Publication Date: Jan 19, 2010
List Price US $16.95
List Price US $13.99
“For far too long, Afghan women have been faceless and voiceless. Until now. With The Patience Stone, Atiq Rahimi gives face and voice to one unforgettable woman–and, one could argue, offers her as a proxy for the grievances of millions…it is a rich read, part allegory, part a tale of retribution, part an exploration of honor, love, sex, marriage, war. It is without doubt an important and courageous book.” from the introduction by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns
In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is the name of a magical black stone, a patience stone, which absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. It is believed that the day it explodes, after having received too much hardship and pain, will be the day of the Apocalypse. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone but rather a man lying brain-dead with a bullet lodged in his neck. His wife is with him, sitting by his side. But she resents him for having sacrificed her to the war, for never being able to resist the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, after all was said and done, for being incapacitated in a small skirmish. Yet she cares, and she speaks to him. She even talks to him more and more, opening up her deepest desires, pains, and secrets. While in the streets rival factions clash and soldiers are looting and killing around her, she speaks of her life, never knowing if her husband really hears. And it is an extraordinary confession, without restraint, about sex and love and her anger against a man who never understood her, who mistreated her, who never showed her any respect or kindness. Her admission releases the weight of oppression of marital, social, and religious norms, and she leads her story up to the great secret that is unthinkable in a country such as Afghanistan. Winner of the Prix Goncourt, The Patience Stone captures with great courage and spare, poetic, prose the reality of everyday life for an intelligent woman under the oppressive weight of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
Excerpt from The Patience Stone
The room is bare. Bare of decoration. Except on the wall between the two windows, where someone has hung a small khanjar and, above the khanjar, a photo, of a man with a moustache. He is perhaps thirty years old. Curly hair. Square face, bracketed by a pair of neatly tended sideburns. His black eyes shine. They are small, separated by a hawklike nose. The man is not laughing, and yet seems as if he’s holding back a laugh. This gives him a strange expression, that of a man inwardly mocking those who look at him. The photo is in black and white, hand-colored in drab tones. Facing this photo, at the foot of a wall, the same man—older now—is lying on a red mattress on the floor. He has a beard. Pepper and salt. He is thinner. Too thin. Nothing but skin and bones. Pale.Wrinkled. His nose more hawklike than ever. He still isn’t laughing, and still looks strangely mocking. His mouth is half-open. His eyes, even smaller now, have retreated into their sockets. His gaze is fixed on the ceiling, on the exposed, blackened, rotting beams. His arms lie passive along his sides. Beneath the translucent skin, his veins like exhausted worms twine around the jutting bones of his body. On his left wrist he wears a wind-up watch, and on the ring finger a gold wedding band. A catheter drips clear liquid into the crook of his arm from a plastic pouch attached to the wall just above his head. The rest of his body is covered by a long blue shirt, embroidered at collar and cuffs. His legs, stiff as two stakes, are buried under a white sheet. A dirty sheet. A hand, a woman’s hand, is resting on his chest, over his heart, moving up and down in time with his breath. The woman is seated. Legs pulled up and into her chest. Head bundled between her knees. Her dark hair—very dark, and long—flows over her slumped shoulders, echoing the regular movement of her arm.
“In spare, unflinching prose, Atiq Rahimi gives us Afghanistan’s terrible legacy in the story of one woman’s suffering. Anyone seeking to understand why Afghanistan is difficult and what decades of violence have done to its people should read this book. Rahimi is a superb guide to a hard and complex land.”—Ambassador Ryan Crocker, former U.S. Envoy to Afghanistan, Ambassador to Pakistan, and Ambassador to Iraq
“The Patience Stone is perfectly written: spare, close to the bone, sometimes bloody, with a constant echo, like a single mistake that repeats itself over and over and over.” —Los Angeles Times
“This story from an Afghan-born author is a powerful one, giving voice to the historically downtrodden Afghan woman…truly an expansive work of literature.” —New York Post
“[A] clever novel…readers get a glimpse of daily life in a country terrorized by conflict and religious fundamentalism. Rahimi paints this picture with nuance and subtlety…[His] sparse prose complements his simple yet powerful storytelling prowess. This unique story is both enthralling and disturbing.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Rahimi’s lyric prose is simple and poetic, and McLean’s translation is superb. With an introduction by Khaled Hosseini, this Prix Goncourt-winning book should have a profound impact on the literature of Afghanistan for its brave portrayal of, among other things, an Afghan woman as a sexual being.” —Library Journal
“A slender, devastating exploration of one woman’s tormented inner life, which won the 2008 Prix Goncourt…The novel, asserts [Khaled] Hosseini in his glowing introduction, finally gives a complex, nuanced, and savage voice to the grievances of millions.” —Words Without Borders
“In this remarkable book Atiq Rahimi explores ways through which personal and political oppression can be resisted through acts of self-revelation. He reveals to us the violence we are capable of imposing upon ourselves and others both in our personal as well as political and social relations. In a manner all the more effective because of his stark and compact style, Rahimi recreates for us the texture of such violence, its almost intimate brutality as well as its fragility. Just as remarkable is the fact that although the story happens within the context of a particular time and place, the emotions it evokes and relationships it creates have universal implications and could happen to any of us under similar conditions. The Patience Stone is relevant to us exactly because as Rahimi says it takes place ‘Somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere.’” —Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Things I’ve Been Silent About
“With a veiled face and stolen words, a woman keeps silent about her forbidden pain in an Afghanistan marred by men’s foolishness. But when she rediscovers her voice, she overcomes the chaos. Atiq Rahimi tells the story of this woman’s heartbreaking lamentation to awaken our consciences.” —Yasmina Khadra, author of The Swallows of Kabul
1. All of the characters in this book remain nameless. Discuss the significance of this. Why do you think the author chose not to give them names?
2. War is raging literally outside the woman’s window. At one point she refers to the city as being both deaf and blind. What does she mean by this. On the Dedication page the author writes “Somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” What do you suppose he is trying to convey with this statement?
3. The pattern of migrating birds on the curtain fabric is described repeatedly throughout the book. What is the significance of the imagery of birds suspended in flight? How does this imagery parallel the wounded man’s existence? His wife’s?
4. At the beginning of the story, the woman is distraught at the prospect of losing her husband. “Without you I have nothing!” she cries. What did she have with him? What is it that she is afraid of losing?
5. The woman begs her husband to come back to life. She wails, “you’ve no right to leave us like this, without a man.” Discuss what it means in this culture for a woman to live without a man.
6. The man’s injuries were the result of a quarrel over the honor of a woman, and yet as a result, his wife and daughters are left alone lacking the support of any men. Discuss the irony of this.
7. The woman insists that since her husband’s brothers were so proud to see him fight their enemies, they should help honor their fallen brother and themselves by helping take care of the woman and her children. Discuss the concept of honor as it is represented in this book. How does the woman’s idea of honor differ from the perspective of her husband and his family?
8. “After all he fought in your name for so long. For Jihad!” the woman pleads with God. Why do you suppose she feels she is owed divine intervention?
9. The woman attempts to inflict pain on her comatose husband by pressing hard on his bullet wounds. Frustrated at his lack of response she yells, “Even injured you’ve been spared suffering!” What does she mean by this? Who do you see as suffering the most in this story?
10. At first the woman is devoted to praying for her husband, reading the Koran, and reciting the names of God in her desire to see him healed. At one point she seems to lose her will to pray, believing God will save him without her help. Has she lost her faith? What was the turning point for her where she stopped taking responsibility for his recovery?
11. The woman recounts an incident where her husband raped her but then realizes she was menstruating and beat her for defiling him and making him unclean. Who was defiled in this situation? Discuss the dichotomy of the men’s perceptions in this book of blood as both clean and impure.
12. Flies, spiders, and wasps appear frequently throughout this book. Discuss the meaning of this imagery.
13. Discuss the significance of the peacock feather and what it represents.
14. The woman reveals that her father agreed to give her up for marriage to a man her family had never met and that their marriage occurred before they ever met. Cast off by her own father, mistreated by her husband, and ultimately abandoned by his family, who in this story shows the woman love and respect?
15. When the woman begins her liaisons with the young boy, he shows her tenderness by bringing her gifts and opening up to her about his own oppressive existence. What emotions does this boy ignite in her? She in him?
16. Once the woman starts divulging her deepest, darkest secrets to her comatose husband, she begins to get afraid that confessing her sins will destroy her, that by divulging her secrets to her husband he will gain possession over her. Does telling the truth set her free in any way?
17. As the woman grows more physically and emotionally intimate with her husband, she feels closer to him than ever before. In what ways is this closeness real? Imagined? She begins to believe that her confessions have fundamentally changed him and that if he comes back to life he’ll be a better man. Who has been changed in this relationship? Were you hopeful that she might be right?
18. Discuss the ending of the story. Do you believe the man was conscious all along of everything that was being said and done in the house? A khanjar (the weapon the woman drives into her husband’s heart) is a symbolic weapon worn by men after puberty. Discuss the significance of the use of this particular object by the woman. How do you explain lack of blood from the wounds she inflicts on him? What is your interpretation of the knock on the door and the person who enters the room?