Connect to share and comment

Kader Abdolah wants to "give balance" to Iran

Abdolah hopes the English translation of his "The House of the Mosque" will be accessible to Iranian youth.

Kader Abdolah's best-selling novel "The House of the Mosque" has just been released in English. (Joyce van Belkom)

DELFT, The Netherlands — In 2007, a book recounting three decades of one family’s life in a provincial Iranian city was voted the second greatest Dutch novel of all time.

The author’s achievement was made all the more remarkable by the fact that he had never written, heard or spoken a word of the Dutch language until he was 33 years old.

“I knew nothing about the Netherlands, I had never heard about it,” explained Kader Abdolah, author of "The House of the Mosque." 

“As a boy of 14 or 15 I had a dream to be a writer, a great Persian writer, but the time changed everything … . I am a Dutch writer now.” 

“The House of the Mosque” has just been published in English, three years after an internet poll organized by the Dutch national broadcaster and a leading daily newspaper made it the runner-up on the all-time-great list. 

Largely based on the experiences of Abdolah's own family, the book tells the story of the inhabitants of a venerable house in the city of Senejan during the final decade of the Shah’s rule, the turbulent times of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the terrors of life under the ayatollahs. 

“My audience in the Netherlands, they didn’t know about Islam, about Muslim culture, about our houses, our women, our men and what they were doing in that country,” Abdolah said during an interview in his adoptive city of Delft. “I said, ‘OK, I'll take you for a walk behind the curtains. I’ll take you to have a look in our house, into the bedroom of my mother and the others. I'll let you see how they make love, how they enjoy their life.” 

Abdolah was born in Iran in 1954 with name Hossein Sadjadi Ghaemmaghami Farahani. He worked for a leftist underground newspaper opposed to both the Shah and Ayatollah Khomeini and adopted his pen name both to protect himself and to honor two Kurdish friends: “Kader and Abdolah, one of them was a young doctor, the other a young architect, both of them dreamed of a free Kurdistan and because of that they were arrested and executed.” 

Abdolah, who initially fled Iran over the border to Turkey in 1985, lacked the thousands of dollars needed to pay smugglers to get him into the United States, Britain or France, so ended up as a refugee in The Netherlands.