Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 18, 2011

The Patience Stone (2008), by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Polly McLean

The position of women in many Islamic countries is an anachronism in the modern world, and this book, The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi is said to be a raw expose of what that oppression is like.  It won Le Prix Goncourt in 2008 and it’s been widely praised, but for me, the blunt style, crude language and preoccupation with sex marks it as the work of a man, and a man who’s been living in the west for a while at that.  I don’t agree with the assertion that it represents the silent voice of Afghan women at all.

The Afghan Women’s Writing Project, on the other hand, speaks volumes about their situation, in authentic women’s voices.  To illustrate what I mean by that, read Travelling Alone’ by ‘Mariam’.  ‘Mariam’ who can’t use her full name[1], thinks she is ‘a lucky woman to be given permission by [her] husband and family to travel outside [their] country on [her] own’ (underlining mine).  Read Behind Bars’ and note that women are in gaol for ‘escaping from the home’.  Read Blue Like the Sky’  to feel the pressure on girls to wear the Burqa and Seeta’s poem Under Burqa  to understand how it is both gaol and protection to wear it.

I wonder what these women of great dignity and courage would make of this strange fantasy by Rahimi, I really do…

[1] The AWWP projects site says in its Security Notice on the Home Page that ‘the security situation can be difficult for many women in Afghanistan, especially those who are determined to further their education or those who frankly tell their stories. Out of concern for their safety, this blog will not use family names or specific locators’.

For other reviews of The Patience Stone, see The Complete Review. They rate it B+.

Author: Atiq Rahimi
Title: The Patience Stone
Translator: Polly McLean
Publisher: Other Press, New York 2008
ISBN: 9781590513446
Source: Loan – thanks, Jenny!


  1. If only we could get more people to read books such as this one, perhaps understanding would follow.


  2. I read this Lisa I found it eye opening the way women are treat and viewed by the men is just terrible ,I had notice that is overly male but I am a man so’ll take your word on it was upset it didn’t make IIFP long list it had been on my list for last year ,all the best stu


    • Hi Stu, maybe it didn’t get through to the IIFP because it’s a novella? It’s only 142 pages long so maybe it wasn’t eligible?
      I know I am in the minority about it; it came recommended by a discerning friend and of course it has won a distinguished prize. I’m not disputing that the abuse she (as an EveryWoman) suffered isn’t common. But I could not imagine any of the Afghan women I’ve met or read about using such crude language or rejoicing in making such revelations no matter what the provocation, especially not after a lifetime of suppression cloaked in religiosity. It doesn’t seem psychologically or culturally true to me. It seems like a Western grunge movie being made to fit an ancient Persian myth.
      But if it makes people care about what’s going on, I guess it’s a good thing.


  3. Thanks for drawing my attention to the The Afghan Women’s Writing Project. And of course, your honest critique about the book.


  4. An interesting, and honest, take as per usual, Lisa! I’m intrigued now. Perhaps the crudity of the language etc was a result of the translation?


    • Hi Kim, back from Ireland, you lucky lady:)
      I don’t know how the process of translating the crude language came about: our bilingual friend BookAroundTheCorner would be better placed to answer whether less extreme language is used in the original French. But even if it is, I felt there was something not quite right about it. I mean, in all sorts of situations one might use crude words as an expression of anger or frustration, and it’s a matter of culture, age, sex, social class maybe, which ones get used. Some words even in the anything-goes West are still taboo; some tend to be used only in extreme situations, and some are ok for everyday moments. People younger than me seem not to have the same sense of discretion that applied to my generation i.e. swear at home or with your friends if you must but don’t do it in front of old ladies, ministers of religion, school-teachers or the police. Most of us, however, would be circumspect in the presence of impending death.
      Here Adiq Rahimi is trying to portray a very angry woman breaking out of her oppression and able to articulate all the wrongs done to her through her husband as a Patience Stone. It’s not meant to be realism but it does need to be credible within the created world. Showing her going from repressed meek-and-mild victim of oppression straight to foul-mouthed screaming harridan using taboo words didn’t seem authentic. The way she spoke was more like the way an angry man would speak, or a very young, very hip, confrontational young feminist who wants to shock others out of their complacency would speak. Almost as if the author wants Afghan women to speak out and challenge their oppressors??


  5. […] by Atiq Rahimi was an unconvincing attempt by a male author to represent oppressed Afghani women (see my terse review) and I suspect that the choice had more to do with politics than literature.  But The Great […]


  6. […] the culture and experiences of others, and I do not want to get into that*.  But this book (like The Patience Stone) is written by a male author purporting to be a woman under the veil.  Written in a culture that […]


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