Farhad is a student living in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1979. Out drinking one night with a friend, he misses curfew and receives a brutal beating from soldiers just as he is approaching home. Farhad is discovered in the street and taken in to recover by a Good Samaritan, and while resting in her home, he ruminates on his life – the religious principles and practices of his grandfather which he has largely ignored, the turmoil destroying his country, and the particular pain and suffering of women like his mother and the beautiful woman who has risked her own life to save him.
A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi is a spare novel in almost every sense of the word. It has short sentences and short chapters, but is not short on emotion and meaning. As I began reading and saw the brevity with which Rahimi tells this story, I was a little worried about how it would unfold. Though admittedly, I am the first one to complain about novels I find to be unnecessarily long, I am also a big fan of words. Spare and I don’t usually mix, so I was duly impressed with the way Rahimi paints such evocative scenes and context with so few words for this tumultuous period in Afghanistan’s history.
The technique used to reveal Farhad’s story was very effective. I’d had a sinus infection the week before reading this book and was in the most excruciating pain, so I really responded to the repetition and confusion that come along with Farhad’s suffering from his injuries and attempts to understand his surroundings and just what has happened to him. The ebb and flow of the other characters, and the horror as the probable version of Farhad’s ordeal is pieced together touches a chord, and just beyond that hovers the unimaginable – that he might to have to leave not only his homeland, but his family behind forever. The United States is a young country, but for the most part has had a relatively stable history. Wars fought on this soil have been largely favorable for the U.S. , with hardly any here for the last 150 years, so it was a much different perspective that Afghanistan and Rahimi provided.
A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a work in translation and as such a lot of the history (which is not mine) is assumed. I had to do a little digging of my own to understand the war going on and the role that the Soviet Union played in the country. Unfortunately, because of Afghanistan’s strategic location in the Middle East it has always been in the forefront of wars, power grabs and foreign rule. Rahimi’s powerful novel provides the emotional landscape of the heartrending decisions that citizens of Afghanistan, like Farhad, have to make, often under duress and very, very quickly. Through his writing I got to experience the teeniest hint of what something like that looks like in a life. Highly recommended.