Book Review: Dancing in the Mosque

Dancing in the Mosque: an Afghan Mother’s Letter to her Son by Homeira Qaderi

This memoir captures much about a woman’s spirit, the love a mother has for her child and the heart-wrenching choices that the author has made to transcend the patriarchal culture in which she was raised.

Homeira Qaderi poignantly captures her childhood lived in Herat, Afghanistan amidst a war with Russia, later civil unrest and the growing pervasiveness and control of the Taliban. Under the watchful eyes of Baba-jan and Nanah-jan (her grandparents), her parents, a half dozen aunts and uncles, and her baby brother Mushtaq, Homeira consistently pushes the envelope of expected female behavior.

Within the framework of her beloved family and the gradual tightening of rules, particularly those applying to females, Homeira secretly conspires to educate local girls when the Taliban orders all schooling for girls closed. She does this despite the harsh penalties they might endure if she were discovered. The narrative takes the reader through her childhood, teens and into young adulthood where simple pleasures of music, dancing, or reading anything aside from the Qu’ran were forbidden.

When Homeira marries a man who tolerates her ways to a surprising degree given the culture, a conflict arises upon the birth of her son, Siawash. Mingled amongst the telling of the hardships brought by war, friends lost and the rules imposed by the Taliban, are letters that Homiera has written to her son. These provide a window into the psychology behind the sacrifices she has made both because she is a woman and because she is a mother.

I appreciated learning more about the Afghan culture from her first hand account of life in that war zone during a timeline about which my knowledge is anecdotal. What little I did know previously, I’d gleaned from news reports about American involvement once the Taliban took control of the country. This book is a prime candidate for a book club discussion as there is much to dissect and digest. Note there are triggering events depicted that while true, may be disturbing to some readers.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

One of a handful of books about the female experience in Middle Eastern culture. Four and a half stars!