After two stellar novels set (mostly) in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hosseini’s third tacks among Afghanistan, California, France and Greece to explore the effect of the Afghan diaspora on identity.
It begins powerfully in 1952. Saboor is a dirt-poor day laborer in a village two days walk from Kabul. His first wife died giving birth to their daughter Pari, who’s now 4 and has been raised lovingly by her brother, 10-year-old Abdullah; two peas in a pod, but “leftovers” in the eyes of Parwana, Saboor’s second wife. Saboor’s brother-in-law Nabi is a cook/chauffeur for a wealthy, childless couple in Kabul; he helps arrange the sale of Pari to the couple, breaking Abdullah’s heart. The drama does nothing to prepare us for the coming leaps in time and place. Nabi’s own story comes next in a posthumous tell-all letter (creaky device) to Markos, the Greek plastic surgeon who occupies the Kabul house from 2002 onwards. Nabi confesses his guilt in facilitating the sale of Pari and describes the adoptive couple: his boss Suleiman, a gay man secretly in love with him, and his wife, Nila, a half-French poet who high-tails it to France with Pari after Suleiman has a stroke. There follow the stories of mother and daughter in Paris, Markos’ childhood in Greece (an irrelevance), the return to Kabul of expat cousins from California and the Afghan warlord who stole the old village. Missing is the viselike tension of the earlier novels. It’s true that betrayal is a constant theme, as it was in The Kite Runner, but it doesn’t work as a glue. And identity? Hosseini struggles to convince us that Pari becomes a well-integrated Frenchwoman.
The stories spill from Hosseini’s bountiful imagination, but they compete against each other, denying the novel a catalyst; the result is a bloated, unwieldy work.