A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Sarah Maguire and Yama Yari
Published by Other Press

Kabul, 1979. It is the early days of the Soviet invasion, but for Farhad life does not yet seem particularly different. This happy naivete does not last long, however. Something happens while Farhad is out carousing with a friend preparing to flee to Pakistan, and the young man is severely beaten. When Farhad finally awakes, grievously  injured, he finds himself in the house of a young widow Рa woman whose life has already been greatly impacted by the presence of the Soviet soldiers.

Typically when I read, I like big meaty paragraphs, with lots of words to latch onto. Spare pages make me a bit nervous; “can this author really impart enough in these few words?” I wonder. Oftentimes, the answer is no. However, with “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear,” the answer is yes. Some rudimentary knowledge of the situation in Afghanistan in the late 1970s is necessary to understand what is going on, but even knowing something so simple as the fact the Soviets invaded is, really, sufficient. With that firmly in mind, the atmosphere of a country at war is incredibly evident as Farhad drifts in and out of consciousness, as well as the reality he finds in the young widow’s house when he wakes up.

The prose is simply gorgeous, and incredibly evocative. This is all the more stunning as “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear” is a translation. Maguire and Yari are very skilled indeed, to take Rahimi’s stark, poetic prose and render it lovely in English, without losing the sense of place and import.

This may not be a book for every reader, but for those who revel in writing and the power of language to evoke emotion, as well as those interested in feeling what it might be like to live in an occupied country, I highly recommend “A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear.”

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9 comments to A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear by Atiq Rahimi – Book Review

  • It’s funny, but I said a lot of the same exact things in my review. I am the same way with words, I like them. When I saw not only the sparseness but the brevity of this book, I was concerned. Rahimi and his translators pull it off. Looking forward to BOOK CLUB.

  • thanks for sharing. I thought THOUSAND ROOMS was excellent. Read THE PATIENCE STONE by Rahimi — just as good.

  • I read Earth and Ashes by the same author. It was told in second person and it made me feel distant from the characters.

    • I’m not sure I could handle second person for an entire book, even one that is closer to a novella. I wouldn’t say I felt particularly close to any of the characters in this book, but I also didn’t feel that the distance was off-putting, as I do sometimes.

  • I’m psyched about this one; I love other press.

  • Yeah, but when sparse works, it WORKS. It can knock me down quicker and more efficiently than 900 pages of flowery detail. I think I need to look into this one.

  • This sounds like one of those powerful, rare gems. I’ve read a couple of novels set in Afghanistan recently, though none really felt complete to me. I’m interested in this one and will look into it.

  • After enjoying The Patience Stone and now reading your favorable review of Rahimi’s novel I guess I need to add one more book to my “to read” list.
    Thanks !