The stories spill from Hosseini’s bountiful imagination, but they compete against each other, denying the novel a catalyst;...

AND THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED

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.

Pub Date: May 21, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-59463-176-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2013

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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