The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi (translated by Polly McLean)
Reviewed by Gwendolyn Dawson
In this slim novel, an unnamed woman ministers to her comatose husband in a small back room of their house in war-torn Afghanistan. The man, wounded by a bullet in his neck, lies inert on a dirty mattress, indifferent to the action unfolding around him, from gunshots in the street to a fly exploring his mouth. Over time, the woman is driven by the stress of her life of constant danger to reveal increasingly dramatic secrets to “the man who may or may not hear her.” She becomes close to him in a way that was not possible when he was conscious: “How strange this all is! I’ve never felt as close to you as I do right now. We’ve been married ten years. Ten years! And it’s only these last three weeks that I’m finally sharing something with you.”
The most striking aspect of The Patience Stone is Rahimi’s use of an unusual narrative device — a strictly limited perspective. The perspective of the story never leaves the room where the man lies unconscious, and the narrator functions as the proverbial fly on the wall. The woman, her two children, and a few other unnamed characters come and go, but the perspective never moves beyond the single room. This daring construct presents a unique view of the strains of war on domestic life, a view that is so satisfyingly subtle because it is so constrained. Rather than a novel, The Patience Stone — with its limited scope and its concise 142 pages — is more akin to a fable, which, I’m sure, is exactly what Rahimi intended.
The Patience Stone is published in the United States by Other Press.
Gwendolyn Dawson is the founder of Literary License. Her reviews appear there and here every Wednesday.