Earth and Ashes, by Atiq Rahimi. Published 2010 by Other Press. Literary Fiction. Translation.
Afghan writer, director and activist Atiq Rahimi doesn't so much write novels as prose poems; his books have a power to affect his readers disproportionate to their small size. Earth and Ashes is a slim novella about an Afghan man, a grandfather named Dastaguir, urgently seeking to find his son Murad after his village has been bombed and his entire family, save Murad's son Yassin, has been killed. But the blast has left Yassin deaf and Dastaguir must navigate a confusing landscape bearing the tragedy of his shattered family to Murad, now working in the mines. What he finds isn't quite what he expects.
Earth and Ashes is short enough to read in one sitting but if I were you I'd take two to savor and pick through Rahimi's delicate prose and careful storytelling. Rahimi's economic use of language allows him to create a small but vivid cast of characters, especially Dastiguir and Yassin, who come to life and force their way into your heart. I don't know much about the Russian invasion of Afghanistan but I could feel for this lost old man trying to piece together what's left of his family and his overwhelming grief at losing his wife and family, and his dread of facing his son who toils ignorant of what's just happened. The reader will feel his pain every difficult step of the way.
Rahimi's work is accomplished literary fiction of a very high order and I'd recommend it for readers looking for an emotional experience with a very intelligently-written novel of feelings and ideas. Other Press also published an English translation of his Prix-Goncourt winning The Patience Stone, a similarly tightly-written masterpiece. Literary fiction readers and those interested in the specific social and political issues he writes about will absolutely want to pick up Earth and Ashes but Rahimi is the kind of writer who should be read by everybody.
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.