BOOK CLUB – A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Book Club Logo

Welcome to the inaugural BOOK CLUB, a joint venture between me and Jen from Devourer of Books.  Today we are going to be chatting about A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, by Atiq Rahimi  which was published this month by Other Press.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear tells the story of Farhad, a young Afghani man living in Kabul who is brutally beaten by soldiers after returning home from drinks with a friend.  After being left in the street (presumably to die from his injuries), he is taken in by a woman living in the neighborhood.  In and out of consciousness, Farhad considers the influences and decisions that have shaped his life, as he has comes to face the fact that he might have to leave behind the only world and home that he has ever known.

Before we get started, I would like to share the reviews of some of the readers who will be participating in today’s discussion.  Please feel free to leave your link in the comments section if I have missed it here.

my books. my life.
Linus’s Blanket
Devourer of Books
Indie Houston Reader
Hey, I Want To Read That
Word Lily

If you plan on participating in today’s BOOK CLUB, please consider subscribing to comments at the bottom of the page.  I will be updating this post with new questions and ideas over the course of the day.


  • First off, what were your general impressions of the book?
  • Is this a book you would have read had you not been reading it for a book club?
  • Did you choose to do any research on Afghanistan before you started, or did you read it cold?
  • What kinds of questions did you have during your reading?
  • Were they answered?
  • Did the fact that the book is translated change the way you read it or felt about it?
  • What questions did you have for the group?
  • What exactly happened at the end of the book? (Michelle)

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Strain, by  Chuck Hogan & Guillermo del Toro – Book Review

12 review copies of A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear were provided by Other Press in order to facilitate this discussion.  Thank you!

You may also like


  1. When I started reading this book, I knew right away that it isn’t one that I would have chosen for myself if I had been browsing through it at the bookstore. The fact that I was indeed reading it for book club made me push through the first pages. As a reader, I love language and sentences and this book seemed to be so sparse. A casual perusal would have told me that there were not enough words for me.

    I was glad that I went deeper than this, because in just a few sections I was enthralled by the way the story was unfolding and with each round of confused ruminations, a little more of the picture began to take shape. I would learn more about Farhad’s world – his mother, his siblings, friends and the way that their world was changing in the regime that they had encountered. It was like reading and shaping a puzzle.

    I chose to read the book “cold”. i wanted to see what would come across to me without knowing any of the history of the country and not knowing a lot about the religion. I think in that way I really got the aspects of this story that reach out from the commonality of humanity. Without knowing facts and dates i understood someone who wasn’t necessarily interested in his grandfather’s religion, but who reached out for it in a time of fear and pain. I understood a changing country where words were to be carefully considered before being spoken. I did go back after the fact to read the glossary and to investigate some of the history of Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

    I have to admit that there were times when I was really frustrated with Farhad when he kept trying to leave the apartment. Was he just confused by the pain from his injuries? I can understand wanting to be home with his mother, and not wanting her to worry, but he seemed to have no fear around going back out after his beating or seem to get that he would be endangering the woman who was working so hard to save him.

    Did anyone have any thoughts about the singular dream in the title? It was like a missing tooth for me. I spent a lot of time thinking about the empty space that was left, but didn’t really come up with anything.

  2. This may have been a book I picked up on my own. I love sparse language. A writer who can put a lot into a few words amazes me.

    I didn’t do any research beforehand but I knew enough about Afghanistan to understand most of what was going on. I did do some research after I finished the book.

    Nicole, isn’t the title a line from something?

    I still need help figuring out what exactly happened at the end of the book. So…what exactly happened?

    1. I figured that I must have missed something with the title. It seems to be such an intriguing way to express that. That singular there somehow makes it special.

      The end to me seemed to be open to interpretation. As I was reading the book I had doubts about what was going and and I think you have to make a decision for yourself about whether he survived, what was real, and what was really his story. The fact that he is so beat up and in such bad shape makes him a terribly unreliable narrator. He is in and out of consciousness, has a fever, and all of the people in the book seemed to serve dual roles and would run together is his head. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure who he was. he could have been the husband for all I know, and his mother visiting made me question everything. That whole thing with Mahnaz visiting her and her coming back to the house seemed incredibly risky, especially when they were so fearful of being watched.

      What were you thinking about the end and what happened?

      1. I’ve been thinking about the singular dream since you brought it up and now I’m wondering if it’s possible the whole thing is one dream (which is what you are saying too I think). Maybe the end is confusing because that’s when his mind really starts to lose the battle?

        1. Yes. Because beyond what the title literally means, it is a jarring translation for English. No matter how familiar you get with the title, the English speaking brain, at least, always notices the contradiction between the plural and the singular. The dream part stands out.

          I agree with what you are starting to think about the end. In the beginning his mind seems to be going to the familiar places – family, school, his old routines, but by the end it’s so random. He’s out by the tree, he’s walking with that guy who disappears shouting advice, he gets yelled at for peeing. I didn’t come away with strong sense that he had made it.

          1. The title actually makes sense to me now, after some time away post-reading. The book is a single tale of dream and fear, told with many ins and outs (rooms?). It took forever before I got the title right, though.

            1. I really like that thought, Word Lily.

              For me, the title comes from the fact everything, from the moment Farhad is beaten in the street, is a dream to him. He cannot believe that any of it is real. No person, no place. Everything that happens from that point on is just a perpetuation of the dream.

                1. Which elements of the dream do you think are most likely. The interesting thing about dreaming is that he could be anybody or everybody and the fragments of his dream are reflecting aspects of the country and its history.

    2. I read somewhere, perhaps in the glossary in the back of the book?, that the title is a metaphor for a labyrinth or a maze, I think it is trying to get across the feeling of being trapped with no clear way out, of confusion.

  3. I might have picked this up on my own. I’m really disappointed by how little I read in translation last year, and this is a region of the world I’m interested in, too.

    I went in cold — without doing prior research — because that’s the way I prefer to go into books. I recalled a bit of the history, though. I don’t recall the book actually stating anything that gave away the time period, though, did it? I didn’t understand when the book was set until I reached the back matter.

    1. With most I like to go in cold as well. I like to know what I would have understood on my own as opposed to knowing what to expect. A really good book will stand out even if you don’t have a ton of background knowledge.

    2. A year ago, I might not have picked this one up. Now, I would not hesitate to do so, however. There are two reasons – first, I love to read works in translation. I always have. Second, after reading The Kite Runner, I have become very interested with that part of the world and all of the changes that it has gone through over the last few decades. Once I saw that this book talked about the conflict in Afghanistan – no matter the point that it entered that conflict – I would have been hooked.

      The first few pages may have put me off initially, had I not read Juan Rulfo’s book Pedro Paramo in grad school. That book-which I found very frustrating in the beginning because of the uncertain chronology and the constant shift between the dream and the reality-was a required read. I wanted to put it down several times, but I kept coming back. It is now one of my favorite books. Anything that reminds me of it, even a little, will get a second look from me.

      1. It’s interesting how these books can turn it around on us. I had a similar experience reading Beloved. Confused and put off by the uncertainty and the erratic chronology. I had to dig in for a class and it became one of my favorite books. There is something to be said for having to push through with certain books.

        I liked that the conflict in this book wasn’t defied and didn’t have to be in order to get a lot from it. The players in the war may change, but the experiences are often the same.

  4. This definitely would not have been a book I chose for myself but I’m so glad I read it. The sense of confusion brought on by the narrative made me think of what it must have been like living through that time period. I did wonder often what, if anything, was real. Especially as the escape and then his attempt to return. I was left with the feeling it was all just in his head as he was dying.

    1. Martha I think the escape part is what really sealed the deal for me in thinking that he was likely dead or dying and this was a jumble of his last thoughts. The other parts seemed to be coherent and kept returning to the same basic stories but by the end I felt like he was all over the map. Which then leads to where was he escaping to and where was he trying to return?

      1. I agree, Nicole….most of the time he spent with at Mahnaz’s house was fairly coherent – although he was not always rational. But when he is escaping, things get decidedly weird.

    2. Hmmm…this is an interesting one. The escape, as he describes it, is very much in line with other stories that I’ve read/heard about getting across the border. What happens to him in those final scenes is not clear, but I’m inclined to think that he dies. I actually kind of hope so. I’m not sure that he could ever really recover at that point.

      1. I don’t think that he survives his ordeal, but I am unclear on when or if he actually was able to make the escape. It seemed quite possible that a lot of that could have been a dream.

  5. I thought the book had a lot of powerful imagery and symbolism. Did any of it resonate with you or stick with you after you had finished the book?

      1. I really wondered about the brother too. The breast feeding thing puts him firmly in the dream/symbolism realm. It was just so weird, but still so sad if this is the only comfort that he can find after his experiences. I preferred to think of it as commentary on the way that women have to nurse and be responsible for these men completely after they are broken from war. That Mahnaz even wanted to take him in is amazing. I would have understood if she just didn’t have the energy for it after all that she had been through.

        1. The nursing scene was one of the first things that made me think it was all a “dream”. It just seemed such and ultimate symbol of a mother (or woman) nurturing and caring so intimately for someone.

        2. The weird thing about the breastfeeding is that her kid was probably way past breastfeeding, so unless the brother was just mimicking the action and not actually getting milk, it seems pretty unbelievable. It is POSSIBLE she could begin lactating again, but unlikely.

          1. That’s what I thought but then I thought of ROOM and how people living in tough times probably breast feed for as long as possible. It’s possible she was still breastfeeding her son.

              1. How old was he? 4 or 5? I didn’t get the feeling that they would have had enough to eat. I had forgotten that she did mention something about that being what the adult man would eat. I think I just decided to skip that and make t about comfort.

      2. I absolutely think the brother breastfeeding was symbolism here – the idea that women are burdened with caring for the men who have been ruined by war, the idea of women as nurturers…Farhad keeps wanting to go back to his mother, like a little boy he thinks she can take care of everything and fix it. Clearly Rahimi is sympathetic to the plight of women in Afghanistan…in this book he portrays them as healers, nurturers, and ultimately the ones who solve the problems (Mahnaz takes in Farhad and cares for him and protects him; Farhad’s mother arranges for his escape, etc…). This was one of the parts of the book I really appreciated.

        1. I was pretty much in awe of all the decisions that they made for him (especially since Mahnaz is willing to risk her family for a stranger) and a bit frustrated that he was making it so difficult for them, not that he could help it. He wasn’t in his right head. But I did want her to tie him up when he kept wandering off and saying that he would just go home.

      1. You know, I don’t remember that part, but for some reason the carpeting stuck with me and his walking along the water with that guy who leaves him behind.

    1. I just keep coming back to the fact that the child (I don’t have my book in front of me – sorry, but I don’t remember his name) thought that Farhad was his father. Does he know the truth but feels the need to perpetuate the myth? Does he see that it brings some sort of comfort to Farhad and continue with the charade for that reason? Does he miss his own father so terribly that he is desperate to have someone play the part, even if it someone as beat-up and broken as Farhad?

      I am also intrigued by Farhad’s reaction. He almost wants to be a father figure to the child. After such a brief time, he starts to feel a sense of responsibility for his adopted family. He seems to want to take care of them in the same way they have cared for him. Is this why he doesn’t correct the boy?

      1. I don’t have the book in front of me either. I feel like he could have just as easily not had a name too. Everything was so jumbled. I think there were hints that it was a little bit of both. Sometimes he said he thought the little boy knew but just wanted to believe and so he let him. I guess broken down dad, is better than no dad at all. The quick way that the relationship grew just emphasized to me how fleeting and desperate life was that people could develop such strong relationships and desires to help one another in so short a time.

        I was also really taken by the name of the prison and the awfulness of the symbolism behind the name.

  6. I thought that this was a very powerful book, but like Nicole the sparseness of the text might have turned me off if we had not been reading it for BOOK CLUB. I didn’t do any research, exactly, but I’ve read a lot about Afghanistan, so I had a good idea of the basic setting. I feel dumb now, because I didn’t even think of the idea that he really COULD be the husband with memory loss (comment 2.1), although I was sure his concussion had left him unreliable. I think that it certainly a possibility, and the more I think about it, the more I like that idea.

    1. I’m with you Jen in that I never even thought of him as the husband. Though if it were real and he was the father why would Mahnaz hidden him from her Mother-in-law?

    2. The idea that he might be the husband didn’t occur to me, either, even though, I agree, I certainly found him potentially unreliable. If he *was* the husband, though, why all the fear and trepidation about visiting his mom and of her coming to their house?

              1. I don’t think I buy this one. That would be taking the coincidence too far. The story would be too…complicated. I think – even with my questions about Farhad as a father figure – that he really is just a stranger and that she is really just helping him because it makes her feel as if she is doing something for someone. She wasn’t able to help her husband. She doesn’t know if anybody offered him any comfort. That is the least that she can do in this situation. It helps to alleviate her guilt.

                1. It is quite possible and expected that some of his dream would be rooted in reality. I only made the initial comment about this because in the condition he is in and the fact that we only have his jumbled memories to go makes it almost impossible to know who he is and which of these stories is his. You can pick out a main narrative and go with it, but it could just as easily not be true at all.

    3. I don’t think he was her husband. The fact that there was danger in him being there because she was a woman he was not married to was pretty clear. I think the little boy calling him father was not all that confusing because this is a small child and he desperately wanted his father home again (in fact, the mom had not told him his father was dead, so it was not out of the realm that the boy might think that the father could have returned again.)

      1. Though while I read it I never even considered he was her husband I’m going to agree with Wendy that I don’t think now it was her husband. Even if all that was happening was real, which I’m not to sure of, there are too many reasons to believe he was not the husband. Mainly the two different mothers (Mahnaz’s mother-in-law and Farhad’s mother).

      2. I can understand that, and that was one of the conclusions that I came to, but in a story where someone is beaten/dying/hallucinating, I’m not even sure that he knows who he is in all this or what is truly his story.

        1. If he were the husband maybe he did see both, first the Mother-in-law how Mahnaz would have seen her and dealt with her. But then also in the idealized way he was envision her in his fevered need to be taken care of by his “mommy”.

        2. I felt similarly, not sure what was the real story. The narrator is not very reliable, so all I’m left with is an impression of a story, rather than a real story. But I kind of liked that.

          1. I’m with Melissa – I think it worked that things were so hazy…and ultimately the story was less about Farhad and more about Afghanistan and what it was doing to its people – the brutality, the fear, etc… I think Rahimi uses Farhad as a prop (in a way) to show us what is happening in the country.

            1. I liked that as well. It really doesn’t matter which story is true and his because they are all plausible and awful. I agree with you completely Wendy, Farhad and his dreams, real or not were the story of the country and the tragedy. There is a certain irrelevance in figuring out *his* story.

              1. I thought the way the story unfolded worked in giving me the sense of what it must be like living in such an uncertain atmosphere, the feeling of never really knowing what’s actually going on, never feeling safe. This definitely was not a safe read.

  7. I read a previous book by this author last year and, like this one, it was sparse and powerful…so I probably would have picked up this one on my own (although I was REALLY excited when I saw you were choosing it for Book Club).

    I’ve read a few books set in Afghanistan, and although I don’t know a ton about the region, I didn’t feel the need to do research for this book (although after I read it, I looked up a few things).

    I think the interpretation that this is all a dream is an interesting one. It never occurred to me that this could be just a dream – I thought most of it (if not all) was what was actually happening to the character, but now I am not sure because in the end he is clearly either in a dream or back in the sewer in the city (in fact this line: “The voice nails me against the red dawn of the city” tells us he is back in Kabul). Several times early on, their are “flashbacks” to what happened just before the beating…and the last chapter seems to take us back again to the beating. The more I write about this, the more I agree with the interpretation that this was him in and out of consciousness, dreaming and dying after being beaten.

    I liked the symbolism in the book.

    1. I think for a lot of the book I did think his story was unfolding as he was slowly gaining consciousness and possibly starting to recover. When we got to his mom visiting and the hasty arrangements where he was dumped off at the church(?), that part was sketchy and where I really started to question things. Also the way the man yelled at him when he would obviously have been injured and escaping from something horrible didn’t make sense either.

  8. My general impression of the book was that the entire book felt like a dream to me, very disjointed, unclear, hazy. I read it several weeks ago and I can’t picture scenes in my head. Very little of it has stayed with me. When I think of the book, I remember the feelings the characters had. There was a lot of pain, confusion, and frustration. I remember the longing all of the characters seemed to feel. Even though I don’t remember moments, I like that I remember it in terms of a general feeling and impression rather than plot. Especially because the title implies that is about a maze of memory and feeling.

    This is not a book I would normally read, but I found the description very intriguing, which made we want to read it for this club. I’m not sure how accessible this book is, so that would have also contributed to me not being able to read it.

    I read the book cold. I don’t know a lot about Afghanistan or it’s history.

    Most of my questions while reading were: WhAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING?! Once, I realized that this was not going to be a clear linear, plot, I was able to sit back a little, but I felt it was a lot of work to see how the narrator’s story flowed and piece together what might be going on.

    I didn’t think much about the translation while reading, but afterwards I wondered if it may have led to some of my confusion. When I read texts that are not the original language, I always wonder afterwards if it is what the author intended.

    My question to the group: did people particularly enjoy the book or feel a connection to the characters?

    1. I think appreciate is a better word for what I felt. It’s so hard to use the word enjoy when you’re talking about a book like this. But I did think it was a good book and I did appreciate what the author was doing and trying to say.

      I did feel a connection with Mahnaz and her need to care for Farhad and also for her wanting to keep him safe with her.

      1. I’m going to agree with ‘appreciate.’ It isn’t really an ‘enjoy’ sort of book and there was definitely a degree of distance between the reader and the characters, but I think it was done very well and that distance didn’t bother me as it normally would.

    2. I’m with the rest of you – I don’t think this is a book which is enjoyable because it is brutal and difficult and takes a lot of thought and interpretation. But, I appreciate many, many things about this book: the sparse language, the way it made me really have to think about what was being said, the glimpse into a culture which is so very foreign to us living here in the US (where we do not need to fear for our lives all the time), and the presentation of women in the novella. This is one of those books which I would not recommend for everyone – but, for readers who like deep, symbolic, and very literary books, Rahimi’s work is full of wonderful stuff. I keep thinking about this book from time to time, which to me is a sign that it is a worthy book to have in my library.

    3. I wonder about the quality of the translation, too. They style seems to suit the feel of the work, though.

      The book does fit nicely into a tradition of books that are written by people throughout the world who have lived through terrible events. Their writing often takes on this dream quality because dealing with the reality is too painful. While it seems disjointed and disorganized, that is often just a reflection of people who are trying to explain a situation that to them is unexplainable. If it were all nice, neat, and orderly, then we wouldn’t be getting the full emotional impact of the piece.

  9. I’m very glad, upon reading this book, that I’m OK with a lack of certainty, with vagueness. I think there are likely several valid interpretations. But everything kind of being up in the air? I kind of like the mystery.

    1. I also like the mystery surrounding it. I don’t need to know exactly what happened. It’s the general feeling that stays with me when I think of the story. Rather than the plot.

  10. I didn’t enjoy the read that much either. It was hard for me to get through. I never felt a real connection to the characters. There was a distance I felt from them, like they were far away (maybe because Farhad was so mentally far away) It seemed they were suffering so much, so it’s strange to me that I didn’t feel for them. I wonder if I’m the only one who didn’t care about them. hehe.

    1. Well, when I said I felt some connection to Farhad, I didn’t exactly mean I cared about what happened to him. Rather, I just meant that some of the things he expressed resonated with me.

      1. Yes, ya know, you’re right! There is a total difference between connect and care for them. I think I’m confusing the two! I did connect to some of the things he expressed, especially wanting to experience a different life than his family had. The way he was trying to experiment with drinking or women, things his grandfather, who he referenced so much, would not have approved of.

  11. I have to go to work….but I’ll check back in later this afternoon 🙂 Thank you all for the great discussion so far … and your insights. It has helped me further understand this book!

  12. Like most of you, I didn’t do any research before reading the book. I honestly didn’t like it very much. I read it a couple of weeks ago, and I can’t really remember much about it. I did not get the symbolism at all, I’ve always been really bad at that. I might have picked it out on my own, but I might not have finished reading it if it wasn’t for Book Club. I also didn’t care much for the characters.

  13. I didn’t feel a lot of connection with this book at the beginning, and it was hard for me to get into for that reason. However, once I gave it a chance, I felt like the story became much more involved and I started caring about the outcome.

    It was quite a bit of action to fit into a compact book. It is easy to race through something like that, so I kept having to pace myself to make sure I wouldn’t finish it too quickly.

    I can safely say that this is not a book I would have read if it weren’t for this group. I had never heard of it before and it is just not a topic I would generally choose on my own. I didn’t do any research prior to picking it up, which is the norm for me. i tend to do my research AFTER I finish a book!

  14. This book is different from any other book that I can remember. The beginning kept me off balance until I figured out the sequence of events. What is also interesting about it is the timing for me. It’s bringing up issues that I’m addressing as part of my participation in Heroine Love next month. I could relate to Farhad in how his faith is something that comes up mainly as he believes his life is coming to an end. Thankfully I haven’t had that experience, but I could see myself clinging to my grandparents’ beliefs when I thought I was nearing the end.

    I do not think this is a book that I would have picked up had I not wanted to participate in Book Club. That’s what’s fantastic about things like this. It expanded my horizons. There wouldn’t have been this convergence of theme in my life right now had I not read it. It definitely has made me think more deeply about faith, religion, and what I want from my life.

    I read this cold, which is typically how I like to read books. I read the summary in Jenn’s announcement and that was about it. I didn’t read the dust jacket until afterward. I often have trouble with expectations. Having none other than loving the book cover can help.

    Once I figured out what was happening, the kind of questions I had revolved around Farhad as a suspect and fugitive. What had he really done? Was that different from what the government thought he was doing? Here I think I was at a bit of a loss because I don’t know that culture and time period very well. I don’t feel that my questions were answered, but isn’t that just like war? History is left to parse out exactly what happened and the associated rights and wrongs.

    I do think there was a disconnect given the translation and the cultural differences. I have a feeling this book was much more poetic in the original. I may be wrong, but I imagine the original having more rounded edges. Parts of the language here felt sharp. I did like having the dates translated, though. I would really have been lost without that.

    A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear was an interesting read. It has given me a lot to think about, which makes it memorable. I can’t say that I liked it in the traditional sense of the word, but I would recommend it to those interested in reading about wars, coups, and religion.

  15. Thank you so much Nicole and Jen, this was so great. What a wonderful way to discuss a book. I hope a get a chance to participate again. I really look forward to it. Great job hosting.

  16. Ditto on Martha’s comment above! This was great – and I came away from the discussion with a different impression of the book (because I had not thought of it as being one big dream…and now I believe that was what the author intended). That is exactly why I love book groups – I always gain new insights into what I have read. Looking forward to reading and discussing with you again!