have pillow fights, make up a nick-name competition and generally eat too much ice cream (although for some this may degenerate to hair pulling and stealing each other’s clothes!)  Instead of bouncy castles, we’d have beds to jump on, and a bundle of photo albums with embarrassing photographs to look at, with home-made cooking disasters on the menu and crimped hairstyles as the entrance uniform!

Any other ideas on what else you could do?