Review Blog

Jun 23 2010

The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah

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Translated from the Dutch by Susan Masotty. Canongate, 2010. ISBN 9781847672407.
(Age: Year 11 to adult). Recommended. Set in Iran in the years before and following the 1979 Islamic revolution against the Shah, the novel demonstrates the changes in traditional Muslim life caused by that event. The family of Aqa Jaan has lived in the house of the Mosque for eight centuries, and controlled the appointment of imams to the mosque. The traditional life of a prosperous and well-respected family is described in deceptively simple prose, language that suggests there are few uncertainties in this life constructed around ritual and traditions strengthened by the power of beautiful and comforting surahs from the holy texts. However, the lives of the family and their small town are brutally disrupted by the growth of political movements, the radical Islamist movement brought to the mosque by a new Imam, and the Communism embraced by several sons of the family. The revolution comes, and, as with dictatorships anywhere, the power of the ruling ayatollahs is cemented by brutal repression of any who are suspected of dissent. A sister-in-law becomes an inquisitor, a son is executed, the daughters leave to work in Iran and a nephew flees from Iran. The head of the family sees his family dispersed and is left with his faith and the 'treasury' of the mosque, the treasure being the memories collected through the changes of past centuries.
Simply but beautifully written, the writer captures the secure pattern of pre-industrial lives and the confusion that both political and industrial change brings. Himself a political refugee from Iran, the writer also clearly shows the terror and helplessness experienced by both participants and victims of the revolution. It is told from a mostly male point-of-view, but the role of women is clearly illustrated. It is recommended for senior students and would make an interesting comparison with other books set in Iran at that time.
Jenny Hamilton

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