cover_patience_stone You know, that stone you put in front of you…and tell all your problems to, all your struggles, all your pain, all your woes…to which you confess everything in your heart, everything you don’t care tell anyone…You talk to it, and talk to it. And the stone listens, absorbing all your words, all your secrets, until one fine day it explodes. Shatters into tiny pieces…And on that day you are set free from all your pain, all your suffering…I’m going to tell you everything, my sang-e sabur. Everything. Until I set myself free from my pain, and my suffering, and until you, you…

If only I had that stone, if only I could talk to it, and talk to it, and talk until I was exhausted and until the stone exploded, and until you, you…

The first association with Afghanistan I (and I suspect many other people as well) have is war. The second is Khaled Hosseini. The third is invisible women. Given that this challenge is all about reading books I wouldn’t otherwise read, and given that I have already read the three most famous novels by Khaled Hosseini, understandably I picked something else. In this particular situation, my choice coincides with that of Ann Morgan.

The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi couldn’t have been simpler. A nameless woman nurtures her severely injured husband, who cannot speak, move, and supposedly hear her. The entire story unfolds in a single room; everything that happens outside of the room is conveyed through scattered noises, whispers, movements. And yet we know the war is out there somewhere. The third character of the story, invisible, yet palpable, powerful, vengeful, spiteful, imminent.

In his controversial (by Afghan standards of course) novel Atiq Rahimi gives voice to the woman – that faceless and voiceless piece of meat, whose only social function in Afghanistan is to take care of her husband and give birth. How charming and fulfilling. Just a couple of hours ago I was talking to a friend of mine about freedom – or the fact that we have too much freedom. We were also talking about prejudice. We have come to believe that people in the Middle East, with all of the restrictions and rules, don’t have the same needs and desires as us. And by needs and desires, I mean emotionally and sexually. Rahimi offers an invaluable insight into the life of the Afghan woman. As the wife nurtures her husband, she shares her deepest secrets with him, secrets she couldn’t have told him had he been awake. Shyly at first, the woman gradually admits her hopes and dreams, her fear of her husband, her resentment of his decision to go to war, her lack of satisfaction sexually. Suddenly she finds herself released from all the constraints Afghan society imposes on women – she talks and talks and talks. And her husband is the patience stone.

Rahimi’s heroine is not much of a saint, but no sinner either. Her relationship with her husband cannot be described as passionate love, but it is not fervent hatred. She has been happy and sad, excited and bitter, content and disappointed in her married life. What she really missed was the opportunity to express her opinion, to be more than a meat hole for her husband to fill (apologies, but come one, that is true). Even though the entire novel takes place in one room, we feel the war, we understand its effect on the lives of ordinary people, and we condemn it (as we always do). Finally, we get a simple yet coherent picture of life, sex, marriage, war and honour in a conservative society. We hear the voice of the ones who suffer the most but cry out the little. We understand that under the veil we are all the same people, wishing to be appreciated, loved, and understood.

What I mostly admired about Rahimi is his bravery to escape the Afghan taboo of the woman as an asexual, maternal and saintly figure. But he also didn’t portray her as the ultimate victim. We get a typical woman – complex, filled with emotions that boil on the surface, unable to express herself and to be understood (Unfortunately that is true not only for Afghan women). What we get is a human being, just like us, who has simply been forced to live a different life and has finally been given a chance for redemption.

In fact Atiq Rahimi wrote The Patience Stone not in Dari but in French. The author admitted that a kind of involuntary self-censorship and an unconscious shame that dwells in Afghan society prevented him from expressing himself in his maternal language.

The moment you possess a woman, you become monsters. 

More from Afghanistan:

Khaled Hosseini – The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini – And the Mountains Echoed