Earth and Ashes, by Atiq Rahimi.
Over the four years Murad has worked at the mine, you haven't had a single chance to visit him. It's been four years since he entrusted his young wife and his son Yassin to you and left for the mine to earn his living.
The truth is, Murad wanted to flee the village and its inhabitants. He wanted to go far away. So he left ... Thank God he left. - from Earth and Ashes, page 12 -
Dastaguir, an Afghan man, is traveling to see his son who years earlier left his village to work in the mines. Dastaguir's young grandson, Yassin, accompanies him. As they sit waiting for a ride to the mine, dust billows around them and the reader learns that Yassin is newly deaf after a Russian attack on Dastaguir's village has left its mark.
Written in the second person point of view, Earth and Ashes is a poignant, heartbreaking novella about grief and the family bonds between father and son. Rahimi has distilled down centuries of Afghan history into this short tale about a father's journey to deliver the devastating news of war to a son who he has not seen for years. The prose is stark, yet surprisingly poetic. Rahimi's economical delivery of the story makes its impact dramatic. Squeezed into 67 short pages, Earth and Ashes covers large themes such as loss, identity, and the heavy weight of grief.
Rahimi's ability to develop complete and empathetic characters using very few words speaks volumes about his talent. He captures the innocence of childhood brilliantly in his portrayal of Yassin who does not understand his own deafness, but instead believes the Russian bombs have stolen the voices of those around him.
"They must've come and taken the voice of the shopkeeper and the voice of the guard ... Grandfather, have the Russians come and taken away everyone's voice? What do they do with all the voices? Why did you let them take away your voice? If you hadn't, would they've killed you? Grandma didn't give them her voice and she's dead. If she were here, she'd tell me the story of Baba Kharkash ... No, if she were here, she'd have no voice ..." - from Earth and Ashes, page 32 -
Readers might be interested to learn that Earth and Ashes has been adapted to film which was in the Official Selection at Cannes in 2004 and went on to win several prizes.
Rahimi's slim novella packs a big punch. Readers who enjoy literary fiction and works in translation, will want to pick up a copy of this book.
Four and a half stars out of five.
Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".