Summary: Farhad is a typical student, twenty-one years old, interested in wine, women, and poetry, and negligent of the religious conservatism of his grandfather. But he lives in Kabul in 1979, and the early days of the pro-Soviet coup are about to change his life forever. One night Farhad goes out drinking with a friend who is about to flee to Pakistan, and is brutally abused by a group soldiers. A few hours later he slowly regains consciousness in an unfamiliar house, beaten and confused, and thinks at first that he is dead. A strange and beautiful woman has dragged him into her home for safekeeping, and slowly Farhad begins to feel a forbidden love for her—a love that embodies an angry compassion for the suffering of Afghanistan’s women. As his mind sifts through its memories, fears, and hallucinations, and the outlines of reality start to harden, he realizes that, if he is to escape the soldiers who wish to finish the job they started, he must leave everything he loves behind and find a way to get to Pakistan. Rahimi uses his tight, spare prose to send the reader deep into the fractured mind and emotions of a country caught between religion and the political machinations of the world’s superpowers. -from Goodreads
I got this book right before Christmas and I thought I read it quickly before the holidays. It is a small book, 147 pages, some pages a mere few sentences. Great, I thought, a quick read and then I can reread it when I joined Nicole @ Linus’s Blanket and Jen @ Devourer of Books for their online book club in January. I sat down to breeze through it and took a quick one two punch to the gut. This was not going to be a simple quick read.
I started this book as lost and confused as Farhad. I wasn’t sure what was going on, what was real, what had happened. Just like Farhad. As the story became more clear I was devastated by the horror of the world where Farhad and Mahnaz exist. It’s hard to call it living. I knew a little of what was happening in Afghanistan during this period and found myself online trying to put the story in some context. Let’s just say things have never really been easy there.
But to only see the brutality in this book is to miss what Atiq Rahimi has done. This is a beautiful story, with beautiful language. I like a good wordy book, I’m not afraid of lots of words in a novel. But there is nothing lost in the brevity of this book. Every word is used to it’s utmost power. It makes me appreciate the statement less is more.
It would be wrong not to mention the translators. I’ve read plenty of translated books in my time and I’m always struck by what an act of bravery and faith it is for both author and translator. It’s one thing if it were a novel of nothing but declarative sentences. If you had a story of nothing but “The dog is brown” heck, I could do that. But how do you translate poetry and ideas, nuances made with such a light touch you need a magnifying glass to see them? Some languages must be easier than others, where there are easy word for word translations. But to capture to beauty and meaning between to diverse languages. What an art. And then when you consider you have so few words to carry the point, this was an amazing accomplishment.
I had so many thought about this story and can’t wait until January 25 to discuss it with Nicole, Jen, and everyone else who read this.
Also, don’t think you need to know the history of the region or time period. It won’t be hard to understand the world in which these people live. This picture is drawn so clearly you should have no problem understanding.
I’m also using this as my title for the What’s in a Name4 challenge, for the evil title.