In Islamic legend, “The Patience Stone” is a rock which absorbs all the anguish one confesses to it. In this very simple, very sparse novel by Afghan author and filmmaker, Atiq Rahimi, he uses the metaphor of the Patience Stone to craft a very intense story.
Set almost entirely in one room of an Afghan woman’s house during the civil war, in the years after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Her husband, presumably a fighter for the Mujahideen, lies gravely injured and in a coma, his eyes open. His young wife cares for him and speaks to him, with the hopes that he will emerge from his coma and return to her. But the longer he lies there, the longer the frustration mounts and soon her inert husband becomes something of a “patience stone” to which she confesses all the sins and secrets of her life.
While she confesses her sins, her secrets, her sexual desires, the truth of her family life, her true feelings about the husband she barely knows, the war rages around her. Her confessional is often interrupted by gunfire outside her home, exploding shells (which forces her - and the couple’s two young daughters to take shelter in the basement), along with unwanted visits from the local Imam and the old water bearer, who speaks in gibberish. There are also other uninvited guests - prowling Mujahideen who are looking to make off with people’s belongings as well as a sexual conquest or two.
It is during one of these visits where the woman is accosted by a Mujahideen fighter and nearly raped - until she convinces him that she is a prostitute. But this doesn’t seem to matter to a very young fighter, who drops by the home more often than once to sleep with her. Does she do so out of pity, frustration or to take revenge on her husband? The more the woman confesses, the more light is shed on their marriage. All of this leads to a very explosive ending.
It is a very short novel - more like a novella - but within its 130 pages is a glimpse of the lives of many Afghan women and how they struggle to navigate their personal needs and the patriarchal culture in which they are a part of. It is the first time in her life where she can speak freely, uncensored. The effect is that of a woman losing her mind but for the first time in her life, she sees things much clearer than she ever had before. It is a brave act, one that many women of this culture feel but are unable to express. Here is a glimpse into the mind and soul of an Afghan woman. Recommended.