Title: The Patience Stone
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Translator: Polly McLean
Publisher: Vintage Books
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
I first heard of Atiq Rahimi while going through the “A Year of Reading the World” blog. I hadn’t heard of him earlier and I am glad I did now. “The Patience Stone” was a revelation of sorts. I could not for one stop reading it. Neither could I stop talking about it to people I knew or didn’t know. There are some books that evoke all possible emotions in you and this is one of them. It is short and sparse in its prose but does a fantastic job of communicating what it has to.
Atiq was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and then had to flee to France in 1984. Since then he has been in exile. He has returned to his country a couple of times, however he lives in France. May be because the expression of the novel was in French, Rahimi could write what he had to without any censorship. Why the need to censor this book? You will soon know.
“The Patience Stone” is set somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere in the world. An unnamed woman is in her house with her husband (unnamed) who is in a state of comatose. The city is in a state of war. Her children are all she has and she waits patiently for her husband to get out of the coma. She does all she can – from praying to reciting the 99 names of Allah, to patiently waiting like a wife should, till the time she starts talking and he becomes her patient stone – her sang-e sabur – who will listen to her pains, her joys, her frustrations, her existence as a woman in a world of men who only know war, her fears, and her deepest desires and secrets. She does this – waiting for him to explode (as per the myth) and for her to be free.
As she confides in him, the exterior and the interior of the novel changes drastically. The war intensifies. Rahimi does a great job of the war being seen only through the eyes of the woman and doesn’t narrate the conditions of war as is. That to me was a superlative aspect of the book. What also is refreshing that Rahimi’s character isn’t subdued nor is she looking for validation. She is as is – human, intense and without any apologies.
The stream of consciousness narrative takes getting used to, however as a reader once you are in it, you will only keep turning the pages and go back to take in some more all over again. “The Patience Stone” is one of those few books, according to me, that not only defy society and its ways, but also is quite direct about it. The woman lashes out at war, at its aftermath, at what it does to women, but above everything else, she speaks of freedom, even if the opening for it is through voice, through speech and the need to be heard. That is the essence of the book and runs deep at every single level – from her desires to her suppressed feelings. You would not have read anything like “The Patience Stone” before. Read it. You will thank me.