A haunting 2012 novella from Peter Hobbs, the author of the Impac Prize-shortlisted ‘The Short Day Dying’ and the short story collection ‘I Could Ride All Day in my Cool Blue Train’. Hobbs never wastes a word in this bleak yet somehow uplifting story of a man all but broken by a monstrous injustice who slowly comes to life again.
It’s a first-person narrative and I’m not sure the narrator is named. He has returned to his village in Afghanistan after being summarily thrown in jail for an innocent infraction of the harsh code of honour in his culture. As a young man he dared to look on the daughter of a prominent local with adoration. He must navigate the brutal prison system while keeping his sanity intact.
The power of the novella lies in what’s not spoken. What happened to his family? Where is his beloved? On return to the village he is taken in by a kindly scholar and nursed back to health, despite the daughter of the household’s deep disdain. The family orchard with its pomegranate trees, lushly described, is deeply healing, but outside his zone of safety attitudes are hardening and beyond the novels bounds we intuit the suffering that will shortly engulf the region. We’re left with a fragile sense of hope in a short but profound work which garnered deserved praise from Hisham Matat, Sarah Hall and Kamila Shamsie.
‘In the Orchard, The Swallows’ by Peter Hobbs, Faber