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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

A Thousand Rooms
of Dream and Fear

Atiq Rahimi

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To purchase A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Title: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear
Author: Atiq Rahimi
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2006)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: Dari
Availability: A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear - US
A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear - UK
A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear - Canada
Les Mille Maisons du rêve et de la terreur - France
Der Krieg und die Liebe - Deutschland
Le mille case del sogno e del terrore - Italia
  • Tranlsated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective, if too reliant on 'dream versus reality' presentation

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 7/10/2006 Kevin Rushby
The Guardian . 8/9/2007 Isobel Montgomery
The Independent . 13/10/2006 Ruth Pavey
Independent on Sunday . 26/10/2007 Emma Hagestadt
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 9/7/2003 Carsten Hueck
New Statesman . 14/8/2006 Mary Fitzgerald
World Lit. Today . 4-6/2003 Ali Nematollahy

  From the Reviews:
  • "The tale covers only a few days in Farhad's life, but in this shard of existence we see all the tragedy of Afghanistan, and indeed a dozen other places -- Somalia, Iraq, Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir -- all those Islamic countries that have been seized by the djinn, the incubus that sits on the chest in the night. This is both a wonderful and a dreadful little book. One comes out sweating and trembling at the end, thankful for the air we breathe, thankful that no matter how bad the nightmares, we are the lucky ones who wake up in our own beds." - Kevin Rushby, The Guardian

  • "Rahimi's sketches of despair -- Fahrad's, his mother's and that of the woman who rescues him -- do not have to probe too far into horror; instead, their power lies in their economy and their cumulative sense of an inescapable tragedy." - Isobel Montgomery, The Guardian

  • "The brevity of this work, which he is adapting for the screen, and the intensity of its imagery, make reading it almost like watching a film already." - Ruth Pavey, The Independent

  • "This nightmarish, episodic novel (translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari) plays confusing narrative tricks, but is unflinching direct about the grim actuality of finding yourself looking down the wrong end of a Kalashnikov." - Emma Hagestadt, Independent on Sunday

  • "For those who like a coherent beginning, middle and end, reading this book might feel a bit like being knocked over the head. But the effect is deliberate: Atiq Rahimi distorts reality in order to challenge what we accept." - Mary Fitzgerald, New Statesman

  • "Is the narrator dreaming, having a nightmare, hallucinating, or merely dead, as he at times claims? It matters little. What form of narration can relate such an extreme world, a reality so dark that it can no longer be perceived or understood? Rahimi thus renounces the idea of representing this unbearable existence and recounts in a poetic prose reminiscent of ancient fables, legends, and epics the ruined lives of characters who have become ghosts, for whom the difference between life and death has ceased to mean anything." - Ali Nematollahy, World Literature Today

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:

       A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is set in Afghanistan in 1979; Rahimi at one point specifies the day (16 October) to make clear exactly what the domestic political situation was (shortly after the murder of head of state Nur Mohammed Taraki, with Hafizullah Amin (brutally) consolidating power), and Sarah Maguire's brief Translator's Note provides useful context for readers, reminding them of the political turmoil in the country at the time (to which the Soviets would eventually respond by invading, in December of that year; the novel ends before then, however).
       The story is narrated by Farhad, a young man who was stopped by the authorities as he tottered home after a night of drinking, past the official curfew. The beat him up and left him in the road, and a young widow, Mahnaz, took him to her house and hid him. At first Farhad is in such bad shape that he doesn't know whether he is dreaming or hallucinating or whether what he sees is real; eventually he figures out what is going on (and pieces together what happened to him). Told in short bursts, with flashbacks -- some really only flashes -- to what happened, the story doesn't unfold very straightforwardly, but does ultimately come together.
       The police return to search for Farhad, so he has to stay hidden; eventually his mother arranges for him to flee abroad (as many Afghanis did at the time -- including Farhad's father). Mahnaz is trapped in her own difficult situation, with a mentally disturbed brother-in-law in the house, as well as a young child whom she hasn't told about her father's death yet (leading Yahya, the child, to call Farhad "Father").
       The book is rife with tension, from the one between Farhad and Mahnaz -- hardly overtly sexual, but obviously profoundly affecting them: as Farhad notes, he hasn't ever been this close to a woman other than his mother or sister -- to the constant threat of violence because of the political situation. When Farhad begins to make his way to Pakistan he is then confronted with yet another threatening force, militant religious fundamentalism.
       As Farhad notes at one point:

None of this really makes any sense. Maybe because I don't want it to make any sense. Maybe because I'd rather I were having a nightmare than living my life.
       Rahimi evokes this complete despair and the unpredictable absurdity of the situation(s) -- dominated entirely by terror -- very well. He plays around a bit too much with the dream/reality divide, as Farhad finds it difficult to wake (or sober) up and face reality head-on -- but given this reality one can barely blame him.
       Incredibly bleak, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a solid novel, but can be difficult to take.

- M.A.Orthofer, 29 November 2010

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A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear: Reviews: 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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