First published in Atiq Rahimi's adopted country of France, Earth and Ashes is a story of such spareness and power it leaves the reader reeling. Set during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, it is a fable about war, family, home and tradition. An old man and his grandson sit in a deserted landscape of dusty roads and looming mountains. What are they waiting for? As we watch them, we learn their story. In one short day they have witnessed all the horrors of war: a Russian bomb, a village in flames, the death of everyone they love. Now the old man must carry the news to the coal mine where the boy's father works. Yet his arrival there will spell further tragedy when he is led to believe that his son has betrayed codes of honour that lie deep in the Afghan soul.
Atiq Rahimi has managed to condense centuries of Afghan history into this short tale of three very different generations. At the same time, he has created a story that is universal in its power. Bleak though his message is, the extraordinary beauty of his prose and the clarity of his vision offer hope and redemption.