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I came across The Patience Stone on a recent trip to the library. Although I hadn't heard of the author Atiq Rahimi, there was a forward by Khaled Hosseini and as I've really enjoyed his work I decided to check it out.
The Patience Stone tells the story of an unnamed young woman in Afghanistan. Her husband has been shot in the neck by a fellow soldier and is in a coma. The young woman keeps vigil at his bedside, twisting her worry beads, reciting prayers and bargaining with God. The passing of time is recorded by the number of breaths he takes, the slow drip that keeps him alive and the gunfire outside.
As the days pass the young woman starts to talk to her husband, tentatively at first but she then realises this is the first chance she has to really talk freely without fear of rebuke. Her husbands silence gives her strength and empowers her. We learn about her past, her traumatic childhood. We learn about her love, her hate, the suffering she endured at her husbands hands, and her sexual desires.
The author refers to a stone found in persion mythology called the Sang-e-Sabour (the patience stone), a stone that listens and absorbs a persons woe until it explodes. As the story progresses the husband becomes this young woman's Sang-e-Sabour, until she reveals the most explosive secret of them all.
The book itself is very short, and stands at only 135 pages. The writing style is very descriptive, and overall the story is beautifully written. At times it does get monotonous, but this I think is to highlight the repetitive nature of the days this woman encounters. The story is very easy to follow. The book isn't split into chapters, which I found a little annoying as I like to read a chapter of whatever I am reading before I go to bed and this made it difficult to choose a place to stop!
At times I found the story heartbreaking. Throughout her life this young woman had been treated as a second class citizen and dominated by the men in her life, firstly her father and then her husband. Her own dreams and desires were put aside to conform to the way the men in her life expected.
The fact that she is unnamed highlights for me that her situation is one that is shared by millions of others in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan have struggled for basic rights to work, to an education, to healthcare and independence for years, long before the arrival of the Taliban.
Through her husbands silence we realise that this woman is brave, headstrong and has a mind of her own, but has been forced to supress it. She is also human though and through her confession we learn that she is capable of manipulating, lying and being spiteful.
Despite being saddened I was also pleased that this woman finally had the opportunity to voice her opinion. For me it was also an eyeopener for what life is like for women living through the war in everyday Afghanistan. I don't think the subject was the most enjoyable, but I'm glad I read it and would recommend it to others.