Khaled Hosseini’s third book is also his most unusual. His previous two books followed friendships which which were forged, broken, and tested over the years as Afghanistan reeled from one chaotic event to another. And the Mountains Echoed is more about family relationships, and instead of following a couple of characters, we are introduced to a larger ensemble, introduced in a series of interlaced stories, with an overall structure reminiscent of an onion, if that’s not too much of a cliche. Each story at first appears to stand on its own, but characters introduced in one story will appear more prominently in another, and the more one reads the more interconnections appear, building a larger tale — one told across the world, from Afghanistan to France and the United States. Although there is tragedy here, Mountains Echoed is practically G-rated compared to all the brutality and heartache of Hosseini’s previous works. (I say “practically” — yes, there’s a brother and sister tragically separated, and stories of depression, suicide, and unrequited love, but there’s also lots of self-sacrifice and nobility and such, and not a trace of rape or beatings.)
In advance of October, I read Enemy at the Gate, a history of the Turks’ last attempt to invade Europe. Andrew Wheatcroft opens by reviewing the history of Ottoman expansion, and the divergent evolution of its military to those of the Austrian empire’s. Although Ottoman forces were formidable, technical advances in the west, combined with the tighter control and organization of western forces, meant that the much larger Ottoman force had in Vienna a tough nut to crack. Its attack was reduced to a prolonged siege, one Wheatcroft compares to Stalingrad, until at least the Poles attacked and relieved the Austrians. The history then follows the allied ‘reconquest’ of Hungary, and the attempt to drive the Turks out of Europe entirely. That proved impossible even after the Ottomans fell apart after WW1. The book is more about the war in general, and less about the siege specifically. It’s fine reading, but I’d expected more detail about the battle itself.