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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



Earth and Ashes

by
Atiq Rahimi


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Earth and Ashes



Title: Earth and Ashes
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2002)
Length: 67 pages
Original in: Dari
Availability: Earth and Ashes - US
Earth and Ashes - UK
Earth and Ashes - Canada
Terre et cendres - France
Erde und Asche - Deutschland
Terra e cenere - Italia
  • Dari title: خاک و خاکستر
  • Translated by Erdağ M. Göknar
  • Earth and Ashes was made into a film in 2004, directed by the author

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Our Assessment:

B+ : powerful novella, but very, very bleak

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 9/3/2002 Stefan Weidner
The Guardian . 14/12/2002 Rachel Aspden


  From the Reviews:
  • "Erde und Asche ist vergleichbar nur mit den besten Erzählungen der modernen persischen Literatur. (...) Der Leser kommt dem im Selbstgespräch versunkenen Dagastir beklemmend nah. Man meint zu spüren, wie knapp dieser einfache Mensch angesichts seines Schicksals am Wahnsinn vorbeischrammt. (...) Die Opfer sind nicht nur Opfer, sie werden entmündigt und um ihren Schrei betrogen. Das erschütternde Buch von Atiq Rahimi ist dieser Schrei." - Stefan Weidner, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "His uncomprehending deafness mirrors the book's own strangeness: filtered through Dastaguir's apathetic gaze, its gathered fragments remain oddly unaffecting. This distance from the reader is partially a cultural gap. Translated from Dari, the prose is frequently florid or unidiomatic. For foreign readers, Rahimi simply tries to do too much in a small space. Oblique references to Persian epic and Afghan codes of honour aim to transform his slight story into a parable of Afghan history; if these go unnoticed, most of its resonance is lost." - Rachel Aspden, The Guardian

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Earth and Ashes is a novella of only sixty-seven pages, set on a single day, with barely any action. Dastaguir has traveled with his grandson, Yassin, to the mine where his son -- and the boy's father -- Murad works. Murad left their village four years earlier, and he has only been back four times since -- though most recently just a month earlier. Grandfather and grandson wait to hitch a ride for the last stretch, encountering only a few people -- among them the guard on the road and a shopkeeper.
       Slowly, Dastaguir's story can be pieced together, as it is explained why he is here now, and, for example, why the young boy is now deaf (though the boy himself barely realizes it). The story is set during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. While not indomitable, the foreigners are a powerful presence and the crushing force they can apply directly -- and horribly -- affected Dastaguir and the village he comes from; they also control the mine where Murad works.
       Back in the village, years earlier, Murad had smashed a neighbor on the head with a spade -- "without asking questions or waiting for answers" -- for making untoward advances to his wife, and he had been sentenced to six months in prison. The reaction may have been hot-headed, but that seems to have been how Murad reacted to such outrages; how, Dastaguir now wonders, will Murad react to the news he brings ?
       At the mine Dastaguir learns Murad is considered an exemplary worker:

Next week we'll be sending him on a literacy course. He'll learn to read and write. One day he'll hold an important post. We're sending him because he's a model mine worker who earns respect for being an enlightene, hard-working youth who's committed to the revolution ...
       Has Murad turned away from tradition and family, and embraced the ways of the outsiders ? Has he forgotten what matters ? It all turns out to be more complicated; it also turns out that Dastaguir and Murad and Yassin have been entirely disenfranchised, powerless against those who can much more easily (and forcefully) impose their will. Ultimately, too, there is nowhere for them to turn, and Dastaguir and Yassin will, essentially, walk back out into the wilderness, as their world has been taken from them.
       Dastaguir's account is in the second person, as if -- practically disembodied -- he can't speak of himself in the first any longer. This serves to all the more intently focus the story as his. Everything here is bleak: the conditions, what has happened to these characters, their future.
       The often spare and elliptical narration, and the very effective descriptions of the weariness and worry of the most simple actions and exchanges, work very well. This is a powerful, understated work -- but in conveying the complete crushing of these souls so well is also horribly, horribly bleak.

- M.A.Orthofer, 6 August 2010

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Links:

Earth and Ashes: Reviews: Earth and Ashes - the film: Other books by Atiq Rahimi under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Atiq Rahimi (عتیق رحیمی) was born in Afghanistan in 1962, and has lived in France since 1984.

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© 2010 the complete review

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