Atiq Rahimi was born in Kabul in 1962. In the year he entered the French Lycée Esteqlal, the Afghan monarchy fell. His father, Governor of the District Panshir-Tal, was arrested to disappear without a trace for four years. A second coup in 1978 was followed by the Soviet invasion. Rahimi studied literature and avoided military service by fleeing to Pakistan in 1984. He sought political asylum in France, where he first studied in Rouen and later completed his doctorate in audiovisual communication at the Sorbonne.
In 1996, the Taliban came to power in Kabul and Rahimi, while working as a documentary film maker in France, wrote his first novel, »Chākestar o Chāk« (Engl. Earth and Ashes, 2002). It was published in French four years later and went on to become a best-seller after the September 11th attacks. The author brings together influences from modern Western literature, especially brevity of description and cinematic cutting and editing of scenes, with the ›flowery‹ tradition of Eastern narratives. The novel tells the story of a man whose town has been razed by soviet troops. No one but he and his grandson, who has lost his hearing as a result of the attack, have survived. On the way to the remote mine where his son works, the old man talks to himself continuously, trying to find a way to come to terms with his grief and to fathom a way to tell his son what has happened. The horror of the war is made to seem all the more piercing by the poetically laconic, almost cool way in which Rahimi evokes it. The film adaptation of the book, directed by Rahimi, received awards at several international film festivals including those in Cannes, New Delhi and Zanzibar.
In Rahimi’s work, the hopelessness of war is always juxtaposed with oases of safety, pockets of humanity’s resistance. In »Hesārchāne-ye chāb wa echtenāg« (2002; Engl. A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear, 2007), a man out after curfew is captured by soldiers and severely beaten. He is rescued by a woman who has lost her husband in a similar situation, but the experience of violence and the fear of death stay with him – even after he has fled to safety in Pakistan. Rahimi’s latest novel, »Syngué sabour« (2008; t: The stone of patience) is the first that he has written in French. Central to the novel is a woman devoted to caring for her husband, who is paralysed as a result of being shot in the neck. Without knowing whether or not he can hear her, she speaks more and more freely about her feelings of marital, social and religious oppression. The novel was awarded the prestigious Prix Goncourt literary prize.
Rahimi returned to his homeland for the first time in 2002 and now lives there part of the time. He is involved in various cultural and political activities working to rebuild Afghan society. Among other things, he has founded a writer’s centre and developed Afghanistan’s first soap opera. A publishing house is currently being set up.
© international literature festival berlin