Review: Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi

As you may know the World Party Reading Challenge’s country-of-the-month for October is Afghanistan. So, here at EthnoLit, we picked a novella by Afghan-born writer Atiq Rahimi.

Atiq Rahimi’s Earth and Ashes is deceptively short. I say “deceptively” because at the end of it, you feel like you’ve read so much more than 60-odd pages. You feel like you’ve taken a journey with no moment left unfilled by anxiety, loss, remembrance, and tests of your most deeply rooted strengths.  Part of this is probably due to the fact that the whole narrative is told in second person. And occasionally there is a sort of shift to a direct address that puts you right into the mental anguish of indecision and restraint that the protagonist is suffering:

“Your throat is seized with sobs. Tears well in your eyes. No, they are not tears. Your grief is melting and overflowing. Let it flow!”

This has the effect of feeling like your own internal dialogue, shouting at you in the voice of this man, Dastaguir, who has lost a son, a wife, a daughter in law, and grandchildren in the blasts of the war in the Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Earth and Ashes is the story of this man who, with his newly deafened young grandson must travel from his devastated village to the far-off mines where his surviving son labors to deliver this heartbreaking news to his son Murad.

The writing is beautiful. The use of the second person narration in such a personal and specific story is ingenious and effective. The combination of these facets brings you into the story and doesn’t let you go long after you’ve turned the last pages the novella. It is a short read, but it is a lasting impression of a tattered world and a gripping state of anguish beyond mere sympathy.

Rahimi draws the story along, seamlessly flowing between Dastaguir’s insomnia-induced hallucinations, the scents and sights of his memories, and his present tortured mind that batters itself over the horrible news he must deliver.

Okay, I’ve waxed poetic long enough. This is a fabulously written and creatively executed novella that packs a lot more bang than you’d expect from a book of its size. I enthusiastically recommend. And apparently there’s a film adaptation as well.

The Gist in metaphor:

Garlic bulb – small but packs a lot of flavor… and it leaves you with its own unique scent long after you’ve digested it.

About Atiq Rahimi:

Atiq Rahimi was born in Kabul in Afghanistan. He fled to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He is the author of The Patience Stone and the forthcoming A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear.

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