Synopses & Reviews
Farhad is a typical student, twenty-one years old, interested in wine, women, and poetry, and negligent of the religious conservatism of his grandfather. But he lives in Kabul in 1979, and the early days of the pro-Soviet coup are about to change his life forever. One night Farhad goes out drinking with a friend who is about to flee to Pakistan, and is brutally abused by a group soldiers. A few hours later he slowly regains consciousness in an unfamiliar house, beaten and confused, and thinks at first that he is dead. A strange and beautiful woman has dragged him into her home for safekeeping, and slowly Farhad begins to feel a forbidden love for her—a love that embodies an angry compassion for the suffering of Afghanistan’s women. As his mind sifts through its memories, fears, and hallucinations, and the outlines of reality start to harden, he realizes that, if he is to escape the soldiers who wish to finish the job they started, he must leave everything he loves behind and find a way to get to Pakistan.
Rahimi uses his tight, spare prose to send the reader deep into the fractured mind and emotions of a country caught between religion and the political machinations of the world’s superpowers.
"The modern history of Afghanistan is a tapestry rent and torn by invasions and internal conflict, both political and religious. Through it all, Afghanis have struggled to define what it means for them to be a united people. A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear elegantly captures the essence of this tumultuous cultural narrative, with all its existential angst. To traverse the fractured mind of Farhad, the protagonist and narrator of Atiq Rahimi's latest novel, is to glimpse the broken soul of a battered and confused country." Shaun Randol, Words Without Borders (Read the entire )
About the Author
Atiq Rahimi was born in Kabul in 1962. He was seventeen years old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. He fled to Pakistan during the war and was eventually granted political asylum in France in 1984. After the fall of the Taliban in 2002, Rahimi returned to Afghanistan, where he filmed an adaptation of his novella Earth and Ashes (Other Press). He has become renowned as a maker of documentary and feature films, as well as a writer. The film of Earth and Ashes was in the Official Selection at Cannes in 2004 and won several prizes. Since 2002 Rahimi has returned to Afghanistan a number of times to set up a Writers’ House in Kabul. His novel The Patience Stone (Other Press) won the Prix Goncourt in 2008.
Reading Group Guide
1. The translator, in her note, remarks that the title's phrase "a thousand rooms" is a direct translation of a Dari expression that can also mean "labyrinth." Why would Rahimi title his story this way when the narrative is largely relegated to one room? What might the "thousand rooms" be? If Mahnaz's home is a kind of labyrinth to Farhad, would you say that Farhad manages to make it through the maze?
2. In what ways do both "dreams" and "fear" enter Mahnaz's house and Farhad's mind? How does their interplay shape Farhad's perceptions as he slips in and out of consciousness?
3. Candles and images of light and darkness run throughout the novel--how does Farhad understand these images, and why is that significant?
4. On page 63, Farhad theorizes that his father left his mother because she "lost her fear of having sex?" What does this say about the role of women in this society? What kind of expectations does Rahimi imply a man in Kabul has of his wife?
5. Many of the characters in the book struggle from a kind of voicelessness. Mahnaz's veil covers her face, concealing her emotions. Moheb literally can't speak, due to the torture he's endured. Even Farhad often finds himself unable to articulate his emotions, questions, and feelings to Mahnaz. Why do you suppose Rahimi focuses so much on what his characters can't say? How does this inform the progression of the narrative?
6. In addition to 'voicelessness,' how do instances of deafness, blindness, paralysis, and impotence affect the story?
7. What role do carpets play in the book? Why might Farhad perceive them as both good and evil?
8. In some ways, Rahimi symbolically illustrates a marriage between Farhad and Mahnaz. How and why do you suppose he does this? What might it mean that Farhad, like his father, leaves his 'wife and child (Yahya)' for Pakistan? Why would Rahimi draw that parallel?
9. Farhad has no awareness of the passage to and from Mahnaz's home, as the first time he is unconscious, and the second time he is wrapped in a carpet. Why might Rahimi make this choice?
10. What is the significance of the story of Joseph, recounted near the end of the novel? The mosque's cleric says, "Consider the plight of Joseph....never forget that women are the temptation of the devil!" (pg. 139) But Farhad's interpretation is much different. What does he mean when he says "I take my rest in the strength of Zulaikha's love"? (pg 141)