The Patience Stone
Atiq Rahimi was awarded the Prix Goncourt, the French equivalent of The Booker in 2008 for his Afghanistan based novella The Patience Stone. The novella joins the ranks of The Bookseller Of Kabul and The Kite Runner of literature telling the stories of a country and its people often shrouded from the West hitherto the outbreak of war in 2001.
This story is the story of a couple who I have only just realised remain nameless throughout the novel as do all other characters...I think perhaps this anonymity seeks to reflect the idea of "Somewhere, A Couple" the depersonalisation seeking to amplify the potential of the universality of experience.
A young mother nurses her husband as he hovers between life and death on a mattress in one of the rooms of their house. The Afghan war rages around their neighbourhood. As the frustration and despair at her situation begins to build, the woman makes a series of personal revelations to her dying husband.
What did I think of it? Well, the point is clear. Rahimi takes the "nameless, voiceless, veiled, Afghani woman" and voices her giving her a chance to vent her frustrations at her unhappiness at her station in life. But, whilst it is true that such women exist within the culture, these women have also become something of a Western, particularly American, media cliche. Whilst it is of the imperative that such voices be heard, this, we must remember is a fictionalised voice.
The book gave me pause for thought too in the sense that it is French, with an English translation by Polly McLean whose translation I think may have harmed some of the books poetic qualities, it is never easy to be certain about translations unless you are capable of reading the book in its native tongue in order to make comparison. The reason it gave me pause for thought by being French is, that the understanding I receive from our media is that Islamophobia is high and on the rise in France, and that tolerance of Islam is fairly low. Did it win the Prix Goncourt partly because it is so critical of Afghan and Islamic lifestyles?
The revelations that the woman makes to her husband involve the use and the breaking of many things truly seen as taboo within Islam, I had to wonder whether this was an act of artistic necessity or a deliberate in-your-face attempt to court controversy and notice. I would imagine that there are many devout Muslims, male and female who would find aspects of this book and therefore possibly the book as a whole deeply, deeply offensive.
As a reader, I felt that Rahimi succeeded in evoking a suffocating, claustrophobic atmosphere. You can almost smell the rotten stench in the mans sick room. But, sympathy for the womens plight is eroded by her whiny, erratic repetitiveness and behaviour I would classify as not only vindictive but a little unrealistically absurd.
I didn't really enjoy reading this on any level. Sometimes even though a book is difficult, you gain something in the reading of it and that in itself is pleasurable, but this was no such experience for me. It makes me remember how I similarly did not enjoy the highly praised Kite Runner for its highly graphic depiction of child sexual abuse and found it unpleasant as a reading experience regardless of its worthiness.
I wouldn't say read this book, not unless you are terribly interested in its story or conceit. To be blunt, it's depressing. 4/10