Star rating 7/10
Atiq Rahimi takes on an ambitious project in his new book ‘The Patience Stone’ – he speaks as a male author in the voice of a young Afghani woman whose terrible situation brings about a rude awakening in her indeed. It is a very slim volume, at under 150 pages reading more like a play or film script than a novel (and I am sure that it will be translated into these other mediums in due course). And although it is a short read in its length and in the page turning quality it produces, it is far from an easy read.
The young unnamed woman is tending to her husband, a jihadist soldier who has been shot weeks before and is lying in their room in a coma. At first she is enveloped by this tragedy, caring for both his needs, and those of their two young daughters as best she can in their war torn home. She reads passages from the Koran, and prays for his recovery. But her mood and thoughts soon change in a radical way as she starts to ponder on their relationship and the way he treated her during their ten year marriage, only three of which they actually shared as he was away fighting so much.
She starts to get very angry about her situation and the way her society, and in particular the men in it, devalue women, treating them in turns as unclean lepers then objects for their gratification. And she starts to wish her husband would die, but not before she starts to pour out some of her innermost shocking secrets to him, hoping he will somehow hear in his comatose state. And this process leads to a need in her for him to hear, so she starts to hope he will survive, as a patience stone for her to confide in, that allows her to open up and finally express herself, albeit in a frenzied manner.
Whilst all this is going on the war rages around them, and various armed men happen upon their scene, with some frightening results. It is a revealing and shocking book. It does feel slightly contrived when the man is referred to throughout as 'her man' which sounds a little too Tammy Wynette for this situation, and not really how she would be feeling towards her husband. However, it is beautifully written, tragic, and deserves to be read widely, and if it also helps to open up the debate and understanding about what the situation of Afghani women really is, then so much the better.