Forethoughts: The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah

The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah And so my reading journey brings me to the gates of The House of the Mosque by Kader Abdoloah which was published in English for the first time last week (21st January) by Canongate Books. It’s a title which I’ve been looking forward to reading for some time now – not least because I see the promise of a culturally rich reading experience – but before I step forward and enter The House of the Mosque, I want to share a few forethoughts on it.

Firstly a quick summary of what The House of the Mosque is about, and rather than have me try to rewrite the official blurb for a book that I know little about myself at this point, I’ll just let the cover blurb do the talking (lazy I know, but more accurate):

In the house of the mosque, the family of Aqa Jaan has lived for eight centuries. Now it is occupied by three cousins: Aqa Jaan, a merchant and head of the city’s bazaar; Alsaberi, the imam of the mosque; and Aqa Shoja, the mosque’s muezzin. The house itself teems with life, as each of their families grows up with their own triumphs and tragedies. Sadiq is waiting for a suitor to knock at the door to ask for her hand, while her two grandmothers sweep the floors each morning dreaming of travelling to Mecca. Meanwhile, Shahbal longs only to get hold of a television to watch the first moon landing. All these daily dramas are played out under the watchful eyes of the storks that nest on the minarets above. But this family will experience upheaval unknown to previous generations. For in Iran, political unrest is brewing. The shah is losing his hold on power; the ayatollah incites rebellion from his exile in France; and one day the ayatollah returns. The consequences will be felt in every corner of Aqa Jaan’s family.

So it all sounds interesting enough doesn’t it, but what are my motivations for reading The House of the Mosque? Well, as I said at the outset this novel looks as though it offers a culturally rich reading experience, and if you know me, then you’ll know that despite being completely atheist, two of my greatest passions in life are religion and culture. I have a huge fascination with the history of religions – in particular Islam – and one of my biggest motivations for reading any book, let alone this one, is to gain an opportunity to tap into and to learn about, different cultures. Both of these elements appear to be in abundance in this novel.

Kader Abdolah by Sander Bakkes (October 08) Secondly, the book’s author, Kader Abdolah (real name – Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahani), fascinates me. While living in Iran, Abdoloah was fervently active in the fight against the dictatorship of the Shah, before opposing the subsequent theocracy of the ayatollahs. Such was the level of Abdolah’s political activism, that he was forced to flee Iran in 1988, relocating to the Netherlands, where he has lived ever since.

I marvel at the writings of political dissidents (Alexandr Solzhenitsyn is probably my favourite), especially those who have confronted revolution face on, but Abdoloh has also done so in one of the most closed and religiously oppressive countries in the world. Even his very pen name – Kader Abdolah – stands as tribute against oppression, as it is formed from the names of two of Abdoloah’s friends who were executed by the regime. How can one not be interested in a man with such conviction?

Kader Abdoloah’s literary reputation precedes him. Since living in Holland Abdolah has published several novels, short story collections and works of non-fiction in Dutch (there’s a run down of all of them on Abdoloah’s official website, although sadly this too is in Dutch). He has one other novel published in English, My Father’s Notebook, which is also published by Canongate. And for his literary efforts Kader Abdolah was awarded the prestigious Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres in 2008.

Moving on to my third motivation for picking up The House of the Mosque, and I must admit that I don’t really know that much about the 1979 Revolution, or any subsequent opposition to the Ayatollah’s theocracy, aside from the basics. So I’m hoping that Abdolah’s novel will give me more of an informed insight into the subject, and also, more importantly, an insider’s viewpoint on events.

So as you can see my reasons for choosing to read this novel are particular and quite compelling. And I would imagine that the reasons I put forward, are similar to the ones that would compel almost any other reader to pick The House of the Mosque up. Certainly, when The House of the Mosque was published in Holland it created quite a reading frenzy, and since being published it has gone on to be voted the second best Dutch novel ever. With an accolade like that, there can only be a positive reading journey ahead.

Anyway, I’ll be back with my final afterthoughts as soon as I’m done, and in the meantime you can follow my progress through the virtual pages of my reading journal.

So it’s over to you guys. Has anyone read The House of the Mosque already and want to pass on any (no-spoiler) thoughts on it? Is this a novel you want to read yourself, and if so have you any particular reasons for wishing to do so? Drop me a line or two in the comments below. I’d love to hear from you.

Canongate Books | 21 January 2010 | £12.99 | PAPERBACK | 400 PP | ISBN: 9781847672407

A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are, before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.

Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when they’re combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.

About Rob

Rob, a self-confessed bibliophile, is without any hope of rehabilitation. He gets unnaturally excited over anything book-shaped, and if book sniffing were a crime then he would have been locked up years ago (which wouldn't bother him in the slightest provided his cell was lined with books).