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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Patience Stone

Atiq Rahimi

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To purchase The Patience Stone

Title: The Patience Stone
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 143 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Patience Stone - US
The Patience Stone - UK
The Patience Stone - Canada
Syngué Sabour - Canada
Syngué Sabour - France
Stein der Geduld - Deutschland
Pietra di pazienza - Italia
  • French title: Syngué Sabour
  • Translated by Polly McLean
  • With an Introduction by Khaled Hosseini
  • Awarded the Prix Goncourt, 2008

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a bit forced, but fairly effective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 19/11/2009 Joseph Hanimann
The Guardian . 24/4/2010 Maya Jaggi
The Independent . 26/2/2010 Alev Adil
The LA Times . 17/1/2010 Susan Salter Reynolds
The National . 24/9/2009 Atossa Abrahamian
NZZ . 15/12/2009 Angela Schader
The Observer . 23/1/2011 Olivia Laing
Svenska Dagbladet . 24/9/2009 Jeana Jarlsbo
TLS . 12/2/2010 Charlotte Bailey
Die Zeit . 1/10/2009 Elisabeth Knoblauch

  From the Reviews:
  • "Atiq Rahimi (...) beschreibt in äußerst verknappter und zugleich poetischer Prosa, wie Beiläufiges in Geschichtsträchtiges mündet und umgekehrt. (...) Mag auch die Präzision der Darstellung, wenn der Stein der Geduld am Ende des Romans zerspringt, in einer plötzlichen Handlungswende dramatisch und bedeutungsschwer entgleisen: Das Buch erzählt die fesselnde, unterschwellig auch witzige Geschichte eines Befreiungsakts, der nicht auf Abwendung von den alten Banden, sondern auf Zuwendung setzt zu allem, was bindet." - Joseph Hanimann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "While the novel seems more akin to a play or film scenario than fiction, it can, in Polly McLean's translation, have a spare poetry" - Maya Jaggi, The Guardian

  • "The novel takes places in the terrain between allegory and melodrama. The woman is every woman and no woman at all. Although Rahimi creates a specific person, he never attempts to create much empathy. The woman pays a terrible price for self-revelation and the reader gains no more insight than might be gleaned from a garbled nightmare inspired by a late night-news item about the atrocities in Afghanistan." - Alev Adil, The Independent

  • "The Patience Stone is perfectly written: spare, close to the bone, sometimes bloody, with a constant echo, like a single mistake that repeats itself over and over and over." - Susan Salter Reynolds, The Los Angeles Times

  • "As the woman’s confessions -- often deeply personal and explicit -- pile up, it becomes clear that Rahimi has a considerable preoccupation with the physical in general and the sexual in particular. (...) The men of Syngué Sabour, however, come off as uniformly damaged on this front, riddled with insecurities and terrified of women wanting or enjoying sex." - Atossa Abrahamian, The National

  • "Der 2008 erschienene Roman wurde umgehend mit dem Prix Goncourt gekrönt: ein Siegel literarischen Gelingens oder lediglich eine Reverenz an die Auseinandersetzung mit einem 'politisch korrekten' Thema? Die Lektüre des Romans entlässt einen über lange Zeit nicht restlos aus dieser Ambivalenz, die aber letztlich diesen Stein der Geduld auch zum Prüfstein eigener Sichtweisen werden lässt." - Angela Schader, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "This ambiguous scrap of myth is squeezed for every last drop of irony in what amounts to both an act of political courage and a beautifully constructed, deeply memorable novella." - Olivia Laing, The Observer

  • "Vid läsningen av romanen slås man av dess teaterliknande iscensättning. Berättarens iakttagelser kan snarare beskrivas som scenanvisningar, medan kvinnan med sin långa monolog ger intryck av att vända sig direkt till en västerländsk publik. Och därmed blir Rahimi mindre övertygande då en del av hennes kommentarer om sexualitet kan upplevas som rena rama effektsökeriet." - Jeana Jarlsbo, Svenska Dagbladet

  • "Polly McLean's translation captures the novel's use of linguistic experiment to convey self-exploration. (...) The text is rich in symbolism" - Charlotte Bailey, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Stein der Geduld ist ein höchst verdichtetes, beklemmendes Stück Literatur. Betörend dabei ist die zärtliche, poetische Sprache Rahimis, die über all die Abgründe und Nöte der menschlichen Seele trägt, ihnen Gehalt gibt, sie entblättert, und sie trotz aller Gräuel in einem humanen Licht darstellt." - Elisabeth Knoblauch, Die Zeit

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:

       The Patience Stone centers on an Afghani woman tending to her comatose husband, a jihadist who was shot but did not die of his wound. When the novel begins he has been at home, in this state, for sixteen days.
       While the man appears to be in no condition to perceive what is going on around him, almost the entire books is written from what would be his perspective: what he would see and hear, if he were conscious. Over the course of the story, the woman ventures out of the room she keeps him in -- but the narrative does not follow her. Sounds from outside the room are discernible -- including the sounds of war, tanks rumbling by, guns being fired -- and others' voices can sometimes be made out, but beyond what can be inferred from what is overheard ("She goes out of the room. We hear her waking the children") the only reports of what actually happens outside come from the woman's accounts ("Bewildered, she comes back. 'The door ... our door onto the street has been destroyed'"). The couple has two daughters, but for the most part they are kept at a distance; only once do they venture in to see their father.
       The woman talks to her husband, growing bolder in how she unburdens herself as the novel progresses. He becomes her sang-e saboor, her 'patience stone', a magical stone her father-in-law had told her about:

"You talk to it, and talk to it. And the stone listens, absorbing all your words, all your secrets, until one fine day it explodes. Bursts into tiny pieces." She cleans and moistens the man's eyes. "And on that day you are set free from all your pain, all your suffering ...
       As it turns out, the woman has quite a few secrets -- and also shares quite a few thoughts that she would never have otherwise dared share with her husband; indeed:
We've been married ten years. Ten years ! And it's only in these last three weeks that I'm finally sharing something with you.
       She describes how they came to be married -- how she was first engaged to the man for a year, and then married in absentia (since he was off fighting the good fight), and how they only first met three years after they were married. She complains about his sexual ineptness (and reveals considerably more that strikes right at the heart of his puffed-up manhood). She has little respect for his cause, or much of their shared religion (at least in how it is interpreted by mullahs and men): other than her father-in-law, the men in her life have all treated her poorly, just as men have treated her aunt, mother, and sisters poorly.
       Fighters come into the home at one point, leading the woman to claim to be a prostitute, since she knows that ruse will spare her being raped: Afghani men, at least of this ilk, need sex to be a show of power and dominance. As she explains to her husband after the men have left:
Men like him are afraid of whores. And do you know why ? I'll tell you, my sang-e saboor: when you fuck a whore, you don't dominate her body. It's a matter of exchange. You give her money, and she gives you pleasure. And I can tell you that often she's the dominant one. It's she who is fucking you." The woman calms down. Her voice serene, she continues, "So, raping a whore is not rape. But raping a young girl's virginity, a woman's honor ! Now that's your creed !"
       The Patience Stone condemns the prevailing male pride and male attitudes, and in showing how feeble male concepts of honor are Rahimi also mocks them: behind the scenes, women 'dishonor' men in a variety of ways. Helpless, the man now gets his comeuppance: "I was a piece of meat into which you could stuff your dirty dick" and nothing more, the woman notes -- and now all that is left of him is his body, a helpless lump of meat.
       The man and woman, never named, are a nameless everyman (and woman), typical, Rahimi suggests, for all of Afghanistan. If the text feels somewhat programmatic -- the author hammers home his message quite bluntly -- Rahimi does manage a few nice twists and surprises. More importantly, he's found an effective way of telling the story: the woman is the central figure and voice, but exists -- in the novel -- only in proximity to her husband. When she leaves his side, the narrative does not follow her, but rather remains with the inert man. What happens in the outside world reverberates in here -- the war continues, and some of the destruction reaches here too -- but this is an entirely domestic tale.
       The conclusion, too, is fairly well done, though it too feels a bit forced; still, of the possible resolutions it almost seems the most ... reasonable one.
       Rahimi wrote his first books in Dari, but The Patience Stone was written in French. It seems a shame: this novel, even more than his earlier ones, addresses Afghani conditions that surely need to be aired and discussed there. One hopes that it will eventually find an audience there, where it really matters, -- and, for example, be taught in the schools. Alas, for now that looks highly unlikely.

- M.A.Orthofer, 31 January 2010

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The Patience Stone: Reviews: Other books by Atiq Rahimi under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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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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