Imagery is descriptive language that helps the reader develop a picture, or image, of what is being described. Figurative language is a special way of comparing things to give the reader an image. In the prologue, Khadra opens with this image.
In the middle of nowhere, a whirlwind spins like a sorceress flinging her skirts in a macabre dance… (p. 1)
He uses this image intentionally. This image helps the reader see the whirlwind, and picture its movements. It’s a simile that helps the reader imagine the phenomenon exactly as the author would have us picture it. The image helps establish a mood with the word “macabre,” so we know that something dark is coming. Another example of a simile in the first chapter is when trying to get through the crowd is described as “like a beehive,” another simile that develops an image of frenzied activity (Ch. 1, p. 5). The crowd is also compared to a “swarm of dead leaves” in another simile. In each case, we can picture the chaos.
Metaphors can also accomplish the same purpose. In Chapter 1, Atiq’s use of the whip is described as “an effort to part of flood of humanity” (p. 6). This is a metaphor because the people are not compared to the flood, they are described as a flood. Metaphors are indirect comparisons because they say one thing is something else, rather than like something else. We can imagine a never-ending stream of people that are like a flood of water. You can’t control them and they are in your way.
Imagery can be used to compare everyday events. In Chapter 3, Zunaira “stands up like one who has been knocked flat but then rises to her feet” (p. 38). She has been dealt an emotional blow, not a physical one. The simile contributes to both the characterization of her as tough and the symbolism of her actions.
Personification is another useful type of imagery. In chapter 4, Kabul is described as “suffocating” because of its surrounding mountains. The city is compared to being confined to a “steam room” (p. 39). The metaphor and personification both seek to describe the city as a human being, giving it human qualities. Personification can help develop the mood as well because it generates sympathy.