Before I committed to describing this book as a saga, I actually went to the trouble of looking up the word saga to make sure it was apt. Because how embarrassing would it be to misuse a two-syllable word on a website on which I brag about how much I read? I had always understood “saga” to mean “story with many characters told over a long period of time in which many dramatic and/or tragic things happen.”
Well thank goodness for m-w.com, because I’d still be scraping egg off my face if they hadn’t helpfully informed me that a saga is actually “a prose narrative recorded in Iceland in the 12th and 13th centuries of historic or legendary figures and events of the heroic age of Norway and Iceland.” And that’s not a wacky, archaic definition that I had to dig way down to the end of the entry to find. That is Definition #1, according to the Merriams and the Websters. Iceland and Norway, represent.
Color me surprised. Anyway, now I can correctly tag this book as a “Non-Icelandic Saga” and avoid ridicule. Even though to my recollection there was nary an Icelander or Norseman to be found in this book, it is a saga in so many ways. It opens with a boy and a girl, brother and sister. Their father makes a momentous decision, the effects of which ripple out over time and distance, enveloping more characters and altering their lives as well. Some characters endure monumental pain, but interlaced is enough hope and love to suffuse their suffering with meaning. And that’s all any of us really wants, right? To believe that, even though we may slog through the crap, eventually we will come out on the other side of the crap-field, washed clean and made new. Hosseini’s writing makes me believe the crap-field is both finite and significant.
What I so love about the book, though, is how clearly it helped me see what life is. Hosseini’s characters don’t all come through their trials unscathed. Most of them are limping and scarred by the resolution. But that is exactly why the ending is so satisfying—not because everything was tied up neatly, with everyone’s problems resolved, neuroses overcome, and losses erased, but because they weren’t. And life goes on, and is beautiful, anyway.