Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Today: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi

When A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear (Other) was first published in the United Kingdom in 2006, The Guardian nailed it in their review, calling the book a “taut and brilliant burst of anguished prose .... both a wonderful and a dreadful little book.” For me that covered filmmaker and novelist Atiq Rahimi’s novella with startling precision.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is like a beautiful, yet slightly repellant poem. The structure, the meter, the words chosen, all beautiful. But Rahimi’s prose captures the violence of fact and spirit so completely, you don’t always see the art; just feel the hammering of your heart and taste the blood.

We’re in Kabul in 1979 when we meet 21-year-old Farhad, a typical student bent on a the pleasures of those of his interests and background. One night, not long after the pro-Soviet coup, Farhad goes drinking and falls into the hands of a group of soldiers who brutalize him. Later he wakes up in a strange house where a beautiful woman is looking after him and a child calls him “father.” He thinks he is dead. As he heals, he becomes ever more cognizant of the plight of Afghani women and he realizes he can no longer live in his homeland, but must find his way to Pakistan.

This synopsis might give you the idea that A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a more traditionally structured book than it is. But it is not. It reads at times like absolute stream of consciousness. In fact at times it feels like your own dream. The images are so vivid, the violence so close, in the time that I read the book, my own sleep was troubled by nightmares.

In some ways, one suspects elements of this nightmare/dream might be autobiographical. Author Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1962 and fled to France in 1984. He is an award-winning filmmaker -- his film version of his novel Earth and Ashes was an official selection at Cannes in 2004 and has won significant prizes -- and though he lives in Paris, he has set up an organization in Kabul that offers training and support to young writers and filmmakers. ◊

Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of several novels.



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