Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi (3/5)

The back says: A young woman prays at her husband's bedside as he lies in a coma with a bullet in his neck. From outside come the sounds of tanks, gunshots, screaming and, most terrifying of all, silence. Inside, her two frightened daughters call to her from the hallway.

As she tries to keep her husband alive, the woman rages against men, war, culture, God. Even as her mind appears to unravel, she becomes intensely clear-sighted. Now is her chance - her first ever - to speak without being censored. Her husband's body reminds her of the legend of the patience stone, a stone that hears all confessions until it explodes, and finally, spurred to new heights of daring, she spills out her most explosive secret.

I say: This was, in a way, one of the most powerful stories I’ve read in a long time. The way that Rahimi lets us in to the depths of the young woman is heartbreaking and strengthening in equal measures, but at different times. The prose flows in intervals of extreme lows and even lower lows, and it is somewhere in between her past and present that I find my emotions disintegrate and I simply go cold.

Maybe this is a defence mechanism on my part, or maybe it’s too much on Rahimi’s part.

I’ve read stories similar to this before, and one of the things that have enabled me to read about atrocities is the atmosphere created by the prose. Rahimi writes in short staccato sentences, and as long as we are following the woman’s movements in the room, I almost hold my breath. Her, as yet, unknown past and her feelings of anxiety are almost tangible as she takes care of her husband to the best of her ability.

But then she starts talking of her past and it is somewhere in that bitterness that Rahimi loses me completely. Her actions, however justifiable one may see them, disgust me and I find it hard to connect the dots that led her there. I know that it is not for me to judge, but at the same time I can’t help it. And when the end comes, horrifying as it is, I feel a sense of relief.

For her.

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