Sunday, 6 April 2014
A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear
This story has taken us to Kabul in the late 1970’s and straight back to the time when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan with an iron rod. This is not a tale that will tell us of the geography of the country, nor will it tell of landscaped vistas, or the political background to the tale; we are thrown straight in. So be ready.
The translators notes in the copy I have, tell me that the literal translation for a labyrinth in Afghan is ‘A Thousand Rooms’ – you will certainly enter a labyrinth when you turn the first page here; an excellently told tale of a terrible tale, but well worth reading.
In a tightly written story, we spend the time with a young man who has met security police, after curfew, having had a night with friends and alcohol. Add a youthful arrogance to the mix, and we have a chap beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Rescued by a stranger, a lady, he is hidden in her house, along with her brother, until escape from the country can be organised. Well, that’s the plot, but certainly not the story.
Rahimi explores how and why the young man appears to be defying authority, and why he certainly can’t go home and expose his family now. The lady has a tale to tell as to why she is alone, we hear of her absent husband, and her hidden brother has been secreted for reasons that we will find out as the story goes on. It does all sound very dramatic and exciting, but in fact we are hearing the tales of ordinary people trying to live in extraordinary circumstances; fear being part of their everyday lives.
As the story progresses, events begin to happen that a reader would perhaps question; is the plot becoming too whimsical? ‘Would that really happen like that?’ you might ask. But I think you will be so sucked in to the lives of these few protagonists that you will almost forgive the author the literary licence he appears to have taken to move the plot along. Until the end, when you will understand that it is just as it really would be...you will need to find and read this book for a full explanation.
This book is an education at many different levels. The treatment of women by the Taliban at that time is one thread. The ramifications that can be expected when young men fail to meet the standards set by the Taliban are also explained and explored. Three different men, three different endings...
All in all, it is a very well written tale, tight, no words wasted and still written with a twist in the tale that is in keeping with the subject; enough to keep us page turning right up to the end. It is not an action packed, shoot ‘em up type of story, and there is no undue or unnecessary violence, none the less, the fear leaps out of every sentence spoken, every bang on the door, every shout from the courtyard. But beware! You might well give an involuntary start if someone knocks on your door while you are reading this...