"And the Mountains Echoed"
By Khaled Hosseini
My main goal in reading Khaled Hosseini's new book, "And the Mountains Echoed," was to avoid crying. I failed within the first 20 pages. And by the last page, I was bawling.
So, yes, much like Hosseini's earlier works, "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns," his latest book is bathed in sadness and despair, with the requisite occasional ray of hope. Much like those other two books, "And the Mountains Echoed" is powerful and haunting. And much like the country it describes, it is not easy to forget.
Hosseini, whose previous books have sold tens of millions of copies, approached his latest novel in a stylistically different manner than "The Kite Runner" and "A Thousand Splendid Suns."
The result is akin to a collection of short stories from pre-2001 and post-2001 Afghanistan. Each chapter focuses primarily on one character, but all are somehow linked, even if tenuously, by the book's central tragedy: a young boy's loss of his beloved sister, who is given up to a far wealthier family. That loss is conveyed so subtly - even with what in retrospect turns out to be a huge clue - that it is bewildering and devastating once fully understood.
Because of its sprawling nature - it spans decades and hops beyond Afghanistan to France, America and other places, including an imaginary one - the book manages to touch on a range of sensitive topics, from homosexuality in pre-Taliban Afghanistan to the guilt and apathy felt by successful Afghan exiles about their homeland.
Hosseini's latest book is not an easy read, but it is a quick one because you won't be able to put it down. To those readers who manage to get through it without shedding a tear, well, I tip my hat.
"Seduction: a Novel of Suspense"
By M.J. Rose
"Seduction," M.J. Rose's follow-up to her acclaimed "The Book of Lost Fragrances," seduces the reader from the very first page.
Rose creates an enticing thriller based on French writer Victor Hugo's reaction to the death of his 19-year-old daughter, Didine. Hugo initiates seances in the hope of contacting her.
"Seduction" also focuses on the present day with the return of Jac L'Etoile, the mythologist from "The Book of Lost Fragrances." She's still recuperating from the events in that book when she's summoned by an old friend to visit some ancient Druid ruins. However, her friend has an ulterior motive.
The Hugo sections are fascinating and provide a window into the author's life and times along with insight into what made him so complicated. The juxtaposition between the past and the present collide in unexpected ways.
Rose has written another winner.
By Walter Mosley
From the moment he first appeared in "Devil in a Blue Dress" in 1990, Easy Rawlins was an instant favorite of discerning readers and literary critics alike. So the disappointment was palpable when the black private detective, drunk and in despair over a lost love, deliberately drove his car off a California cliff at the conclusion of "Blonde Faith," the 11th novel in the series.
At the time, Easy's creator, Walter Mosley, said he'd had his fill of Easy and that it was time to move on to other creative work. In the six years since, he has remained productive, turning out political nonfiction, science fiction, young-adult novels and fine crime novels featuring three new protagonists.
But now, at long last, Easy is back in "Little Green," where we find him awakening from a two-month-long coma to discover, as usual, that people he cares about need his help.
The Easy Rawlins novels have always been distinguished by the writer's remarkable literary style and the seriousness of his purpose, for these books have never been mere whodunits. Taken together, they are nothing less than a history of race relations in post-World War II Los Angeles.
"Little Green" more than lives up to the high standard the author has set.
"The Guns at Last Light: the War in Western Europe, 1944-45"
By Rick Atkinson
Fruitless combat in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan can evoke a certain wistfulness for World War II. Often characterized as our last "good war," it combined a sense of purpose with universal public support and ended decisively with good triumphing over evil.
The Western European phase of America's war against the Nazis lasted a mere 11 months, from D-Day to Germany's surrender, but the dramatic events, the leading figures and the carnage dwarf anything that our military has seen in the nearly 70 years since.
That epic campaign comes alive in "The Guns at Last Light," the third and final volume of Rick Atkinson's magisterial "Liberation Trilogy." The first book covered the North Africa campaign and won the Pulitzer Prize for history; the second carried the story through the fighting in Italy.
The latest volume plows more familiar turf, beginning with the landings on Normandy's beaches and moving on to the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and the final push into Germany.
Even though we know how it ends, this 850-page military history captivates the reader with the high drama of a spellbinding novel and a cast of characters that a master storyteller would be hard-pressed to invent.
Nahal Toosi, Associated Press Jeff Ayers, The Associated Press Bruce Desilva, The Associated Press Jerry Harkavy, Associated Press