Cover image for Earth and ashes
Earth and ashes
Rahimi, Atiq.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Khākistar va khvāb. English
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harcourt, Inc., [2002]

Physical Description:
81 pages ; 19 cm
Electronic Access:
Publisher description
Format :


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When the Soviet army arrives in Afghanistan, the elderly Dastaguir witnesses the destruction of his village and the death of his clan. His young grandson Yassin, deaf from the sounds of the bombing, is one of the few survivors. The two set out through an unforgiving landscape, searching for the coal mine where Murad, the old man's son and the boy's father, works. They reach their destination only to learn that they must wait and rely for help on all that remains to them: a box of chewing tobacco, some unripe apples, and the kindness of strangers.
Haunting in its spareness, Earth and Ashes is a tale of devastating loss, but also of human perseverance in the face of madness and war.

Author Notes

Born in Kabul in 1962, Atiq Rahimi was seventeen years old when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. He left the country during the war, eventually obtaining political asylum in France. Rahimi now lives in Paris, where he makes documentary films. Earth and Ashes is his first book.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

War and prejudice are predicted on the belief that the enemy, or the "other," is less than human. Fiction is a powerful antidote to this ideology of hate, and in this time of unmitigated conflict and suffering throughout the Islamic world, fiction that unveils the hearts of innocent people who bear the brunt of terrorism and tyranny is of immeasurable import. Such a novel is documentary filmmaker Rahimi's tautly dramatic debut in which an anguished Afghani man makes the difficult journey to a distant coal mine to tell his son that their village was bombed by the Russians. Everyone in their family was killed except for him and his young grandson, who lost his hearing during the assault. Rahimi left Afghanistan during the Afghani-Soviet war, and now deftly distills his homeland's ongoing tragedy in a spare yet richly nuanced and broadly illuminating tale of one father's grief, of sorrow so immense it's nearly hallucinatory. But Dastaguir's despair makes perfect sense; the politics and violence that caused the deaths of his loved ones are what is aberrant. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The devastation of Afghanistan during the Soviet war is succinctly and piercingly conveyed in Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi (trans. from the Persian by Erdag M. Goknar), a novella-length account of an old man's futile journey. Dastaguir and his grandson Yassin wait beside a guard post on the road to the mine where Dastaguir's son Murad works. The family's village has been bombed, and everyone else in the family is dead; Yassin was deafened by the attack. While he waits for a ride to the mine, Dastaguir is visited by fantastic visions ("You find yourself standing on the branch of a jujube tree, stark naked"). The blasted dreamscape of Rahimi's story and his tightly controlled prose make this a sobering literary testament to the horrors of war. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

After the invading Soviets destroy their village, an elderly Afghani takes his grandson on a quest to find the boy's father. The Paris-based Rahimi, a documentary filmmaker now trying his hand at fiction, fled Afghanistan at the time of the invasion. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



"I'm hungry."You take an apple from the scarf you've tied into a bundle and wipe it on your dusty shirt. The apple just gets dirtier. You put it back in the bundle and pull out another, cleaner one, which you give to your grandson, Yassin, who is sitting next to you, his head resting on your tired arm. The child takes it in his small, dirty hands and brings it to his mouth. His front teeth haven't come through yet. He tries to bite with his canines. His hollow, chapped cheeks twitch. His narrow eyes become narrower. The apple is sour. He wrinkles up his small nose and gasps.With your back to the autumn sun, you are squatting against the iron railings of the bridge that links the two banks of the dry riverbed north of Pul-i-Khumri. The road connecting Northern Afghanistan to Kabul passes over this very bridge. If you turn left on the far side of the bridge, onto the dirt track that winds between the scrub-covered hills, you arrive at the Karkar coal mine....The sound of Yassin whimpering tears your thoughts away from the mine. Look, your grandson can't bite the apple. Where's that knife? You search your pockets and find it. Taking the apple from his hands, you cut it in half, then in half again, and hand the pieces back to him. You put the knife in a pocket and fold your arms over your chest.You haven't had any naswar for a while. Where's the tin? You search your pockets again. Eventually you find it and put a pinch of naswar in your mouth. Before returning the tin to your pocket, you glance at your reflection in its mirrored lid. Your narrow eyes are set deep in their sockets. Time has left its mark on the surrounding skin, a web of sinuous lines like thirsty worms waiting around a hole. The turban on your head is unraveling. Its weight forces your head into your shoulders. It is covered with dust. Maybe it's the dust that makes it so heavy. Its original color is no longer apparent. The sun and the dust have turned it gray...Put the box back. Think of something else. Look at something else.You put the tin back into one of your pockets. You draw your hand over your gray-streaked beard, then clasp your knees and stare at your tired shadow which merges with the orderly shadows cast by the railings of the bridge.An army truck, a red star on its door, passes over the bridge. It disturbs the stony sleep of the dry earth. The dust rises. It engulfs the bridge then settles. Silently it covers everything, dusting the apples, your turban, your eyelids...You put your hand over Yassin's apple to shield it."Don't!" your grandson shouts. Your hand prevents him from eating."You want to eat dust, child?""Don't!"Leave him alone. Keep yourself to yourself. The dust fills your mouth and nostrils. You spit your naswar out next to five other small green plugs on the ground. With the loose flap of your turban, you cover your nose and mouth. You look over at the far end of the bridge, at the road to the mine. At the black wooden hut of the guard p Excerpted from Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.