The Patience Stone

( 23 )

Overview

In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is a magical stone, a patience stone, that absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone, but a man lying brain-dead. His wife sits by his side, resenting him for not resisting the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, for being incapacitated. Yet she cares, speaking to him, revealing her deepest desires, pains, and secrets. She speaks of her life, not knowing if her husband hears, confessing about sex and love and ...

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Overview

In Persian folklore, Syngue Sabour is a magical stone, a patience stone, that absorbs the plight of those who confide in it. But here, the Syngue Sabour is not a stone, but a man lying brain-dead. His wife sits by his side, resenting him for not resisting the call to arms, for wanting to be a hero, and in the end, for being incapacitated. Yet she cares, speaking to him, revealing her deepest desires, pains, and secrets. She speaks of her life, not knowing if her husband hears, confessing about sex and love and her anger against a man who never understood her, and who mistreated her. Free of oppression, she leads her story up to a great secret that is unthinkable in a country like Afghanistan. Rahimi 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“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

Publishers Weekly
Rahimi (Earth and Ashes) won the 2008 Prix Goncourt for this brief, melodramatic novel set amid factional violence “somewhere in Afghanistan or elsewhere.” It follows the circumscribed movements of a Muslim woman largely confined to the house where she nurses her comatose husband, who's been shot by a fellow jihadist. A humorless, inflammatory mullah pays the woman unwelcome visits, and sexually menacing soldiers break into her house. Though such events generate tension and drama, the novel's cultural and historical milieu lacks specificity, and Rahimi may have erred in sketching the story's political context vaguely. For some readers, his intimate attention to objects and spaces may compensate for the grating confessional tenor that develops later, when the narrator divulges damning secrets to her husband's unresponsive body and fulfilling the book's premise a little too obviously by referring to him as her “patience stone.” McLean's translation is faultless, but the narrator's reminiscences feel stilted; the patience-stone conceit borders on gimmickry; and incidents of a violent or sexual nature seem overdetermined. (Jan.)
Library Journal
The patience stone, according to Persian folklore, is a small black stone that absorbs what people confide in it. Filmmaker Rahimi (Earth and Ashes) casts as the stone a person, one of the two nameless characters in this allegorical tale. Everything takes place in one room in the modest home of a fundamentalist Islamic war hero who lies comatose. His wife cleans him, moistens his open eyes, and feeds him a sugar/salt solution through a drip. She is distraught with her husband's state, the plight of her two young daughters, and the unnamed conflict going on outside her home. After talking politely to her husband and saying endless prayers, she gradually comes to pour out a fierce treatise on women's place in society, love, sex, marriage, and war. VERDICT 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.—Lisa Rohrbaugh, National Coll., Youngstown, OH
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590513446
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 1/19/2010
  • Pages: 147
  • Sales rank: 329,456
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Atiq Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1962, but fled to France in 1984. There he has become renowned as a maker of documentary and feature films, and as a writer. The film of his novel Earth and Ashes was in the Official Selection at Cannes in 2004 and won a number of prizes. He is currently adapting another of his novels, A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear, for the screen. Since 2001 Rahimi has returned to Afghanistan to set up a Writers’ House in Kabul and to offer support and training to young Afghan writers and filmmakers. He lives in Paris.

Polly McLean
is a freelance translator based in Oxford, England. Previous translations include titles by Catherine Deneuve and Sylvia Kristel (star of the Emmanuelle films) as well as the award-winning Secret by Philippe Grimbert

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Read an Excerpt

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.

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Reading Group Guide

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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 23 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 23 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2012

    Very interesting

    Very short simple but captivalting book. I could not put it down! I read the ending 3 times and stil am a little confused on what happened? Very scandalous, nail biting bite definitely worth a read.

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  • Posted February 8, 2012

    I Would Recommend this book to ALL American woman.

    This is one of those books that makes you glad to be American. We Americans complain about how bad off we are. This book and others like it make me grateful to be an American.

    I also have new respect for Afghani woman who must endure this barbaric system.

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  • Posted October 27, 2010

    The writing is very lyrical, sometimes almost sounding like poetic prose.

    The Patience Stone, also called Syngue Sabour, is said to absorb the grief of people who confess to it. This concept is used as a strong metaphor in this brief but powerful story. A woman sits vigil over her comatose husband. He was injured in Afghanistan fighting in a jihad. As she waits, often hiding from marauding soldiers, seeking shelter from bombs, and vaguely caring for her young daughter, she talks to her husband. This one-sided conversation is the heart of the book. She is at turns angry and resentful over his abandonment and mistreatment of her, then loving and beseeching his forgiveness, then defiantly confessing her sins. Her voice comes across as raw and authentic and her pain is sometimes difficult to hear. The writing is very lyrical, sometimes almost sounding like poetic prose. I listened to this book on audio. The reader, Atiq Rahimi, does a fantastic job, her voice rising harsh and hysterical at times and dropping low and soothing at others, matching the story perfectly.

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  • Posted April 5, 2010

    I just could not put my ereader down!

    I read this book honestly because of Khalid Hosseini's introduction. But as I went on reading it, I could not put the book down.It is a true depiction of how woman in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan feel. They rarely get a chance to express themselves to their husbands.

    Great Job and a awesome plot!

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