A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear, Atiq Rahimi

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.

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1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 January 2011 Reading List [TSS]

For further discussion on A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi check back here on Tuesday, January 25th  when we discuss this in the inaugural meeting of BOOK CLUB, my joint venture with Jen from Devourer of Books.

Review copies for BOOK CLUB provided by Other Press.

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18 Comments

  1. I received this book from my Secret Santa after she read my review of The Kite Runner…The Kite Runner moved me in so many ways…from a personal standpoint of course, but also from a cultural standpoint…the general public, (especially in the U.S.) is quick to form opinions of Afghans and to pretend as if we know their lives just bc of the ways their lives have crossed over with ours…I call myself a knowlegable person but I was astounded by just how much Middle Eastern history I simply did not know. I can’t wait to read this one.

  2. I’m writing my review this week. It was one of the most powerful little books I’ve read in quite some time. I’m looking forward to the book club discussion about this. There is so much to talk about.

  3. I wonder how much of the background information would be lost on me from this book — I have a vague general notion about the Russian presence in Afghanistan over the years, but overall I’m pretty ignorant.

    1. Knowing that they were there and vaguely why is enough to pretty much get the book, actually. Knowing more might enhance things, but as long as you understand that the Soviets have invaded you aren’t going to be lost.

  4. This books sounds fascinating. I’m always intrigued and curious to learn about the lives of others in countries where they tend to ruled by fear and the threat of death.

  5. Finally got my review up on this one – I had to think about it for a few days…loved it (as I loved Earth and Ashes by this same author), but also feeling like I might have missed a few things too. Looking forward to our discussion later this month!

  6. I haven’t read anything by Atiq Rahimi, but this appeals to me (the cultural value, the smart powerful writing). Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  7. I actually like spare words and big novels intimidates me although I must say I love them also. Sounds like a confused soul, no? I’m going to look for this book.

  8. I added this one to my list when you recommended it in the comments of my post about A Cup of Friendship, so I’m happy now to have a review to go with it! I don’t know how soon I’ll get to it, but I do hope to read this one at some point. I’m definitely intrigued.

  9. I’m really looking forward to Tuesday night. I’m really interested in seeing what everyone else thinks. It’s definitely a different type of novel and I’m enjoying it for what it is. I don’t know much about the Muslim faith, so that aspect alone is interesting.

    1. Learning all of his grandfather’s theories and beliefs were fascinating to me. It’s interesting how quickly God, religion and morality come into play when you think you are sick or dying.