AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED, by Khaled Hosseini
Published by Bloomsbury, $32.99
Pictured: Khaled Hosseini and the cover of his anticipated new novel
It’s been six years since Khaled Khosseini’s last novel but he has not been idle. His new book And the Mountains Echoed is in his own words “a multi-generational family story… revolving around brothers and sisters, and the ways in which they love, wound, betray, honour and sacrifice for each other.”
Hosseini’s earlier works, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, have sold over 38 million copies in more than 70 countries. A tireless chronicler of the tragedy that has beset Afghanistan, the country of his birth, Hosseini has turned this time from tales of best friends, fathers and mothers which featured strongly in the earlier novels, to the undying bond between two siblings.
It’s Afghanistan, 1952. Abdullah and his younger sister Pari live with their father and step-mother in a poor village. Brother and sister are inseparable. But the family is struggling, work is scarce and the seasons harsh. In despair, their father sells Pari to a wealthy, childless couple in Kabul. As Abdullah and Pari are torn apart, the novel splits into a journey across continents and time-lines, weaving intricate plot-lines and character studies, to tell Abdullah and Pari’s lifestories, and those of friends, acquaintances and extended family who cross their path.
Hosseini is a born storyteller and paints his characters with a vivid brush. Whole worlds are condensed into this book as it crosses from Afghanistan to Paris, to San Francisco, Greece and back again. Choices beget consequences to be savoured or regretted. Bonds are forged, broken, soldered anew. Children re-evaluate parents on reaching adulthood, sometimes for the best, often for the worst. There’s a bitter-sweet flavour to the novel and its trajectory is similar to that of the refugee who travels far and wide seeking shelter and a sense of place, never quite shaking off the shackles of the past. As in Hosseini’s previous novels, happy endings are qualified, life is a series of compromises. And the core of the novel remains bloodied, blistered Afghanistan, still, somehow, managing to survive because of the inner strength of its people, who can never forget their mother country, no matter where they call home.
Read it if you: Relish a master craftsman at work making a family saga his own.
JULIUS AND THE WATCHMAKER, by TIM HEHIR
Published by: Text, $19.99
The tag “Young Adult fiction” has become increasingly blurred. Many writers, from Harper Lee and J.K Rowling to Mark Haddon, Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak, appeal equally to adults as those in the hard to define 12-20 age group targeted by YA literature.
Tim Hehir’s Julius and the Watchmaker is definitely aimed at the late tween to mid-teen market. His debut novel is a cross between Oliver Twist, Back to the Future and Doctor Who and demands an audience who are looking for fast-paced action. In this, Julius and the Watchmaker does not disappoint.
Set in 1837, the hero, Julius delivers books to customers of his grandfather’s bookshop when he’s not at school or running away from street bullies. A sinister clock collector called Springheel asks him to find the diary of a watchmaker, John Harrison. It turns out that the diary is actually an instruction manual for building a time-machine. Before long, Julius is set on a time-travelling odyssey in which he encounters doppelgangers, flying machines, monsters called Grackacks and somehow obtains the poet Shelley’s pocket watch.
There’s no doubt Hehir can write. This is a rollicking yarn and a Dickensian universe of ruffians and mayhem provides a sound basis for a novel. However, there are a number of jarring elements. It’s not just the fact that Hehir’s 19th century characters say “Wow”, “Okay” and “Shut up” (wince-making though this may be). For a novel that deals with time, there is little sense of the 19th century being fully present. In writing this, I am completely conscious that I’m in the wrong demographic; yet I wasn’t as immersed in this as I was expecting.
Read it if you: Are aged 12-18 and enjoy sci-fi, with imaginative history thrown in.