February: House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah

This month we will be reading a book set in Iran in the buildup to the revolution: House of the Mosque by Kader Abdolah.

This is from the Independent's review of the book:

"Unlike various realist accounts of this watershed historical moment that have recently appealed to the West (Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran; Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis) Abdolah's is a semi-mythical narrative (not unlike his previous book, My Father's Notebook) not quite magical realism but bearing a 'flying carpet' element of fantasy: there is a host of anthropomorphic animals - the mosque's knowing cats, a resident crow with Cassandra caws of impending doom, a plague of ants defeated by prayer - and two silver-haired servants known as 'the grandmothers' who appear to have been resurrected from Persian fable. The counterpoint to this enchanting (and unabashedly sentimental) Arabian Nights aspect is the horrifying realities faced by Aqa Jaan's family, which worsen as the revolution progresses. Sons are tortured, daughters married to radical imams, false confessions are secured and informers rewarded.

The myth-making extends to Abdolah's abundant use of spiritual imagery. The novel opens with the same, mystical words that begin the Quran: "alif, laam, mim" (letters of the Arabic alphabet) believed to unlock the mysteries of the universe if correctly decoded. He also translates its verses or 'surahs' creatively, with some elided into others, and in a way that extracts their essence as devotional poems, not unbending edicts. In so doing, he forces a conceptual separation between the reductive, fanatical streak of Islam revealing itself on the streets of Iran, and the open-ended, poetic nature of Quranic verse.

Undercutting religion is an irrepressible eroticism: couples make love atop the holiest corners of a minaret; love poetry is hotly whispered in bedrooms; when Aqa Jaan finds a verse by a progressive Tehrani female poet, he finds her words profane, yet begs his wife to recite them, amorously, to him: "Here are my lips, My neck and burning burning breasts. Here is my soft body!"

Abdolah's juxtapositions - the spiritual and the earthly, myth and reality - give the story a powerful irony. Khomeini is, in 1979, a hero, we are reminded, before he becomes the villain. He offers Iran salvation from the tyrannical whimsies of the Shah. By the end, the freedom fighters are the new tyrants. Abdolah lathers the story with an almost deliberate nostalgia, choosing not to drive recent history into the present day. Instead, he presents just the nascent phases of the revolution and the wide-eyed innocence of those, such as Aqa Jaan, who held such high hopes for all it could have been."

You can here a discussion about the book here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00q07gv



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  • amandafoale

    Really lovely to meet lots of book fans. Only my 2 nd time but a friendly and welcoming group. Thank you and roll on next month. X the chocolate brownie was fab too.

    3 · February 27, 2014

    • Becky M

      nice to meet you too Amanda!

      February 28, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Sorry I can't make it tonight

    February 27, 2014

  • Paul

    Hello, looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow. Any suggestions for the next book, please leave a comment. We have Shock of the Fall for March so the next book will be for April.

    February 26, 2014

  • Nicola Leonard D.

    Sorry, can't make this one.

    February 11, 2014

  • Neil

    Oh no, not more magical realism and flying carpets! ;)

    February 4, 2014

  • Becky M

    I think the new venue was great and we just need to play around with the tables and chairs a bit to get a good format. Great to see so many people coming along!
    Have added the recommendations from yesterday to our virtual shelf here:

    http://www.shelfari.com/bristolbookclub

    Looking forward to this book and to the March set too!

    January 31, 2014

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