Saturday, 19 December 2020

Dancing in the Mosque by Homeira Qaderi

Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to her Son by Homeira Qaderi
English translation by Zaman Stanizai published by Fourth Estate on the 1st December 2020.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An exquisite and inspiring memoir about one mother’s unimaginable choice in the face of oppression and abuse in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

How far would you go to protect yourself? Your dignity? Your family?

In the days before Homeira Qaderi gave birth to her son, Siawash, the road to the hospital in Kabul would often be barricaded because of the frequent suicide explosions. With the city and the military on edge, it was not uncommon for an armed soldier to point his gun at the pregnant woman’s bulging stomach, terrified that she was hiding a bomb. Propelled by the love she held for her soon-to-be-born child, Homeira walked through blood and wreckage to reach the hospital doors. But the joy of her beautiful son’s birth was soon overshadowed by other dangers that would threaten her life.

No ordinary Afghan woman, Homeira refused to cower under the strictures of a misogynistic social order. Defying the law, at the age of thirteen, she risked her freedom to teach children reading and writing and fought for women’s rights in her theocratic and patriarchal society.

Devastating in its power, Dancing in the Mosque is a mother’s searing letter to the son she was forced to leave behind. In telling her story – and that of Afghan women – Homeira challenges us to reconsider the meaning of motherhood, sacrifice, and survival.

Dancing In The Mosque is an incredible memoir of perseverance and emotional strength. Homeira Qaderi has given up absolutely everything, including her own very young son, in order to fight for Afghan women's rights and, through reading this searingly personal memoir, I feel I understand a little of what this woman has been through and what drives her. The book is written as a chronological memoir, with chapters interspersed with Qaderi's intensely poignant letter to her son, Siawash, who remained with her husband in Afghanistan. Afghan law doesn't recognise women's rights to even see their children if the father doesn't wish it and, despite long drawn-out legal proceedings, mother and son have been kept apart for years. Siawash has even been told his mother died.

Qaderi portrays Afghan life over several decades from Russian to Taliban oppression, showing how the Afghan people themselves have been pushed from pillar to post for years without any opportunity to determine their own lives. Swapping one set of men with guns for another set and then another. I cannot imagine the mental strength it would take to set oneself against a regime as Qaderi did. Despite my disagreeing with her grandmother's admonishments to knuckle down and accept patriarchal customs regardless of their unfairness, I could see why the older woman could think this way. She could stomach the repression and was, at least, alive to tell the tale. Qaderi took the opposite approach though, choosing as a teenager to teach literacy to refugee girls in direct defiance to Taliban edicts. She is an inspirational woman whose memoir I highly recommend to women everywhere.  

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Homeira Qaderi / Biography and memoir / Books from Afghanistan

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