Atiq Rahimi translated from the Dari by Yama Yari, by Sarah Maguire

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Publication Date: Jan 11, 2011

176 pp


List Price US $15.95
ISBN: 9781590513613


List Price US $15.95
ISBN: 9781590513620

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.

Excerpt from A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

I can feel hands stroking my head. They are warm and tender. They are nervous; they tremble.
“Mother, is that you?”
A lock of my mother’s hair caresses my face. So soft and gentle.
“Brother, are you awake?”
That’s not my mother. Who is it?
Despite all the pain, I force my eyes open. I can’t tell whether the blackness
I see is her hair or the night. I move my head a fraction. Beneath the dark hair is a woman I do not know. To one side of her, I can make out the face of a child, who says, “Father!”
His hand is stroking my hair.
“Father! You woke up! You came back! Get up!”
Are these the same voices I heard before, the same faces? No, I’m still asleep.
I’d better close my eyes again. I close them.

“The language has the rhythm of a Sufi prayer; the novel offers an insight into the deepest fears of the people of Afghanistan.”—Los Angeles Times

“That sense of losing one’s identity, of being subsumed by a greater, if illogical, power, is a key theme in Atiq Rahimi’s taut, layered novel…A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is the intimate narrative…of an entire desperate, anguished country.” —Washington Post

“An intensely intimate portrait of a man (and by extension his country) questioning reality and the limits of the possible…full of elegant evocations…A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear resonates deeply because, no doubt, Rahimi has written a true and sad account, but the story could easily be that of any other Afghan, of any other denizen of this modern, anarchic state. In the end, we are left to wonder whether Rahimi has presented us with a story, a dream, or a nightmare, though it is likely all three.” —Words Without Borders

“Rahimi’s tale of confused nationality, indiscriminate punishment, desperate survival, and no clear way to safety depicts decades-old events, but it feels especially poignant amid the US-led war in Afghanistan that’s spanned the greater part of the past decade.” —Flavorwire

“An original and utterly personal account of the pressures a totalitarian society exerts on the individual in 1979 Afghanistan, before the Soviet invasion… A flawless translation does justice to Rahimi’s taut, highly calibrated prose.” —Publishers Weekly

“In prose that is spare and incisive, poetic and searing, prizewinning Afghani author Rahimi, who fled his native land in 1984, captures the distress of his people.” —Booklist, starred review
“Rahimi is an author known for his unflinching examination of his home country as much as the experimental styles in which he writes… A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear takes risks in its structure…But Rahimi’s carefully-controlled new novel exploits these uncertainties, joining the past to the present and legend with fact, creating an appropriately surreal narrative, one that rings through with truth.” —ForeWord Magazine

“A taut and brilliant burst of anguished prose….both a wonderful and a dreadful little book.” —The Guardian

“A beautiful piece of writing.” —Ruth Pavey, The Independent

“Short but powerful…The beauty of the language lends this work a haunting clarity.” —The Herald

“The novella is verbal photography…[it] seems the real thing…seamlessly translated.” —Russell Celyn Jones, The London Times

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)