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In a story inspired by the Persian folk tale about a patience stone that will bring about the apocalypse after exploding from absorbing too much hardship, a resentful woman sits beside her brain-dead war soldier husband, talking endlessly about her grievances--and a dire secret.
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Atiq Rahimi was born in Afghanistan in 1962, but fled to France in 1984. There he has become renowned as a maker of documentary and feature films, and as a writer. The film of his novel Earth and Ashes was in the Official Selection at Cannes in 2004 and won a number of prizes. He is currently adapting another of his novels, A Thousand Rooms of Dreams and Fear, for the screen. Since 2001 Rahimi has returned to Afghanistan to set up a Writers’ House in Kabul and to offer support and training to young Afghan writers and filmmakers. He lives in Paris.
Polly McLean is a freelance translator based in Oxford, England. Previous translations include titles by Catherine Deneuve and Sylvia Kristel (star of the Emmanuelle films) as well as the award-winning Secret by Philippe Grimbert
The room is bare. Bare of decoration. Except on the wall between the two windows, where someone has hung a small khanjar and, above the khanjar, a photo, of a man with a moustache. He is perhaps thirty years old. Curly hair. Square face, bracketed by a pair of neatly tended sideburns. His black eyes shine. They are small, separated by a hawklike nose. The man is not laughing, and yet seems as if he’s holding back a laugh. This gives him a strange expression, that of a man inwardly mocking those who look at him. The photo is in black and white, hand-colored in drab tones. Facing this photo, at the foot of a wall, the same man–older now–is lying on a red mattress on the floor. He has a beard. Pepper and salt. He is thinner. Too thin. Nothing but skin and bones. Pale.Wrinkled. His nose more hawklike than ever. He still isn’t laughing, and still looks strangely mocking. His mouth is half-open. His eyes, even smaller now, have retreated into their sockets. His gaze is fixed on the ceiling, on the exposed, blackened, rotting beams. His arms lie passive along his sides. Beneath the translucent skin, his veins like exhausted worms twine around the jutting bones of his body. On his left wrist he wears a wind-up watch, and on the ring finger a gold wedding band. A catheter drips clear liquid into the crook of his arm from a plastic pouch attached to the wall just above his head. The rest of his body is covered
by a long blue shirt, embroidered at collar and cuffs. His legs, stiff as two stakes, are buried under a white sheet. A dirty sheet. A hand, a woman’s hand, is resting on his chest, over his heart, moving up and down in time with his breath. The woman is seated. Legs pulled up and into her chest. Head bundled between her knees. Her dark hair–very dark, and long–flows over her slumped shoulders, echoing the regular movement of her arm.
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