A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear
Set in Kabul in 1979, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a surreal and beautiful account of the experiences of a young man who wakes up in the home of a widow following an altercation with checkpoint guards. Almost poetic in its descriptions, one sees the story develop through the cloudy and confused eyes of Farhad. Alternating between his lucid dreams and what actually is occurring around him, the reader is tossed into his confusion, in understanding how he ended up in the home of a widow, and why her son addresses him as ‘father’.
The structure that Rahimi uses is quite unique as it flows much like a poem, rather than a chronological story, but I felt that this technique was successful because it illustrated how confusing and simple it was for the protagonist to end up in his position, being protected by the widow, despite the danger that it would cause her.
While initially I was uneasy about the unstructured format of the novel, I eventually grew to appreciate it. However, by the time the plot began to gain momentum, the novel was finished, and I wished it were longer. The disconnected and dream-like voice of the author is effective in showing the emotions and confusion of being in the midst of political and religious unrest. We see the protagonist’s journey in trying to understand what is actually occurring around him. The lack of structure demonstrates the lack of stability that Farhad has, even as he gains consciousness.
The female characters in the novel are quite significant, as they are the ones that protect and save Farhad. The widow, in particular, is a character that I wish were developed more, and one of the main reasons why I wished that the novel were longer. She is not a romantic object for Farhad, even though he has a fleeting attraction to her. Instead, she acts as a maternal figure to him when he is recovering from his attack. In learning about her past, we learn more about the volatile atmosphere in Kabul, and eventually, how simple it was to have your life completely altered.
We eventually learn that Farhad was a university student, who had his life endangered because of an evening that involved too much drinking. Illustrating the relationship between the political and the personal, Rahimi shows how even the life of an uninvolved young man could be unravelled by the political unrest of the time. I wondered how much of Farhad’s voice reflected the experiences of Rahimi. The author exited Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979, the same year in which the novel is set. Rahimi eventually settled in France, where he is a filmmaker and writer.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and I thought it was one of the strongest novels I have read this year. It is an easy, beautiful, and somewhat heartbreaking read.