I definitely have a certain level of expectation with this author. I mean, who didn't love "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns"??? They were both a mixture of fascinating details about the Afghan culture, combined with heartbreak, unbreakable ties of family and friendship, and endings that packed such a punch, I almost felt manipulated. Still, he has such a talent to give you all he's got and leave you wondering what hit you. He is truly an amazing author.
His latest offering has gotten some incredible reviews on the blogs...the critics are a little more varied in their response. I can understand why. This book definitely shares similar traits with his first two books, but is also so much more ambitious in scope that I think maybe causes it to lose a little bit of that Hosseini visceral, concentrated impact.
Synopsis: At the core of this story is young Abdullah and his little sister Pari, inseparable in a small town in Afghanistan in 1952. Their mother died while giving birth to Pari, and their father has remarried and struggles to support the family. A fateful series of events causes Pari to be separated from the rest of her family, and many lives are changed forever.
The novel is constructed as a series of connected short stories spanning generations and traveling across the globe, from Kabul to Paris to Greece to San Francisco. In ever expanding circles, we slowly widen from Abdullah and Pari to their relatives, their descendants, friends, caretakers, and even a young boy who lives in the palace of a drug lord that resides where Abdullah and Pari used to live. We hear heartbreaking and uplifting tales of loss, love, honor, sacrifice, and envy. Of parents and children, and the bond between. Of wars and survival and hope.
My thoughts: In many ways, this is storytelling at its best. Hosseini certainly has a way to draw out the most realistic characters...you would almost swear he must know these people. They come alive on the page, all with different backgrounds, experiences and beliefs. The threads that weave these folks together are also lovingly placed strategically to evoke maximum emotion and poignancy.
It may be to Hosseini's disadvantage, then, that in following up his last two novels, the denouement was much gentler than I expected. The entire novel leads you right where you think it will, and it is precious, but feels muted. Also, because he takes such a circuitous and non-linear route, it can seem entertaining yet wandering.
All that said, the writing is gorgeous, and is a fabulous work of literature.
A few words about the audio production: The author starts the narration with a brief fairytale-like story told by Abdullah and Pari's father to his children, while en route to the fateful trip to Kabul. It is a prophetic tale that gives one goosebumps, and the author has a wonderful voice for that delivery.
The rest of the audio's narration is shared between David Negahban for the male voices, and Shohreh Aghdashloo for the female voices. Both have very strong accents, which made it feel authentic but sometimes hard to understand. I had a particularly difficult time with names, which made each new story somewhat of a guessing game on whose story it was. Also the female narrator sounded like she smoked 5 packs of cigarettes a day (very deep and raspy) which bothered me a little, especially with the younger characters.
Listening length: 14 hours and 1 minute (416 pages)
4 out of 5 stars