The Patience Stone, by Atiq Rahimi. Published 2010 by Other Press. Translated from the French.
Winner of the 2008 Prix Goncourt in France, where it was originally published, Atiq Rahimi's little masterpiece The Patience Stone is a stunning, powerful novel. Taking place entirely inside a single room somewhere in Afghanistan, it tells the story of a nameless woman taking care of a man, her husband, returned from a nameless war and virtually comatose. Also there, in the background, are her two daughters. The woman reminisces about her girlhood, her married life and her future. She makes confessions and tells her secrets, and fantasy and reality weave together and come apart.
The Patience Stone is one of those books that's easy to read in one sitting but it takes more than that to see past the obvious emotional reaction and into its dense and finely crafted structure. It could be seen as a stage play; narration like "She leaves the room, inspects the whole house" sounds like stage direction and there is a temptation to visualize the novel as a play as one is reads. But it's really more cinematic; time shifts back and forth and though she can't travel physically, she escapes her confinement through memories and stories that take on a layered, dreamlike quality. Rahimi, speaking recently at Harvard University, talked about having listened to music as he wrote his book, to add that emotional experience to his writing. It's quite beautiful.
Written as a statement on the situation of women in Afghanistan, The Patience Stone can be dark and somewhat difficult and the novel's brevity belies its emotional impact. For me it was like a long, lovely prose poem with an ending that surprised and saddened me. I'm still not sure what exactly happened, to be honest, but life is like that a lot of the time. You can't know everything. But sometimes a hint is all you need. The Patience Stone offers a glimpse into the heart of a woman and the heart of a country.
Click here for a post on Rahimi's recent talk in Cambridge. It was one of the best author events I've been to in a while and deserves its own spotlight.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.