There is no doubt that Khaled Hussain is a gifted storyteller. An example of this is a beautiful quote from this book “A story is like a moving train. No matter where you hop onboard, you are bound to reach your destination sooner or later.” However, I did have trouble getting on board this train.
The awkwardly titled third major novel from Hussain reads a little differently from the last two. Rather than a continuously flowing story focusing around one or two key characters, this novel explores the repercussions of a family’s decisions through generations. It spans the globe, with each chapter almost providing a complete story in itself, from somebody who is related to the initial family’s point of view. In this, it feels a little more like a collection of short stories, although he does bring the tale full circle in the end.
The book opens with a bedtime fairytale, told by Saboor to his two young children. The story tells of a man who is forced to give one of his children away to a div; a story which mirrors the actions Saboor himself is about to take.
In the following chapter, we follow Saboor and his children, Pari and Abdullah, as they journey across deserts to Kabul. In Kabul he leaves his only daughter, Pari, to grow up with wealthy couple Suleiman and Nila Wahditi, believing that she will be able to live a more privileged life than he would ever be able to provide. And so, the family is torn apart and the stage is set for for an epic tale.
Hussain tells the tale of the two families, and many others who affect their lives, through a series of chapters which each focus on a different character. Whilst this provided a succinct summary of each character’s story, for me it was a little unsatisfying- there were some characters who I would have loved to hear more about – Nila, in particular was a colourful and fascinating character – and I felt many of their stories could have made full books on their own. The advantage it does carry is that Hussain is able to explore many different countries within the novel, including Paris, Greece and, of course, Afghanistan. In each chapter he immerses us in the culture of that area, and the depiction of the complex, troubled Afghanistan is particularly poignant.
Despite this change in story-telling technique, Hussain’s distinctive, elegant writing style is still present and there is no doubt this story is beautifully written. He really knows how to pull at the heart strings and he effortlessly creates touching moments without being overly cheesey, something which many established writers struggle to achieve.
This book, for me, was not as good as Khaled Hussain’s previous two novels but it was still a lovely story with writing you can truly get lost in. If you’re trying this author for the first time, I’d recommend reading The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns first. But if you’re familiar with Hussain, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it – just bear in mind it is a little bit different.