The House of the Mosque

Written by Kader Abdollah
Review by Lucille Cormier

Like a lovely dream turned nightmare, The House of the Mosque shakes us awake. The author, Kader Abdollah, a pseudonym, paints the picture of an idyllic life before the 1979 Iranian revolution. It is the story of the family of Aqa Jaan, a successful merchant who leads the city’s bazaar and the family that, for over eight centuries, has lived in the house of the mosque, its sons becoming the mosque’s imams, muezzins, and caretakers.

The family is prosperous, well-ordered, and content. Tragedies take their toll but do not disrupt life’s harmony. This stable balance is first challenged when a revolutionary young imam asks to marry Aka Jaan’s daughter.  For the best of reasons permission is given and the family is forever changed. Events move quickly after that as the revolution erupts, drawing family members into its mad maelstrom. In a series of chilling events, the family of the mosque is decimated.

The House of the Mosque was first published in 2005 in the Netherlands, where the author has been a political refugee since 1988.  In spite of its intense themes, it is a pleasure to read. The pre-revolution part of the story is almost a fairy tale, funny and innocent, told in simple language. The second part reads like a fast-paced crime novel with terse language and violent scenes.  The characters are well-developed, intensely human, and colorful. As best I could ascertain the story is historically accurate, though James Buchan, in his review for The Guardian, challenges the author on a few points.  This does not take away its being a wonderful introduction to everyday life in a Moslem culture minus ranting demagogues and violence-loving fanatics, then to the horror of everyday life with them. Highly recommended. A book to purchase and pass on.