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Category Archive for 'Afghanistan'

Drawing many many parallels between the action in this novel and that in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, author Atiq Rahimi focuses on the psychological state of mind of Rassoul, an Afghan student who studied for years in St. Petersburg, Russia, like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, before returning to his home in Kabul, a city occupied by the Russians and their army from 1979 -1989. For Rassoul, whose very name suggests his similarities to Raskolnikov, Kabul in the 1980s bears no resemblance to the exciting, intellectual, and independent city it was a generation earlier. The city itself is now devastated, its educated citizens unable to work in any meaningful job, and no one is sure of who is really in charge – the Russians, the Muslim mujahideen, the Afghan communists (like his father), or those seeking independence from all these competing interests. As the book opens, Rassoul has just killed an old woman with an axe. Though decides to take only her cash, and nothing else, he is unable to pry the wad of bills out of the dead woman’s grip. When he hears someone calling her name, he escapes, not knowing who the “intruder” is, and blaming Dostoevsky for “stopping me from…killing a second woman, this one innocent…and becoming prey to my remorse, sinking into an abyss of guilt, [and] ending up sentenced to hard labour…”

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Earth and Ashes, a small novella, packs more feeling and more power into its few pages than most other books do in hundreds of pages, and few, if any, readers will emerge from it unscathed. Author Atiq Rahimi, an Afghan national now living in France, has recreated the Afghanistan he remembers when it was occupied by the Russians (1979 – 1989). He was seventeen at the time, and life has not improved much for the populace since then. Only the enemies have changed, and they now include many factions from within. Without preamble or any lengthy setting of the scene, the author introduces a main character who is faced with a family crisis from which he may never recover, then tells that story in plain, direct, and straightforward language which gains impact from its very simplicity. Dastaguir, a grandfather accompanied by his small grandson, is walking along a dusty road from his town of Abqul toward the coal mines of Karkar to find his son.

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A successful novelist now living in Fremont, California, Amir receives a phone call from his father’s former business partner, Rahim Khan, now in Pakistan. Rahim had stayed behind in Afghanistan when Amir and his father escaped to America in 1981, and he is now dying. An intimate part of the family, Rahim has long been aware of a childhood betrayal committed by Amir, one which had catastrophic consequences for others and which has tormented Amir for his entire life. “There is a way to be good again,” Rahim Shah tells him, and Amir immediately sets off for Pakistan to see him for the last time. In flashbacks, Hosseini recreates the day-to-day existence of Amir and his father, a highly successful merchant in Kabul in the 1970’s, creating a warm and emotionally involving story of childhood and its traumas and stressing the importance of family in times of trouble, as he follows the lives of Amir and his father until Amir is in his late thirties. Despite some narrative clumsiness, however, the novel is a moving, dramatic, personal, and compelling read, fascinating in its setting and in its development of the father-son relationship. I was totally engaged by its characters–and by its considerable charm. (Just click on the title to see full review.)

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