The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

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The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: While tending to her comatose husband in civil war-torn Afghanistan, a wife begins to address the taboos of her society, confronting issues of female oppression and sexuality in a brief, but beautifully poetic and courageous book with a twist.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 978-0701184162

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Set in Afghanistan, The Patience Stone is a partly allegorical tale of a Muslim wife tending to her comatose soldier husband who has been shot in the neck. As she cares for him, for the first time ever she is able to speak to him without fear of censorship and he becomes, for her, like the mythical Patience Stone to which you tell your troubles and when the stone finally bursts, you are free from your torments. But also this might mean the Apocalypse.

The obvious literary link is with Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Obvious in that, like Hosseini's works, this is set in Afghanistan and deals with the censorship of women there. Indeed, Hosseini provides a brief, thoughtful introduction to this English translation which has been beautifully translated from the French in which it was written by Polly McLean.

But if like me, you agree with Jill's Bookbag review that some of Hosseini's works can be a bit over-theatrical and melodramatic, then this is the exact opposite. The Patience Stone is set almost entirely in one room - the bedroom of the husband and just about the only character who talks is the wife (they are referred to as Man and Woman throughout). We are not even told on which side the Man was fighting or who he was fighting (although it appears to be a civil war rather than Western aggressors). This gives the book a strong focus that makes it feel that you are truly in the mind of the Woman throughout.

Perhaps only by writing in French himself, is Rahimi able to talk of the censored issues in his homeland. But the translation into English is superb and the poetic nature of this short book is fully maintained.

Time in the room is measured by repeated references to the drip of the sugar/salt drip that the Woman tends to for the Man, by the telling of the prayer beads and by the synchronised breathing of the husband and wife. Some may be irritated by this repetition, but I found it haunting, human and moving and the book is short enough for it not to become annoying.

Gradually the Woman opens up and confesses her thoughts and feelings to the Man, confronting the taboos of female oppression and sexuality. The secrets themselves get darker as she gains her 'voice'. I have no doubt that this book took great courage to write, but it is far from being just "worthy" - it's a beautifully written tale with a shocking twist. Easily readable in one sitting, the story will stay with you for much longer.

I am grateful to the publishers, Chatto and Windus, for inviting The Bookbag to review a copy of this book.

It is fascinating to compare this with Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns which you may well be less irritated by than Bookbag reviewers seem to be - plenty of people rave about it. But if you are captivated by the short, poetic style, I'd like to steer you towards David Malouf's Ransom which I found equally enthralling.

Booklists.jpg The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi is in the Bookbag's Christmas Gift Recommendations 2010.

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