There is a passage that I keep coming back to again and again from fairly early in the novel where a historian who has spent his life writing a history of the country he knows best (has in fact written 44,338 pages of the book) is burning his manuscript. It takes him "over twenty trips" to carry the pages into the woods where he has built a fire. At one point Marra tells us:
Khassan was studying the sheet of paper in his hand, where in the fifth sentence of the second paragraph, in the gap of a missing comma, he found the sorrow of his life.For any of us who try to make our way through the written word, we've known something like Khassan's despair. We strive continuously for perfectionism, only to find the missing commas and the gaps filled with our sorrow.
I'm haunted not just by the despair that drives Khassan to burn his life's work and not just by the laborious pursuit of impossible perfection, but by the stories--the lives--that are also transformed to ashes. Once burned, they are dead forever. They can never exist again, not in another's telling, not in a revised attempt, not in the vegetable matter that will grow from the ashes.