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The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi

The Patience Stone (2008)

by Atiq Rahimi

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (18)  French (4)  Catalan (2)  Spanish (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (30)
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This novella is set in a room in a house, in a town under siege in Afghanistan. A woman is tending her husband who appears to be in some kind of open eyed coma, the result of his war experience. The bulk of the story is the woman talking to the man, tending him, sometimes withdrawing care as her courage to speak words that she has kept inside increases. She uses these words increasingly as a weapon as the days go by. She has two young daughters in the house, the oldest about 3-5, who she pays little attention too, and who are eventually taken to stay with an aunt.

For such a short novella (136 pages) it has a heft to it. The woman has been married to this man for ten years, but they have only been together for 3 years. She was engaged to him by an arrangement between their parents while he was at war. She ‘married’ him in absentia. It is unclear whether the 3 years together were the final three consecutive years, or whether they totalled to three years over the last 5-6.

There is so much that I can’t write here as the possibility for spoilers is immense, and very much about interpretation.

I think this story could be read on many levels. It is a woman who finds her tongue. Says and does things she would never have been able to say and do were her husband fully alive. We have no idea of his conscious state beyond that his eyes are open and he is breathing. There is quite a powerful story of abuse and sexuality unravelling, hers and the stories of those around her.

There is an incursion into this space by two young men, whom she tells she is a whore in order to prevent them raping her. However the younger of the two keeps returning, and persuades her to have sex with him over time, he is too young to understand why the older man does not rape her, because raping a whore would sully himself, and would not be a conquest. The younger man is a virgin until she has sex with him. She does this several times, in front of the silent man.

In our reading group, everyone, as did I, accepted this story as a personal story about these characters, but as I have been thinking about it I am wondering whether it is a kind of metaphor of the story of Afghanistan and its history. I need to think on that more.

One or two in our reading group felt the sexual aspect of the novel was gratuitous. In the context it was in I did not. Others felt that as the writer was male, although the story was more about the woman, that it played more to a male fantasy. Again, I didn’t get this feeling. The writer is an Afghan who was raised mostly in France.

Not a comfortable read by any means, but a thought provoking one. ( )
  Caroline_McElwee | Feb 4, 2015 |
Easy to read short book, A wife and Mother cares for her sick husband in Afghanistan who is a semi coma after being shot in the neck, she looks after him the best she can,
Spoiler alert
She tells him all her stories and also a youth comes to see her and has sex with her, Later on her husband wakes up and attacks her she then stabs him through the heart its not clear if she will survive.

Different book to what I normally read. ( )
  Daftboy1 | Sep 28, 2014 |
There is a theatrically and poeticism to this piece that’s mesmerizing. I would like to re-read it again when I’m alone and things are quiet so I can let the novel’s own rhythm set the pace.

( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Apr 4, 2013 |
A gripping story that I read in 2 sittings. The mood and setting are sparse but the tone is poetic and at times chilling. I was quite moved by the woman's voice and by her range of raw emotions and wrenching experiences as they are revealed to her comatose husband as she cares for him. The author does a very credible job....and I wonder how Afghani women would react/respond to this book.

The talented, insightful and handsome Khaled Hosseini quotes Rahimi as stating, "My acquired language, the one I have chosen, gives me a kind of freedom to express myself, away from this self-censorship and an unconscious shame that dwells in us from childhood." (What would Freud say to that?!) ( )
  ming.l | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is an appalling book. It's about a woman who nurses her husband, who is in a coma. He won't wake up, and that drives her to speak more and more candidly about her life. She reveals an entire dictionary of the mistreatment of women by Afghan men. In the course of the book she is also threatened with rape; she masturbates in front of him; she describes how she made her menstrual blood apear to be the blood from her hymen; she recounts the times she was beaten; she reveals he wouldn't let her kiss him; and in the end she talks about his infertility.

The book isn't appalling because of any of that. It's awful because it uses literature to tell those stories. People apparently read Rahimi to know about the situation of Afghan women. One reviewer on the back cover says "we know so little about the day-to-day life of people in Afghanistan..." But this isn't what literature should be. What kind of reader feels she needs to get her news about Afghanistan from novels and plays? What sense of literature do such readers have?

Then there's the question of the literary form. "The Patience Stone" is written as a stage play: it calls out, on every page, to the potential director or playwright, giving instructions. Everything takes place in one room. All sorts of artifices are arranged so that the action never needs to leave the room. Footsteps are heard dying away and approaching. A gun barrel comes through a window. A tank, offstage, shatters a window. What does any of that stage machinery have to do with the situation of women in Afghanistan? One reviewer on Amazon says the author "keeps the props simple": they're minimal, but unremitting, and all of them are clichés. The idea of the man who never moves, and the woman who soliloquizes, owes something to Beckett, but it owes nothing to any play written more recently than 1950. The staginess of "The Patience Stone" would be awkward and intrusive even if it didn't have to do with truths about Afghanistan. Staginess also explains some of the infelicities in the narration (this despite the fact that a number of reviewers think it is beautifully written). One reviewer on Amazon notes that "Rahimi uses a third-person point of view to keep us out of the protagonist's head and make her revelations to her husband more powerful (I think this was a smart decision). But in several passages, the narrator tries to intrude on her thoughts by interpreting her actions for the reader." That's a good example of the sort of artificial construction that Rahimi needed in order to sustain his implausible premise -- that the woman tells all her stories to the man, whom she thinks isn't listening. It's hard for me to imagine Rahimi's reasons for setting this entire novel as a one-scene play, especially given that he's working on a film adaptation. I can only think that he understands minimalist or absurdist theater as a kind of optimal expressive vehicle. But how could that be an adequate understanding of theater?

This book is an excellent example of the misuse of literature for the purpose of revealing truths about the world. There's hardly a worthier subject, or a less appropriate vehicle. ( )
2 vote JimElkins | Jan 13, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Although Rahimi creates a specific person, he never attempts to create much empathy. The woman pays a terrible price for self-revelation and the reader gains no more insight than might be gleaned from a garbled nightmare inspired by a late night-news item about the atrocities in Afghanistan.
added by lkernagh | editThe Independent, Alev Adil (Feb 26, 2010)
It explores fundamental questions: love, sex, marriage, war and the repression entailed by a demanding religion. Rahimi gives his heroine a voice to speak the woes and indignities suffered by tens of thousands of women in the Muslim world, who have been marginalised, maltreated, and condemned to silence and endurance.
added by lkernagh | editThe Scotsman, Allan Massie (Feb 6, 2010)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Atiq Rahimiprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Estany, ImmaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From the body by the body with the body
Since the body and until the body.
-Antonin Artaud
This tale, written in memory of N.A. - an Afghan poet savagely murdered by her husband - is dedicated to M.D.
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The room is small. Rectangular.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that the day it explodes, after having received too much hardship and pain, will be the day of the Apocalypse. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. His wife is with him, sitting by his side. But she resents him for having sacrificed her to the war, for never being able to resist the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, after all was said and done, for being incapacitated in a small skirmish.… (more)

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