Bloomsbury, £18.99; Picador, £16.99 Order at a discount from the Independent Online Shop

And the Mountains Echoed, By Khaled Hosseini
A Fort of Nine Towers, By Qais Akbar Omar

The small, silenced voices speak their stories of conflict

There is a striking image in Nadeem Aslam's recent novel about the Allied invasion in Afghanistan that neatly captures the country's fate. The war-torn terrain in The Blind Man's Garden is studded by boot-prints left by the latest invading force. These offending imprints make vivid the fact that Afghanistan has been invaded and stamped upon for over three decades.

It has also largely been described and analysed by others, not by the people who are being stamped on. Perhaps that is why when Khaled Hosseini wrote his celebrated 2003 debut, The Kite Runner, it offered Western readers a glimpse into what it feels like to be born in Afghanistan amid such terrors, even if Hosseini was a Californian who left Kabul when he was 11 years old. Hosseini's bestseller led to a slow trickle of stories that revealed Afghanistan from the inside, including his most recent novel, And the Mountains Echoed, while Qais Akbar Omar, an Afghan journalist and carpet maker, makes this the mission of his memoir, A Fort of Nine Towers: "Over the past four decades, many books about Afghanistan have been written – mostly by foreigners – but none have explained how Afghanistan has held itself together".

So he explains it all to us, from how the Russian invasion came to his door when he was a nine-year-old, transforming his liberal, educated and wealthy world into a battleground, right up to the 2001 invasion. He conjures alarming images with a child's clarity: his father driving the family to safety as dead bodies sprawl by the roadside; a pit of decapitated human heads; a woman gang-raped; his father tied up and viciously bitten for the amusement of a warlord.

As the war with Russia ends, the civil war begins. His family home is taken over by the Mujahedin, the garden rigged with land mines, and he sees dogs ambling on the streets with human limbs hanging between their teeth. The horrors go on, but so does his family's extraordinary resilience. They travel the length of Afghanistan in search of refuge. His father pitches up at Bamyan and they live, for a time, in a cave behind one of the (later destroyed) Bamyan Buddhas. When the brake oil in the car runs out, Omar's father uses milk. They are incorrigible in their resourcefulness, and yet the reality of war cannot but diminish them. The only way Omar and the children around him can cope with war is by denying it. "Rockets fell by the hundreds… We pretended that it was fun... We pretended it was fireworks".

Among Omar's many achievements, his greatest is in capturing a child's world without undercutting the depth in his book. Omar acknowleges Hosseini at the end for "opening doors to agents and publishers", but a certain creative influence too can be discerned too. There are clear parallels with The Kite Runner: the boys' kite fights, the intense friendship between Omar and his cousin, Wakeel, and the sense of innocence shattered by the arrival of brute, corrupting war.

Yet the pitch and perspective is entirely different – perhaps both more exhilarating and unsettling because this is Omar's lived experience, and one that is far stranger than fiction, though written in surprisingly refined prose for a writer who taught himself English to become an interpreter for Coalition soldiers.

Omar's story is not ruptured by departure, as Hosseini's fiction is. Omar's family remain in Afghanistan. While Hosseini's third novel, And the Mountains Echoed, begins in Afghanistan, its real focus is on leaving - for America or for France - and the emotional cost of this departure. His sprawling family saga begins in 1952 with a folkloric tale about a father who gives away a favoured son so the child will not lead the same life of poverty. After this prelude, rendered in Hosseini's characteristically mythic tone, the book opens up to the central story of two siblings, Abdullah and his little sister, Pari, who are inseparable until Pari is sold to the wealthy Wahditi's in Kabul. Echoes of the children's tale at the start rumble, rather too heavy-handedly, across the fates of these characters.

There is something of the winning formula about this novel. It draws us in and then gives us the tried and tested. Ironically, its mythic style serves to cast Afghanistan in a static light at times, as if Hosseini were attempting to capture a lost childhood in aspic. Just as in the case of the quasi-brothers, Amir and Hassan, in The Kite Runner, there are siblings or quasi-siblings here too who embody both the strength of love felt between children, and the moment of snatched innocence that destroys their lives. There is also the master-servant-friend dynamic of The Kite Runner, though it comes in the more daring form of a homosexual subplot, with Mr Wahditi secretly hankering after his chauffeur, Nabi.

Hosseini's story is vast in its perspective, roving from one character to the next, with a filmic quality that seems primed for easy adaptation (as was the case for The Kite Runner). The changing points of view and leaps in time can confuse and confine, leaving characters clearly defined but lacking depth. Decades gallop by and it is as if the story of these interconnected, cross -enerational lives will simply go on echoing the original crime of Abdullah and Pari's separation.

Hosseini's subtler ideas are the most interesting. The book quietly interrogates what parents do to their children, and the meanings they demand from them. As Pari says of her adoptive mother, "All my life, she gave me a shovel and said, 'Fill these holes inside of me, Pari'."

He asks questions of home and belonging too. When does an immigrant cease to belong to the country he or she left behind? The minor American Afghan characters of Idris and Timur return to Kabul to reclaim their father's homes and find that they are foreigners there now. This notion of insider-outsider identity deserves further probing but Hosseini moves swiftly on in his quest for plot and pace.

While the vigour of Hosseini's storytelling is ample and beguiling, once the last page is read, it melts into paper-thin fantasy, rather like a children's story. Omar's book, by contrast, does nothing of the sort.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence