The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah

I don’t really know how to introduce ‘The House of the Mosque’ by Kader Abdolah. It’s not a book that I had considered reading until I popped my name into a draw for it over at Lizzy’s Literary Life, not expecting that I would win. I did and as all winners were to think of some questions to ask Kader Abdolah we needed to crack on with it. I had one of those small ‘but there is so much else I want to read’ mini-tantrums internally before picking up the book which I then couldn’t put down.

How does one describe  a book such as  ‘The House of the Mosque’ because it’s not as easy to explain as it is to read? The book really is centred on the family of Aqa Jaan who live in the house next to the mosque (and also own it) in the Iranian province of Senejan and have done for eight centuries. Based on facts around the late 1970’s and the years after, with some real historical figures thrown in the book is set over a pivotal period in Iranian history as the reign of the American backed Shah comes to an end at the hands of the Ayatollah.

I have to say from the premise I wasn’t too sure about the book, wouldn’t it be a bit too much of a political read? How on earth would I keep up with all the religious references etc? I needn’t have worried because the way that Abdolah tells this tale you learn a lot without having noticed. That for me, who had no idea of what was going on in religious or political climates – other than it’s been volatile to say the least was a sign of masterly writing.

The first half of the book introduces you to the huge family, its servants and some of the locals in a very fable like way. Some people may only appear for a chapter or two, some last the whole book before you know it you feel like one of the family. It’s then the fact that you are a fan of the family (I thought Aqa Jaan was wonderful and in some ways reminded me of Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird, you just cannot not like him and admire his passion for his family) that makes it so hard when everything changes in Iran and times of uncertainty and darkness effect the country and of course everyone in the house of the mosque.

The book is so filled with idea’s, small plots behind bigger ones, characters galore and factual truth it’s really hard to sum it up or in fact to do the book justice. Yes it’s another one of those books where to try and write anything about it leaves you frustrated that you can’t make every single person who reads this want to rush out and buy it. I jut simply have to say I think it’s a masterpiece of our times. I admit I was sceptical and yet just fell into it, was carried away buy it and couldn’t put it down. I can fully appreciate why it has been an international bestseller and translated in so many countries. It’s a book that I think everyone should read as its eye opening, though provoking and magical story telling. I can say no more than read this book, I am tempted to open the book and start all over again.

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36 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Canongate Publishing, Kader Abdolah, Review

36 responses to “The House of the Mosque – Kader Abdolah

  1. I must admit I am one who has been avoiding this book for much the same reasons you did…however you’ve totally just sold it to me.

  2. I have been wanting this book since the first time I laid eyes on it on someone’s blog. I’m so glad you liked it.

    • It was brilliant Michelle and I have been thinking of it long after reading it which is a good sign. It’s not a quick read and I did need a few breaks from it but its utterly brilliant.

  3. Sounds like a great read (which makes me feel rather silly for having avoided/resisted it up until now). Onto the wish list it goes.

    • I would probably not have rushed out to buy it despite all the rave reviews I have now found and seen, I dont know why – I just wouldnt have (am not sure on the cover I think) but am thrilled I did.

  4. farmlanebooks

    I’ve had this book on my radar for a while, but you’ve persuaded me to seek out a copy.

  5. So glad to hear this is a good book, Simon. Canongate sent me a review copy months ago, but I’ve not been inclined to pick it up… until now.

    • Definitely give this one a whirl Kim. In some ways its very subtle and gentle and in others quite hard and angry which makes for a very interesting mix. I think you would like it.

      I am a bit anti reading deadlines but in this instance it made me read a marvellous book I would have missed. Like Book Group in a way.

  6. catharina

    Simon, To be honest I had seen you mentioning The House of the Mosque last week or so and was very anxious for your review if any.
    Couldn’t help myself for yelling ‘YAY’ reading your review. Last year I have read all his books. I think he is absolutely amazing. Did you know he writes in Dutch? Imagine, having fled from Iran, learning to speak and write in a language not your own in an impeccable way and in a poetic prose that never fails to really touch my heart.

    • He went into Dutch exile didnt he? I have been doing my reading up on this one hee hee. I loved the book wasn’t sure that I would but did very much. Now I really want to read much more of his work, he is definitely an author I will be looking out for more in the future.

  7. novelinsights

    What a beautiful cover. Sorry – I’m shallow when it comes to these things. Sounds like a brilliant book. I think it’s a skill being able to write a novel that people can read and understand without any insight into the political situation – broadens people’s horizons in a sneaky way!

    • I am not sure about the cover, I like it and I sort of don’t. We are both into our covers so dont fear being shallow, its one of the things that can often make me decide what I am reading next. I think you would like this one Pol.

  8. This is the second review in as many days I have seen raving about this book. I really must get a copy.

  9. I really didn’t think this book would be my kind of thing, but then I thought the same about ‘Brixton Beach’ (which I’m now reading as the author is doing a special Book Group Evening next month) and I’m loving that. So this one gets added to the wishlist. Thanks Simon.

    • I have Brixton Beach on the TBR but am tempted to read it after the TV Book Group hype maybe? I know I saw one review that just said it was so achingly sad it put them off. This book doesnt have a sadness all the way through, though some moments are. Its just magical in a way, so full its hard to describe.

  10. You’ve made this appeal big time, Simon; I was initially put off by the cover and I thought it looked “light and fluffy”. I have a little knowledge of the political situation in Iran at the time but I like that it’s not essential. From your description I’m reminded of A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth; The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani; The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak … epic, sprawling, family sagas all of which I loved.

    • I think what it does is write about all the things that happened in Iran in a digestible way, thats how I would put it. I didnt ever get overawed by it all and with so much going on and so many characters I was worried for a while.This is definitley epic and sprawling and yet not hard like some titles can be. I have always been tempted by Vikram Seth and then scared off.

  11. Eva

    I am SO SAD that my library doesn’t have this. Has it been released in the US yet? If so, I’m telling them to buy it. :p

  12. JoV

    Another one to add into my TBR. I love books with middle eastern theme.

    My TBR is growing with your recommendations!!

  13. Juanita

    I was determined to leave your site without adding another book to my list. No such luck. And to top things off, it seems that it hasn’t been released in the US yet. Ugh.

  14. I know I work at Canongate so this might be taken with a pinch of salt, but I LOVED this novel, too. I’m so proud that Canongate publishes Abdolah.

  15. Oh wow, this sounds amazing! I’ve never heard of it before. I wish I could figure out how to buy it in the US!

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