by Atiq Rahimi - £8.99 Vintage (2007)
paperback ISBN 13: 9780099461968 | ISBN 10: 009946196x
In his extraordinary novella Earth and Ashes (now a feature film), Atiq Rahimi distilled all the suffering of the Afghan people into the heart-breaking story of a grandfather seeking revenge for his daughter’s death. In his new novel, he once again uses his gift for economy 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 super powers.
Farhad is a typical student, interested in wine, women and poetry, and negligent of the religious conservatism of his grandfather. But one night changes all that. It is 1979 and Afghanistan is in the early days of the pro-Soviet coup. Farhad goes out drinking with a friend who is about to flee to Pakistan. A few hours later he regains consciousness in a strange house, beaten and confused. At first he thinks he is dead. Then he begins to remember what happened. As his mind sifts through its memories, fears and hallucinations, and the outlines of reality start to harden, he realises that, if he is to escape the soldiers who wish to finish the job they started, he too must leave everything he loves behind him and find a way to get to Pakistan.
Reminiscent of William Golding’s Pincher Martin in its use of an intense, repetitive vocabulary of powerful images, and for its chilling twist in the tail, this is a mesmerising book. To read it is to be plunged into the Afghan imagination and soul.
(Price & availability last checked: July 2018)