A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi

Translated from Dari by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari

(First published 2006)

It is a work of fiction from an Afghan expat which has been translated neatly into English. The regime of Hafizullah Amin and Nur Muhammad Taraki, who deposed Daoud Khan, the president of the short lived Republic of Afghanistan (1973-1978), forms the background of the story.

Two friends who are not involved in political activity are taken for rebels when, one night, in a state of merry drunkenness, they are found in breach of the curfew hours in the city of Kabul.

The narrative starts with a confused, nauseous and nightmarish monologue of the main character, Farhad, who regains consciousness at a strange place but cannot make out where he is and what has happened to him.

After a painful attempt to make sense of his surroundings, he begins to piece together his thoughts as he rewinds the events of the last night. He remembers being rescued from a sewer by a woman and taken to a dark and quiet place. The woman has a young son who thinks his father has returned after a long absence. In fact, as we later learn, the husband of the woman was killed in a political upheaval a few years ago.

Farhad wants to leave the place and return to his family in the other part of town. His mother and siblings must be worried about his sudden disappearance. But he cannot leave the house as the street outside is strewn with jackboots in search of would-be rebels.

The woman and her somewhat irritating but endearing child take care of Farhad. The mysterious and quiet posture of the woman intrigues him as he wants to know more about her. His heart kindles with amorous feelings for her as he learns about her plight. He wants to do something for them, but in fact, it is he who needs to be done something about as his life is in danger.

His mother is informed and she arranges for a trafficker to escort him to Pakistan where his father, who walked out on his mother with a second wife, lives. Farhad is forced to leave the country against his will. He has no choice; he must go in order to save his life.

He is rolled up in a carpet and put in a jeep and a long and perilous journey to Afghan-Pak border begins. He arrives at the border town where he is supposed to spend the night before crossing over to Pakistan. There, due to his being a clean-shaved, jeans-wearing Kabulite, he is mistaken for a “godless communist” by the devout village-dwellers. They chase him out of the mosque and subject him to torture till he bleeds. The novel ends there.

It is an emotional saga of Afghanistan’s war torn families, their broken dreams, wasted aspirations and a life of continued war and famine which is now in its fourth decade. The most important character in this novel is that of the rescuer woman. She comes across as extremely determined to do anything it takes to help the suffering, often to the point of putting her own life in danger.

My rating: 3/5. Find the book on AMAZON.

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