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Atiq Rahimi: خاک و خاکستر (Earth and Ashes)

Rahimi’s first novel was very short but still made quite an impact. An old man, Dagastir, lives in a village with his family. His son, Murad, attacks a man who was making eyes at his (Murad’s) wife, Zaynab. The man is injured so Murad is sent to jail for six months. When he gets out, he decides to leave the village, leaving behind his wife and child, to go and work in the mines. Murad visits the village rarely. One day, pro-Russian government forces come to recruit soldiers but the young men hide or flee. The government forces loot and pillage so young men from the neighbouring village attack and kill them during the night. The next day the Russians come and bomb the village to smithereens. Virtually everyone is killed, except for Dagastir and his grandson, Yassin, who has gone deaf because of the noise of the bombs. Dagastir feels that he has to tell Murad and he and Yassin set off for the mine. At the start of the story, they are waiting at a guard post for a lorry to pass by, which can give them a lift to the mine.

Yassin has gone deaf but does not understand why. He thinks that the Russians have stolen the voices of everyone who speaks to him, including his grandfather. Dagastir, meanwhile, falls into a reverie, where he dreams of the bombs, of his son and of his daughter-in-law, whom he saw dying. Rahimi draws out the long wait for the lorry, as Dagastir keeps asking the guard when a lorry might come and ends up sitting in the tea shop where the kindly owner gives him tea. Eventually, a lorry comes and eventually Dagastir gets to the mine but there is, of course, a slight twist.

Rahimi skilfully gives us a picture of the devastation caused by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, without actually showing any Soviet soldiers, only their effect on Dagastir, Yassin, Mirza Qadir (owner of the teashop) and what they saw. It is very effective and clearly written by a man with a poet’s heart but also a man who has learned of the great suffering in his country and who, in a short novel, shows clearly how he feels.

Publishing history

First published 2002 by Varjavand
First published in English 2002 by Harcourt Books
Translated by Erdağ M. Göknar