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Review: The House of the Mosque, Kader Abdolah

Aqa Jaan’s family has lived in the house of the mosque for centuries.  Two of his cousins also live in the house; one is the mosque’s imam and the other is the muezzin.  At first glimpse, their lives are going about as they have been for hundreds of years; television exists, but the house’s inhabitants studiously avoid it, and the women still cover themselves even though others in Tehran no longer bother.  The family’s daughters are waiting for respectable men to approach their families to offer marriage, and the imam’s son is studying diligently to take his father’s place when he dies.  Yet all is not the same, as a revolution is forming in 1970s Iran, and that revolution stands to change the family’s ways forever.

I found this book totally fascinating.  I know so little of Iran, let alone what it’s like to live there, and I really felt like this book put me right in the midst of a revolution.  Enough of their culture was established so that I felt terror and confusion just as the house’s residents did, and I was amazed at what some of the family was capable of doing for political purposes.  It was all in the name of Islam, which makes it worse for me.  I could see today’s political situation in the making, and it made me so sad that Iran couldn’t have continued on its former path of slow liberation without becoming extremists and closing up completely.  The book does reveal how things can spiral out of control, without the people necessarily giving consent or realizing what they are doing.  A few extremists can change the entire country given just a little encouragement, and that’s exactly what happens here.

My favorite character in the book was definitely Aqa Jaan.  It’s predicted early in the novel that he’ll be the last one left of the family, and indeed this seems to be the case as his family either become extremists or become targets in the revolution, or simply disappear of their own volition. His emotions are often heartbreaking and I wished things could be different for him as his family began to fall apart.  This is such a stunning novel of a country falling apart; it’s almost as though Aqa Jaan’s family is a microcosm of that, split between all the different factions, while he just wants life to remain as it has been for hundreds of years.

There is a lot of anti-Americanism here, but given the political circumstances, it’s understandable and didn’t put me off the book despite the fact that I am American.  I also was left wondering how much of the book is true.  The author, who fled Iran in 1988, was an illegal journalist and leftist there, and I expect much of the revolution was witnessed by him first-hand.  He’s using a pen name here to honor executed friends (though his own name is available on wikipedia) and he dedicates the book to his own Aqa Jaan, so my curiosity is definitely piqued.

Honestly, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.  It inspires me to read more non-fiction to learn more about the conflict and to read more multi-cultural fiction.  This book helped me understand what’s happening in the world today and still engaged all of my emotions and thoughts.  You should not miss The House of the Mosque.

I am an Amazon Associate. I received this book for free from the publisher for review.

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